March 26, 2014, San Diego (NNS) – Researchers and neuroscientists from Naval Health Research Center headquarters San Diego began a sleep screen pilot study using a smart textile shirt, March 20, hoping to identify a cost-efficient, objective tool that can improve the health and readiness of active duty service members.
According to the Military Health Service, the most common complaints shared by service members returning from deployment are about the quantity and quality of their sleep. If the smart textile shirt proves to be an effective data collection tool, the team believes this technology may improve access and reliability of sleep diagnostic services, expedite sleep health treatment, and ultimately improve readiness.
“Sleep apnea is very common and the most likely use for this technology. This is something that only a bed partner could guess about, or the textile could pick up,” explained Dr. Diane Williams, acting Warfighter Department Head and research psychologist. “This could revolutionize the ease of collecting accurate sleep data in a large number of people very inexpensively. It could also get service members to treatment in time to prevent cognitive impairment.”
The team works with volunteer, active duty participants from one of the eight local military bases. The service members wear the smart textile device, which is similar to an athletic shirt, and spend the night in the sleep lab. Data is collected via undetectable sensors that are embedded within the shirt’s fabric. The data are then stored and will be analyzed at the end of the pilot study. This is notably different from polysomnography tests where there is a minimum of 22 wires attached to the patient. Because of the increased comfort, the smart textile shirt should provide data more indicative of the patient’s normal sleep.
“Polysomnography tests are what people typically think of when they hear sleep studies – when you go to a clinic or hospital and stay overnight while connected to an array of electrodes on the head and body,” explained Gena Glickman, a research scientist with NHRC. “Although these types of sleep studies are currently the most informative way of examining sleep, two challenges are that they’re costly, and there is always the question of whether or not the person is sleeping as they typically would in their home.”
Experts agree, however, that in-house sleep studies are one of two clinical gold standards of practice for evaluating sleep. The second is actigraphy, which utilizes a wristwatch-like device that tracks sleep patterns. Throughout the pilot, the NHRC team will be comparing the smart textile shirt to polysomnography and actigraphy, and if the results of the smart textile shirt are consistent with the gold standards, the team will develop an algorithm for detecting sleep irregularities.
“It’s ironic in this culture that sleep is viewed to be a nuisance, that it gets in the way of performing their duties,” Glickman continued. “But if you sleep well, your cognitive performance or cardiovascular health, for example, will improve. Basically, with optimal sleep, job performance is likely to be better. And it’s not just the quantity, or how long one sleeps, but more importantly, the quality of sleep that we want to measure and help improve.”
The team understands the importance of optimizing performance for the service member. NHRC has five different studies of sleep underway that characterize sleep in military members at various career stages and identify strategies for enhancing sleep health, countermeasures for sleep disturbance, and ultimately, to optimize performance.
Glickman acknowledged that the smart textile shirt will not likely replace standard polysomnography, but the hope is that the tool will enable large scale sleep health screens and efficiently identify individuals who require overnight sleep studies. The sleep screen pilot is expected to be complete by September 2014.
“If we can find a tool that collects accurate data and that can be used in the home, whether it’s this textile or another tool, we will be able to identify sleep problems earlier and therefore, begin treatment sooner,” noted Glickman. “This may enable us to help service members sooner and in a more cost effective way.”
As the DoD’s premier medical research center, NHRC’s cutting-edge research and development is used to optimize the operational health and readiness of the nations armed forces. Within close proximity to more than 95,000 uniformed service members, world-class universities, and industry partners, NHRC’s expert team sets the standards in joint ventures, innovation, and practical application.
For more news from Naval Health Research Center, visit www.navy.mil/local/nhrc/.