HEALTHY LIVING
01/12/2016 12:14 pm ET | Updated Jan 12, 2017

Sleep and Pain at the Consumer Electronics Show

Half of our health status is bolstered through lifestyle and daily choices; only 20 percent of our individual health destinies are attributable to genetics, 20 percent to our environment, and 10 percent based on access to health care services. The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas last week, and featured an expanding array of health-focused, connected "things" for health in the growing Internet of Things landscape. Beyond the usual wearable technologies for the wrist that measure steps, heart function, and calorie burn, a growing number of devices address what Alexandra Drane coined as "The Unmentionables" -- social determinants of health that can be taboo, not sufficiently discussed in public, but together can diminish health, quality of life, and mental wellbeing.

Foremost among these is sleep deprivation, a topic deeply covered in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports. "Sleeplessness has a long and tortured history," the magazine notes, explaining that the first documented sleep deprivation was a way to punish prisoners in the 15th century. In the 21st century, sleep deprivation is a way of life for too many people, as 68 percent of people in the U.S. struggling to get to sleep at least once a week.

At CES, a portfolio of smart beds, apps, sleep-tracking sensors and lightbulbs target this health risk to go beyond prescription and over-the-counter drugs which have become risky solutions when taken too often or mixed with other substances (say, recreational drugs like marijuana or alcohol).

In the smart bed category, I spoke with the developers of the Variowell bed which is made of a sensor-embedded "dynamic foam" that connects with sleep-tracking app data and adjusts firmer or softer based on a person's sleep patterns. Their technology is based on a hypothesis that the firmness of a bed surface determines a person's waking from a deep sleep (known as "N3 stage"). The company expects to license the technology to a major bed manufacturer by mid-2016.

The popular Sleep Number bed launched a new version, the It Bed, which tracks sleep patterns and marries to the SleepIQ app, a smart home app with an Internet of Things play. If you sleep soundly when the room is warmer, then the bed will communicate to your smart thermostat to turn up the heat. Another smart bed, The Safebed from Emfit, is targeted to the safe aging-at-home market. The Safebed tracks sleep quality, duration of sleep, respiration and heart rates. The sensors are built into the bed so there's nothing to wear while sleeping. The bed's app can push daily summaries and notifications to a loved one (perhaps an adult child), say if the sleeper was absent from bed for many hours one night.

After sleeping, you may need a wake-up call, and several tools unveiled at CES look to wake us up in new ways. The French company Holi launched Bonjour, a voice controlled, "If This Then That" (IFTTT) alarm and home monitor. Why "IFTTT?" Say it's the weekend, you're a runner, and it's torrentially raining outside on a Saturday morning. Bonjour won't wake you up that morning and lets you sleep in. Holi also offers Sleepmaster, which is a sleep monitor with a wake up function as well as claiming the ability to evaluate risks of sleep apnea.

In the smart lightbulb category, Holi launched the Smartlamp and the SleepCompanion, with gentle wake up lighting and "mood +matching" to the sleeper's needs. The SmartShaker 2 from iLuv is a Bluetooth connected wireless wake up alarm that guarantees to wake up the user with vibration, ringtone, panic sound, light or music. This device also connects in the IoT sense to a smart bulb called the Rainbow. (Smart bulbs and lighting are also a big category in the IoT, in and beyond health applications.)

Do you need to listen to music or talk shows to fall asleep? You're not alone, and the developers of Bedphones recognize you. They released Bedphones Generation 3, a thin, on-ear headphone designed for sleeping. The product comes with a mobile app which enables users to automatically shut off the sound when users get to sleep.

Perhaps your stress and tension prevent you from falling asleep. Over 50 million people in the U.S. manage chronic tension headaches and migraines, and that's what the BioTrak Health Halo was developed to address. The Halo is a sensor-embedded headband coupled with an app that guides a user through relaxation exercises which can be very helpful for relaxing before bedtime.

Chronic pain is a risk factor for sleep deprivation. The 2015 Sleep in America Poll found that pain is a key factor in the gap between the amount of sleep Americans say they need and the amount they're getting - an average 42 minute sleep debt for those with chronic pain and 14 minutes for those who've suffered from acute pain in the past week. More than 100 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. "Pain is prevalent, and sleep suffers," the foundation asserts.

The Quell device from Neurometrix was featured at CES, from a company that is mature in the medical device market for diagnosing pain marketed to the professional community - doctors and other clinicians dealing with patients in pain. The FDA-approved Quell device was developed to be marketed direct-to-consumers in pain. People managing pain multi-task their approach, using over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs (with an alarming growth of opioids and other narcotics), meditate and do yoga, see chiropractors, get acupuncture, among other tactics. Quell is a flexible fabric cuff embedded with sensors that wraps around the upper calf below the knee. Quell was co-designed with IDEO, the design experts, and reflects a streamlined form factor that looks more like consumer electronics sold at Best Buy than a medical device purchased at the pharmacy.

While the 2016 CES had its share of big screen TVs, connected cars, and 3D printers, the event is growing its health/wellness and health/care chops. "I see a world with connected devices that are constantly learning and discovering new ways of doing everything; improving the way we live," said Gary Shapiro, CEO of The Consumer Technology Association during his keynote kicking off the Show. Watch for more health and sleep devices in your local retail and online sellers' shops that can help you live better and healthier. Sleep is the first of many social determinants of health that the Internet of Things will help address.