But without actually spending the night in a sleep lab, it’s hard to actually measure how much and how well you’re sleeping. Warsaw-based startup Intelclinic wants to change that with a smart sleep mask called the NeuroOn that will monitor eye movements and brain waves to track when users fall asleep, how much sleep they get, and how frequently they wake during the night.
Intelclinic’s raised more than $200,000 so far through an ongoing Kickstarter effort to fund production and further development of the NeuroOn masks, and the company aims to start getting masks to Kickstarter backers in Spring 2014, said founder and CEO Kamil Adamczyk.
Users will be able to monitor their sleep schedules through an iPhone or Android app. The masks will automatically upload sleep data to smartphones through low-power Bluetooth connections when users take them off. And the NeuroOn masks can automatically wake users at a light-sleeping point in their sleep cycles so they don’t get up groggy, Adamczyk said.
"Our mask monitors your sleep and also wakes you up very gently," he said. "You’ll feel rested, and you’re not anxious and so on."
The NeuroOn can help users looking to get more hours out of the day by maintaining a polyphasic sleep schedule—that is, by sleeping less during the night and supplementing with additional, shorter sleep phases (read: naps) throughout the day.
Adamczyk said he’s using a beta version of the mask to help him maintain an "Everyman" sleep schedule, with about three hours of solid sleep during the night and a few naps during the day.
"I started to sleep polyphasically a year ago," he said. "At the beginning, I started without the mask, but right now I’m the first beta tester and I’m using it constantly."
Polyphasic sleep is controversial in sleep science circles, Adamczyk acknowledged, saying getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night is still believed to be the healthiest way to rest. But even for people getting a full night’s sleep, the mask can still be helpful, tracking how long it takes to nod off and helping to wake users when they’ll feel most refreshed, he said.
"We can detect at which phase of sleep you are at the moment, we can wake you up 10 minutes before you’re alarm clock but at a very light stage of sleep," he said.
The company’s also working on code to generate individualized travel sleep plans to minimize jet lag, he said.
"The point is to plan your sleep before and after the trip to minimize the jet lag effect for you," he said. "So it depends on the start and end point of your trip—we are creating time zone maps and preparing a sleep plan for you to minimize jet lag."
The mask works by using electronic sensors similar to those found in an electrocardiogram to measure eye muscle and brain activity, he said. In current prototypes, each mask has three sensors, and Interclinic’s planning to upgrade to seven for greater precision, he said.
"Our brain generates electrical activity and we can measure those electrical activity by those electrodes," he said. "It’s the same story with your heart rate; we’re using the same technology to measure."
But the devices are designed to be comfortable enough to wear to bed.
"On the inside, we make the NeuroOn from soft, comfortable materials, with the ability to adjust to your face, thanks to the use of viscoelastic foams—the latest version of memory foam," the company wrote on its Kickstarter page.
Those sensors will help the masks work better than other smartphone sleep monitoring apps, which typically only measure movements by using phone accelerometers, Adamczyk said. Those measure sleep phases less precisely and can also be thrown off by other movements, especially if users share their beds with partners or pets, he said.
"If you’re sleeping with another person in the bed, there is no option to measure your sleep process," he said. "We decided to create a device which would be much more precise than those kinds of devices."
The masks might also be able to help trigger lucid dreaming—a phenomenon where dreamers are aware that they’re dreaming and can even take control of their dream selves. In theory, the masks will be able to detect when a user starts dreaming and shine an LED light bright enough to be visible and incorporated into the dream but not bright enough to actually wake the user up, Adamczyk said. But, he acknowledged, the very existence of lucid dreaming is, like polyphasic sleep, controversial among sleep researchers.
In the future, Adamczyk said later versions of the masks might be helpful to astronauts, who need to maintain steady sleep cycles in the absence of normal night-and-day signals. And, he hopes, in a few years, the masks—which he emphasized are not now intended to be medical devices—may be able to meet regulatory standards to be used to detect sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
"It’s a long story, and I think it will take another few years to get this approval," he said.