Keenan: Eye-opening technology to monitor sleep - Calgary Herald thumbnail

Keenan: Eye-opening technology to monitor sleep – Calgary Herald

I know lots of people, especially guys who love gadgets, who have abandoned their fitness monitors. They got bored with mechanistic robo-runs and didn’t see the point of gathering all their bio-data.

What if there was a way to accurately collect important body parameters and have them interpreted by professionals?

That is precisely the proposition offered by Neuropeak Pro, a Michigan-based company that works with elite athletes, executives, creative writers, and anyone else willing to pay for their high-tech service. After hearing a company official speak at the BioHackYYC Meetup group, I took them up on an offer to try it at a discounted price, and it was a fascinating experience.

After completing some paperwork, the company sent me a box containing a laptop computer, electrodes to monitor my brain waves, a strap to measure my breathing, and a fingertip pulse sensor. There was a separate gizmo to monitor my sleep patterns over three consecutive nights.

Joe Martinez, the company’s director of operations, led me through a one-hour video conference in which I placed the electrodes under his direction, then did simple tasks. The results were stored on the computer. I also wore the sleep monitor for three consecutive nights, then shipped everything back and awaited my results.

Since I was spending a week in New York City, I had them send the gear there. I figured this would avoid customs problems getting it in and out of Canada, though Joe assures me they routinely serve Canadians with no issues. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t a great idea since I wasn’t sleeping in my own bed.

Joe showed me an “elite night” sleep architecture which went from wakefulness to light sleep followed by over an hour of deep sleep. Then came cycles which also included REM sleep, the rapid eye movement period when you are most likely to dream. At the end of nine hours, this ideal sleeper awakes, presumably feeling refreshed.

My sleep charts looked nothing like that! I had some deep sleep on the first night, and none at all on the second and third nights. I did catch a reasonable amount of REM sleep, but Joe characterized my sleep pattern as “disorganized.” He explained that deep sleep is vital for the brain to repair itself and flush out unnecessary information. It’s also a prime time for the body to make testosterone.

He concluded that “there’s some work to be done” on my sleeping. My wife has been saying the same thing for years.

Joe made some helpful, if predictable, recommendations for sleep improvement like having a completely dark, gadget-free bedroom, with no caffeine, alcohol or exercise late in the day. One thing I didn’t see coming was his advice to sleep in a cool bed, possibly using a water-filled mat like a chiliPAD™. He also gave me helpful hacks like taking a hot shower before bedtime, so the body starts its cooling cycle. “Your body temperature should drop until around 2 a.m. and then start rising back up.”

Joe says he could have predicted my dreadful sleep pattern from looking at my brain and heart studies. The strap around my belly showed I am breathing too rapidly and not deeply enough. I’ve been told this before, but it felt different seeing it in on the screen. He also reported that I was low in cardiac coherence, the state of efficiency in which all the body’s systems are working together.

As for my brain, he compared various frequencies and decided that I have a low theta ratio and a very high fast beta ratio, especially in the right hemisphere. Joe likened this to having my foot on the gas pedal of my brain. “You have the classic symptoms of a brain that is going very, very fast.” Turns out that’s not a great thing, because it means I tend to jump ahead from one task to the next.

Again, my wife could have told me this since I have walked past her at airports, focused on getting my luggage. Still, it was striking to see this displayed on the screen. If I choose to continue with this system, a guide will help me become a better version of myself, as they do with pro golfers, NFL quarterbacks and NBA players.

I asked Dr. Brian Murray, head of neurology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto, what he thought about Neuropeak Pro. He feels that “the collection of these types of physiological signals is worthwhile — it’s just how they are interpreted and what they really mean that is a bit unclear.” He does see value in at-home sleep testing can over the clinical setting of a sleep lab.

He has similar views about consumer sleep apnea devices like the ResMed ApneaLink, which he has studied in his lab. He says it “can be a good screen for sleep apnea” but the results should be interpreted by a physician.

Murray also notes the emergence of a new disease, enabled by the proliferation of consumer sleep monitors. It’s called orthosomnia — the compulsive desire to monitor your sleep patterns and achieve perfection to optimize daytime functioning.

It would be height of irony to start losing sleep over the quality of your sleep!

Dr. Tom Keenan is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary, and author of the bestselling book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.

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