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A Smarter Way to Sleep: Using Smartphones to Diagnose Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are often evaluated and diagnosed by polysomnography (PSG), which measures brain activity, eye movement and heart rhythms during sleep, but a new type of technology designed by researchers out of Osaka University utilizes a smartphone to help diagnose sleep disorders. It uses machine learning via a smartphone to help determine if a patient is suffering from a sleep disorder.

Using Modern Technology to Diagnose Sleep Disorders
According to Osaka University Associate Professor Ken-ichi Fukui, PSGs are ineffective because they require a patient to be monitored outside of their natural sleeping environment, typically in a sleep lab or other medical facility. He believes that because "our environment influences how we sleep...we should not expect the same patterns sleeping at a hospital [versus] or sleeping at home."[1] This could be why so many people aren’t diagnosed with a sleep disorder, even though they really do have one.


Seeing this disparity, researchers set out to find a way to less invasively and accurately obtain sleeping data. The goal was to uncover a more effective method that would lead to a proper diagnose for those suffering from a sleeping disorder. The new technology used "machine learning to model a personal sleep pattern based on the sounds made during sleep"1 and evaluated that data alongside PSG data from the same patient as way to compare the measurement effectiveness of the machine learning algorithm. This new method is significantly less invasive than solo PSG monitoring "because the sounds can be recorded at home with no fancy devices" and as such, "it is expected that doctors using this technology could diagnose patients under normal sleeping conditions, which is expected to lead to better treatment."1  

The Prevalence of Sleep Disorders in America
The American Sleep Association estimates that roughly 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. On average, about 48.0% of Americans reported snoring, 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day and an alarming 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving. Sleep disorders very clearly impact not just a person’s sleep cycle but their everyday way of life. If left untreated sleep disorders can quickly become dangerous. One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep apneaSleep apnea is characterized by repetitive pauses or cessations in breathing during sleep, and it’s a condition that often goes undiagnosed for many years.

How Sleep Apnea Affects the Body
Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist in Washington states, specializes in treating the disorder. He’s treated many patients who have sleep apnea but have never been formally diagnosed. Through his experience treating patients with sleep apnea, he’s seen firsthand how the disorder impacts multiple bodily systems.

"Sleep apnea is a structural problem meaning the airway collapses during deeper levels of sleep," said Buck. "That causes blood oxygen to desaturate, the brain to be irritated and go through an arousal and the heart rate to accelerate. It really causes a lot of negative sympathetic nervous system overstimulation."

The good news is there are options available to treat the condition. Buck’s approach is slightly different in comparison to what you might find at a traditional sleep clinic. He uses custom-designed orthotic appliances to stabilize the mouth and bite and open the away. By doing so, it accomplishes several things.

"The muscles can relax, we can decompress the joints, and on top of all of that, we open the airway," said Buck.

The Diagnosis Disconnect
While there are treatment options available, the disconnect lies in diagnosing the condition in the first place. Because it often requires patients to be evaluated in a sleep clinic or medical facility, many people opt out of being evaluated because they simply don’t have the time. Additionally, as noted in the Osaka University, it’s increasingly more difficult to get an accurate picture of the problem at hand if patients aren’t sleeping as they normally would at home. That’s why this new technology for diagnosing sleep disorders is extremely beneficial for patients who haven’t been formally diagnosed. It’s simple, convenient and lets them collect data on their sleep patterns in the comfort of their own home.

 


Sources

[1] Osaka University. "Smartphones and machine learning used to measure sleep patterns." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2017.

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