Could Sleep Position Be The Next Thing We Track? Maybe — Here's Why

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Eliza Sullivan is an SEO editor at mindbodygreen. She writes about food, recipes, and nutrition—among other things. She studied journalism at Boston University.
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Our smartphones and activity trackers are dialed in to tell us how we're sleeping—at this point, we're fairly used to keeping tabs on things like the quality of our sleep or how often we wake up in the night. But now, a new model of sleep tracker, known as BodyCompass, from researchers at MIT, is adding another metric to the mix: our sleep position.

Why would someone want to track their sleep position?

For most people, sleep position may not seem like a super-important sleep-quality metric. But for people with conditions such as sleep apnea, Parkinson's, epilepsy, and more, sleeping in the wrong position can actually become dangerous: That's where the clinical application of this new model comes in.

The system used has been adapted to other research, but the application to following the positions and postures we take while asleep is new and promising. For some people with those mentioned health conditions, the seemingly simple realities of moving in their sleep can become a risky situation if not corrected.

Shichao Yue, a Ph.D. student who has used the program in applications in the lab, believes it may also have a commercial application, one based on another group who's sleep position is important: babies. It also may be of interest to people who struggle with getting to sleep or staying asleep—the tool has been applied to studies regarding overall sleep patterns and insomnia in the past. As those are generally, and unfortunately, common issues, there's an opportunity to consider the way sleep position may affect those struggles.

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What makes this new model special?

While tracking position while sleeping may not be essential, or even of interest, for everyone, for those particular groups that are at risk, it can be a helpful tool for care, keeping those individuals safer during the night.

Not only that, unlike other sleep trackers, this new system is based on radio frequencies and is mounted on the wall instead of worn on the body. This makes it less intrusive or disruptive than other sleep trackers while still providing the peace of mind that a tracker can provide—which of course, allows for better rest.

Use of those radio frequencies also keeps the amount of information collected to a minimum, particularly as opposed to other types of sleep position trackers that may use cameras. Even in the case of other sleep trackers that attempt to track sleep position, this new option is more reliable: The researchers found that this new method is much more accurate.

Using this model to create further health aids.

At the moment, the product is prepared to be only a sleep tracker—but future iterations and applications may include a prompt or sound so that if a sleeper moves into a position that could be dangerous for them, they themselves, or a carer, is alerted and it can be corrected. The increased peace of mind that could provide may lead to improved sleep overall, as well.

"Researchers are working on mattresses that can slowly turn a patient to avoid dangerous sleep positions," explains Yue. "Future work may combine our sleep posture detector with such mattresses to move an epilepsy patient to a safer position if needed."

Improving sleep is an important part of well-being for everyone, but it doesn't have to mean using a sleep tracker. Instead, it can start with simple habits—and if you're feeling particularly stressed, remember: That doesn't mean you have to sleep poorly.


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