5 ways A.I. is changing the world of sleep

Now A.I. is entering the realm of holistic health. How is it affecting the quality of our sleep?

Man in pajamas in bed unable to sleep insomniac

There's no question that our mattresses, sheets and other sleeping comforts have improved dramatically over the past century. However, according to NPR, more than 60 million Americans struggle with insomnia every year -- and scientists still aren't sure what to do. Conventional advice like exercising regularly, following a rigid sleep schedule, and avoiding caffeine before bedtime can help, as can over-the-counter sleep aids (as a temporary measure).

But as we enter a new era of technology and artificial intelligence, it's time we saw some more-advanced systems to help millions of sleepless Americans get more regular, restful nights.

How A.I. is changing sleep

Fortunately, entrepreneurs and developers are on the case. These are just five of the ways that A.I. is being used to help you get a better night's sleep on a regular basis:

  1. Better-designed mattresses. There are hundreds of high-quality mattresses available to the public, each with special features that make them unique -- such as customizability, impact and pressure resistance, or even temperature control. Mattress manufacturers, knowing this level of competition, are gathering and crunching big data to learn from consumer spending and sleeping habits.
    By leveraging A.I. algorithms, mattress companies can proactively determine flaws in their designs and evaluate the effectiveness of new materials and structures before they get to market. As a result, mattress technology is evolving faster than ever before, helping millions of Americans be more comfortable when they go to bed each night.
  2. Mattresses that learn from your sleeping patterns. Rather than using A.I. to create a better mattress, some companies are creating mattresses that use A.I. to improve themselves.
    The Sleep Number 360 bed
    , for example, is designed as a "smart bed" that automatically learns and adjusts to your personal sleeping preferences. It detects when you're sleeping and when you aren't, and adjusts things like firmness, temperature and position to help you sleep optimally throughout the night.
    If that sounds exciting, you'll need to remain patient -- there's no set release date on the mattress yet.
  3. Intelligently procured music and playlists. Your environment plays a big role in how you sleep. Basic steps, like ensuring your room is as dark as possible, can help your body and brain naturally prepare for a sleep cycle.
    A.I. researcher Marko Ahtisaari is attempting to use A.I. to solve one piece of this environmental puzzle: music. By studying sleeping preferences of thousands of participants (you can actually join the experiment for free), Ahtisaari is attempting to find the perfect music to help people get to sleep.
  4. Anti-snore wearable devices. If you snore, or happen to sleep with someone who does, you know how unpleasant snoring is (and how destructive it can be to your sleep cycle). That's why developers are working on a wearable device that detects snoring (or teeth grinding) while you sleep, and helps you learn how to prevent those physical habits.
  5. Better diagnoses. One of the biggest problems with treating insomnia is the complexity of the condition. We still don't fully understand how insomnia works, nor do we have a catch-all "cure" for the ailment.
    According to the National Sleep Foundation, having trouble sleeping is attributable to a malfunction in our typical sleep cycle. There are two components of this cycle: one that helps us stay awake when we need to be awake, and one that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep when we need to rest. Insomnia could be a result of problems with either of these two cycles, and could be linked to any number of root causes -- including brain chemistry issues, physiological factors, psychological factors and conditional factors.
    It's almost impossible -- even for experts -- to make an appropriate diagnosis with these potential variables.

Thankfully, programmers and researchers are working together on A.I. algorithms that can accumulate and process millions of data points to better understand the root causes and appropriate diagnoses of medical conditions. With enough patient data to work with, an algorithm could make better individual diagnoses and, in time, suggest the best remedy for each unique situation.

Looking to the future

There is no limit to what developers will be able to do with A.I. -- as it pertains to sleep -- in the future. The more data we gather on American sleeping patterns, and the more we learn about insomnia in the process, the better we'll be able to design systems that serve Americans' sleeping needs. By combining efforts like diagnosis, bedding and environmental conditions, eventually, sleep disorders could be a thing of the past.

Until then, it doesn't hurt to stay away from afternoon caffeine and make a conscious effort to sleep and wake at the same time each night.

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