From smart masks, headbands…to contactless biosensors

Over the past decades, sleep has become an issue for many individuals across many generations. Below is a compilation of key statistics from the American Sleep Association that relate to sleep and sleep disorders in the US:

50-70M US adults have a sleep disorder.
48.0% report snoring.
37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month.
4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month.
Insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder, with short term issues reported by about 30% of adults and chronic insomnia by 10%.
25M U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea

Globally some studies have also shown that 30% of the world’s population suffer from sleep issues. So clearly sleep issues have become a global phenonemon.

In this analysis, we’ll provide an overview of the key tech sleep monitoring and analysis segments, the key players, and current and future trends.

But before we do that, how important is sleep for athletes?

“Sleep is one of the most important components in my opinion, for an athlete and here’s why. It’s also one of the most underutilized components. The reason why is that sleep not only effects the next day’s performance but it also has a big effect on the longevity of a pro or elite athlete. Here’s the key that every athlete, coach, trainer, sports exec, here’s what they need to know, that not all sleep is created equal. There’s much more to it than just getting your eight to nine hours of sleep”, said Annelise Thornton, the CEO of ETP systems, a company providing professional services in sleep recovery and performance to pro teams.

Is there a correlation between sleep and the performance of an athlete?

“There’s a researcher out in California, her name is Cheri Mah and her research shows that by increasing team’s number of sleep hours by two hours a night, that that will have a direct benefit on the team’s performance. She worked with basketball players and swimmers, so the evidence is compelling for time in bed and number of hours of sleep, if you get two more hours of sleep. I think the basketball team increased their average sleep time by two hours a night and they improved their shooting by 19%, shooting accuracy and goals, something like that”, said Annelise Thornton, the CEO of ETP systems.

Now let’s talk about the key wearable sports segments:

(1) Smartwatch & fitness bands, rings: These are usually smart watches or fitness bands that can be worn on the wrist and that are capable of monitoring the athletes’ quality of their sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, etc. Companies focusing on this area include companies like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Motorola, LG, adidas, Fitbit, Huawei, Fatigue Science, Philips, Whoop, to name a few. Companies like Oura also built a smart ring that can measure sleep quality.

(2) Smart sleeping masks: This category usually includes smart masks that can help users relax and fall asleep. For example Sana built a smart sleeping mask that uses pulses of lights and sounds and can make athletes sleep in 15 minutes. Other vendors in this category include companies like Illumy, which uses a different method.

(3) Bed – sleep trackers: These are usually devices that are placed underneath the mattress and track and monitor the sleep quality of one or two individuals. Leading companies in the space include companies like Beddit (now part of Apple), Eightsleep, Fullpower Technologies, or Withings, just to name a few.

(4) Headbands: These are usually headbands that can be worn on the head and that are capable of monitoring the athletes’ quality of their sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, etc. Companies focusing on this area include companies like Dreem, Philips, just to name a few.

(5) Contactless biosensors based devices: These are typically devices that are embedded with a tiny radar (based on technologies like UWB) and advanced algorithms that can measure athletes’ biometric data (e.g. HR, sleep apnea, stress, anxiety, HRV, blood pressure, etc) without any contact to the skin. Leading players in the space include companies like SleepScore, Blumio, Elfi Tech, Circadia Tech, and Xandar Kardian.

(6) Professional services: These are typically companies who work with sports teams to help athletes better manage and improve their sleep. These companies essentially assess, and optimize athletes’ sleep quality. Leading companies in this space include companies like ETP systems.

Source: Sports Tech Advisors, 2019

So what are the main issues in the tech sleep monitoring market?

  • Lack of clinical validations from sleep tech vendors: Many sleep tech vendors often make claims about what their sleep monitoring devices do or measure. Unfortunately many of these claims are not validated by clinical research, which is a concern for many athletic trainers. This is also the belief of sleep experts like Annelise Thornton, the CEO of ETP systems: “I think it’s the Wild West, and that there are a lot of companies that are making claims that are not necessarily backed by clinical research”, said Mrs Thornton.
  • Privacy is a concern, especially for most athletes: Like with any trackers that are being worn on the body and track personal health, most athletes have a big perception that they are being tracked. With that in mind, privacy is a major concern for most athletes. “There’s a lot of tech that’s out there that you can use to get daily information, but the risk of using let’s say wrist-based trackers is that there is a pretty big perception that that’s like Big Brother and Big Brother is always watching and they’re on top of you”, said Mrs Thornton.

So how accurate are the various sleep trackers out there?

Most athletic trainers of pro teams often ask themselves: What are the most accurate sleep trackers out there today? Fullpower Technologies recently published a great analysis that compares the accuracy of the measurements of various sleep trackers.

This study compared various sleep tech monitors such as Sleep IQ (Sleep Number) Resmed S+, Withings, Beddit Monitor 3.5 (Now part of Apple), SleepScore Max, the Fitbit Versa, Emfit QS, the Oura Ring, the Eight Sleep Mattress cover.

Then it compared those devices based on various criteria such as:

  • The level of accuracy compared to a polysomnography. 90% accuracy being very accurate.
  • Various insights provided: Daily sleep report email with coaching, automatic sleep detection.
  • The ability to support and monitor two sleepers.
  • The use of passive sensors, with no microphone, no cameras, no waves, nothing to wear on the body.
  • IOT cloud based, AI powered solution.
  • The ability to measure REM sleep
  • The form factor (invisible under the mattress).
  • The Integration with Google, Amazon or Apple smart home.
  • Always connected via home WiFi for reliable functionality
  • The FDA certification

Source: Fullpower Technologies

Overall Fullpower Technologies provided the most complete solution based on those criteria. For example its Sleeptracker® Monitor was 90% as accurate as polysomnography, which is considered as the gold standard. It can also monitor 2 sleepers, and can accurately differentiate one sleeper from the other. It can also provide actionable insights and personalized coaching. These are some of the key differentiators that make Fullpower Technologies stand up from the crowd in the market.

How is the sleep tracking and monitoring market likely to evolve over time?

  • Non invasive contactless biosensors set to become the new norm for sleep monitoring among the world of pro tennis. As we mentioned in a previous analysis, athletes are very particular about their sleep. Wearing smartwatches, headbands or any other wearables to monitor their sleep is a no go in our opinion. This is why we believe that non invasive devices using biosensors capable measuring the sleep (light, deep sleep, REMs..) is the way to go.

    In fact, we work with many pro teams and based on our feedback teams prefer using non invasive devices using contactless biosensors because it is more convenient for the athletes and it makes the coaches’ job easier.

    We have come across many devices using contactless biosensors and one of the best products (see picture below) that we have seen and tested is SleepScore Max. The device was very convenient to use as we only needed to put it on our bedside table. It seemed to be accurate in terms of sleep measurement as it was able to measure our light, deep sleep accurately.

Picture: SleepScore Max

Another key product that we tested is Sleeptracker® Monitor, which analyzes sleep cycles, breathing rate, heart rate and movement to offer personalized suggestions for better sleep. Of note, this device made by the leading company Fullpower Technologies.

Photo: Fullpower Technologies. Tomorrow’s non invasive contactless biosensor.

We personally found the quality of the device’s measurements very accurate. In fact, Fullpower Technologies is recognized as one of the leaders in the smart sleeping market especially in terms of accuracy. Of note, we recently interviewed Fullpower Technologies CEO Philippe Kahn and plan to publish the video interview soon.

Picture: Fullpower Technologies. Tomorrow’s non invasive contactless biosensor.

In the next 5 years, we expect most pro tennis players to use those types of devices using contactless biosensors in the future simply because it is a lot more convenient than having to wear a watch, headband or a ring to measure sleep quality.

  • Sleep trackers with a smaller form factor for sleep monitoring and deeper insights are set to become the norm over time: We believe that over time most sleep trackers will have a smaller form factor. Non invasive sleep trackers like Fullpower Technologies’s Tomorrow are an example of such trend with smaller form factors. Those devices, by using advanced AI and algorithms, will become more intelligent and will be capable of providing deep insights to users about the quality of their sleep. They will be able to understand the baseline or norm for each individual. “I think the future you’re going to get much smaller devices and you’re going to be able to get a deeper dive into the physiology and being able to tweak, “Well, okay here’s deep sleep and sleep let’s say, continuity and sleep trends, et cetera.” It’s also the data analytics behind the sleep over the course of the season, maybe benchmarking as well (..) I think there’s also going to be some changes in form factor”, explained Mrs Thornton.

Bottom line: In the coming years we expect sleep trackers to become more intelligent, more non invasive, and with smaller form factors. We also expect to see more sleep trackers to be validated clinically by reputable organizations. This will be critical to help drive the adoption of such devices in the world of elite sports. As a result of that we expect more pro and olympic teams to use those types of devices, especially the ones using contactless biosensors in the future simply because it is a lot more convenient than having to wear a watch, headband or a ring to measure sleep quality. Ultimately these types of advanced sleep trackers will help athletes better manage their sleep and improve their performance during key competitions.