Awesome Stuff: Sleep Hacking

from the sleep-sweet dept

The potential for technology to improve health and wellness by simply facilitating better, smarter living is huge. Athletes are ahead of the game, already making use of tools like Fitbit and Nike Fit to monitor their activities, but this week we're looking at the OURA ring, which could bring tech-assisted living to a much wider user base.

The Good

The core function of the OURA ring — which, by the way, looks very nice for a piece of wearable tech — is sleep tracking. It monitors your pulse, body temperature and movements, and uses those to derive detailed information about your sleep cycles and habits. Where it truly shines is in presenting that information: it doesn't just dump a bunch of data on you, but compiles well-designed and easy-to-read graphs and charts into an ongoing sleep log. It also doesn't expect you to figure out what to do with the data all by yourself: the OURA pulls key observations and crafts recommendations, letting you know when you're well rested and ready for activity or when you should take it easy for a day, and informs you of patterns it notices, such as what level of physical activity during the day combined with what bedtime leads to you getting the soundest sleep. If it works well, it could unlock a host of life improvements for the average person, since very few of us consistently get a good night's sleep or pay much attention to the factors that affect us. Collecting this data is one thing, but making it friendly and accessible is a game-changer.

The Bad

The OURA only reads a few core physical metrics: your pulse waveform, body temperature, and motion level, all of which are then fed through its proprietary algorithm to derive sleep stages. The creators claim that the results match those produced by a proper monitored sleep study, but I do have to wonder just how much room for error there is when making those complex determinations based on just a few indicators, since it seems like a number of individual factors could throw off the algorithm. In that sense, it puts me in mind of bathroom scales that claim to measure body fat based on electrical resistance — leading to wildly inconsistent and inaccurate readings. However, the OURA does appear considerably more sophisticated than that, and it will be interesting to see how it fares when adopted in bigger numbers by a wider variety of people.

The Private

Of course, there's a bigger conversation to be had around devices like the OURA, and one that was a workshop subject at the Copia Institute's Inaugural Summit this year: privacy and ethics. As more people begin gathering more and more data about their health — by using devices like this and by leveraging technology to take greater control of their medical history and records — it's even more important than usual that we give consideration to how that data is handled. On the one hand, people have a right to control this sort of information about themselves; on the other hand, there is huge potential for data-based medical advancement if scientists are able to look at that information in aggregate. The OURA is collaborating with an online platform dedicated to personal data management and sharing to give users control over their sleep data and the ability to contribute some or all of it to anonymized data sets — but there also isn't a tremendous amount of information about privacy on the OURA's project page. I think many potential users would like to know more on that front before putting a monitor on their finger and pressing record.

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Filed Under: awesome stuff, health data, oura, privacy, sleep

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2015 @ 9:35am

    Cloud or nothing

    Other than the expense and loss of control over user data, I don't see why these companies can't write some software or create a standard for their data that can be used by a client that the end user controls and doesn't need to sync with a server. In just a few years we've gone from SaaS/Cloud as an option to the default. Are there even any decent fitness/physiology trackers that don't phone home to a mothership slurping your every heartbeat?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 5 Sep 2015 @ 10:58am

    Re: Cloud or nothing

    As I understand it, the OURA doesn't actually require the cloud, which is nice. The recording and processing is actually done in the ring which is damn impressive - that tiny thing crams in memory and an ARM processor, and it can run without offloading data to the app for 3 weeks. The app, as far as I can tell, operates without the need for the cloud, and the sharing partnership with the online platform is an entirely optional thing - however, some of this isn't spelled out quite as clearly or as prominently as it probably should be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Richard (profile), 5 Sep 2015 @ 3:37pm

    Waiting for V2

    As much as I like the idea, I think I'll wait for the second iteration.

    Best case scenario, it gives them a chance to prove that they can mass-produce quality merchandise.

    Worst case, I miss out on a product that doesn't have a V2, which probably means the company went out of business and the original product is no longer supported.

    If they were on the edge of being funded, I might be willing to buy in and help push them over, but this is already 390% funded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    fredsherbet, 6 Sep 2015 @ 1:02am

    Just to be pedantic - scales measure electrical resistance to estimate the amount of fat in your body, not BMI, which is just based on weight and height.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 4:30am

    oh FFS

    yeah, i'm so clueless i can't tell when i'm not getting the sleep i need...
    what next, an app to tell me when i have to take a shit ?
    how in hell can you hothouse flowers know when to breathe without some useless piece of technokrap to tell you when ?
    ...and, 99% of them will end up in a junk drawer within a month or two...
    gosh, the planet is circling the drain because we are smothering it with technokrap, but let's just keep piling it on...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 7:39am

    A remote sensor sold as a health product.

    Thanks for wearing our sleep sensor. We can now know when to start playing subliminal messages to you from the cellphone on your nightstand. Don't worry, they'll turn off automatically as soon as you wake.

    And no, we aren't responsible for the fact that you are buying 3 copies of "catcher in the rye" a day. Or the two boxes of doublestuff cookies you now eat everyday for breakfast, OR and the neon polkadot tracksuit you just "LOVE", because it is so comfortable.

    Sleep well, minion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 6 Sep 2015 @ 8:52am

    Re: A remote sensor sold as a health product.

    Do you think that's likely?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 6 Sep 2015 @ 9:08am


    good point, fixing

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    HL Mencken, 6 Sep 2015 @ 10:28am

    Is OURA Really Necessary

    We need a ring to tell us that we feel tired or slept like shit?

    Seems OURA is a late arrival to the wearable market and their gimmick (er, 'value proposition') is only their 'sleep' algorithm (not to mention the clunky jewelry).

    No thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous, 6 Sep 2015 @ 2:14pm

    Shift workers

    A huge percentage of people now work rotating shifts (days, nights, days, nights, etc) and hacking the body clock is a very worthy goal.
    Most of these 'services' and gadgets make the wrong assumption that everyone sleeps at night. So the people in the most need of help (in my opinion) are the least likely to get it.
    I hope this changes soon. I welcome tech advancement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 6 Sep 2015 @ 4:39pm

    Re: Shift workers

    That's an excellent point. Supposedly the OURA does learn different rhythms and schedules, but I don't know how flexible it is or whether it's prepared to make proper recommendations for people on what I guess I'll call "non-traditional schedules". Hopefully it does, or will.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Sep 2015 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: A remote sensor sold as a health product.

    "Do you think that's likely?"

    Techniques derived from Clinical Psychology have been weaponized for years. If it isn't likely, it is a matter of redundancy.

    My guess is that their will be a commercial product that uses this kind of functionality marketed to shrinks as a theraputic tool. The source code will likely derive in part from they guys who wrote the black hat version of the same software while they were working in intelligence.

    There are a lot of popular communications products that derive from that sort of event chain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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