Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) have recently developed a new smartphone app to detect the signs of obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing temporarily while sleeping. The person often jolts awake when the breathing begins again, disrupting the sleep cycle and making it impossible to get a full night of restful sleep.
Experts estimate that sleep apnea affects about one in every 13 Americans. Recently it was estimated that around 18 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, but according to UW Today, that number is more likely around 25 million. The discrepancy in numbers is largely due to a person’s inability to detect sleep apnea on their own.
In many cases, people with sleep apnea suffer the physical and mental effects of sleep deprivation for years before going into a sleep lab for testing and diagnosis.
Unlike the polysomnography tests in a sleep lab, which can cost thousands of dollars and which require an overnight stay while hooked up to countless wires in a hospital bed, the new patient-friendly ApneaApp is simple and affordable.
The software in ApneaApp makes use of sonar waves to measure a sleeper’s body movements throughout the night and detect when there are pauses in breathing. Unlike traditional tests, the person does not have to be hooked up to sensors and wires that measure breathing patterns, heart rate, and eye movements through the night.
Instead, similar to how bats use echolocation to navigate their surroundings in the dark, inaudible sound waves are emitted from a person’s smartphone and the echoes of the waves are measured when they bounce off the person’s body, allowing the app to detect any changes in movement.
According to GeekWire, the app can effectively detect sleep apnea in sleepers when the phone is placed up to three feet away, it can differentiate between two sleepers (as long as they’re at least 10 cm away from each other), and it can work even if the person is sleeping under a blanket.
The UW research team states that ApneaApp has been tested against traditional hospital tests, and the results look very promising — but they hope to get the app approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after conducting some additional research, so it will likely be about two years until the app is made available to the general public.