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Is this the next big thing in sleep tracking? (Photo courtesy of IntelliClinic)

This Mask Can Tell You How You've Been Sleeping

Its inventors say that through its sensors, the NeuroOn will also let you know the best times to take naps

smithsonian.com

About two years ago, I banged the drum for the Zeo, a wearable device that not only monitored your night's sleep and gave it a rating, but also let you know--through a Bluetooth connection to your smart phone--just how much time you spent in REM sleep, deep sleep and light sleep. In fact, I was so inspired by the Zeo that I gave it a big wet kiss in a follow-up piece, "The Twelve Days of Gadgets."

About one year ago, the Zeo went out of business.

I'd like to blame my misguided zeal on a lack of sleep, but, as I recall, I felt pretty clear-eyed about the Zeo. What killed it, apparently, was timing. While people complain all the time about how lousy they sleep, most, as the company's former CEO Dave Dickinson told TechCrunch, don't yet worry enough about how it's affecting their health that they feel compelled to wear a sleep-tracking headband every night.

Cover your eyes

So Zeo went nighty-night. But now another sleep-monitoring invention hopes to pick up where the ill-fated headband left off. It's a snazzy-looking sleep mask called the NeuroOn. And it does way more than cover your eyes.

The NeuroOn contains brain wave sensors, and also sensors that measure the movement of your eyes and facial muscles. Its inventors say the mask was created, at least in part, to encourage people to embrace what's known as polyphasic sleep. This is when you take scheduled short naps throughout the day, and, by doing so, ultimately spend much less time sleeping. Nikola Tesla was supposedly a dedicated polyphasic sleeper. So was Winston Churchill.

The idea is that by closely tracking their sleep patterns, people can zero in on the times during the day when they're best able to fall into a deep sleep. So even if they can't be like Tesla and Churchill, at least they can sleep like them.

But the folks behind the NeuroOn know that most of us can't work a lot of naps into our daily routines, so they point out that the mask also can be useful for those who do their sleeping in one long stretch. In addition to sending data to a smart phone that can be converted into graphs showing how you've been sleeping, the mask can be set to wake you up after your last REM sleep cycle in the morning, which is when you're most likely to feel refreshed. You can choose to have lights on the mask do the job, and if that doesn't do the trick, it vibrates.

The mask's creators have also suggested that the NeuroOn can facilitate lucid dreaming--where a person can learn to take control of his or her dreams--by waking you up mid-dream. That, however, has yet to be proven.

There's no guarantee, of course, that the public will be any more ready for a sleep-tracking mask than it was for a sleep-tracking headband. But the NeuroOn, still in prototype stage, is off to a promising start. It beat its crowdfunding goal of $100,000 its first day on Kickstarter, and finished its campaign with $438,573 in pledges.

Snooze news

Here are other recent developments on the sleep front:

•   Don't worry, be happy: New research has found that curing insomnia in people with depression could double their chance of having a full recovery. Researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto found that 87 percent of patients who were cured of their insomnia in four biweekly talk therapy sessions also saw their depression symptoms disappear after eight weeks of treatment.

•   Another reason sleeping is better than eating pizzas: According to scientists at Brigham Young University, people who stick to a consistent sleep routine generally have less body fat than people with irregular sleeping habits. Among their findings: People who slept less than six and a half hours or more than eight and a half hours tend to have higher levels of body fat; also going to sleep and waking up at the same time was strongly linked to lower levels of body fat.

•   Noticing a theme here?: It appears that sleep deprivation may increase an older person's chances of developing diabetes. Based on research with mice, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that the combination of aging and bad sleep habits increased the risk of cell damage in the pancreas. Pancreatic cells are essential to maintaining blood sugar levels.

•   Your mouth says good morning, but your face says "What's good about it?": Not getting enough sleep often results in hanging eyelids, dark circles under your eyes, paler skin and more facial wrinkles, and those physical changes affect how others feel about your trustworthiness and competence, concludes a study at the University of Stockholm. Overall, sleep-deprived people just looked "sadder" to people who rated their photos, and that, said the researchers, influences how people behave toward them.

•   So you can truly know what it's like to sleep like a baby: Next month, a Boston startup called Rest Devices will start selling sleep shirts that could one day replace the baby monitor. The onesie, called a Mimo, contains sensors that record a baby's position in bed, plus its body temperature, motion and respiration. It then transmits that data to the parents' smart phones so they can always be tapped into how their baby is snoozing.

Video bonus: Here's a closer how at how the NeuroOn works in this BBC report.

Video bonus bonus: You know the feeling when you're nodding off, but keep jerking awake. We've all been there, but it's funny to watch babies do it.

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