AppleInsider is supported by its audience and you may earn commission as an Amazon Partner and Affiliate Partner on eligible purchases. These affiliate partnerships do not affect our editorial content.
Sleep tracking can be done in the future without any mattress sensors or wearables, as Apple is investigating the use of an iPhone, Mac, or HomePod mini, to provide physiological monitoring.
If you’ve ever worn your Apple Watch all night to wake up from the touch alarm without disturbing anyone else, you know it’s been very successful. It is not the most convenient, and it also means that you have to find time to charge the watch the next day.
Wearable sleep trackers are similar in their accuracy, but they can be uncomfortable enough to affect the sleep they are trying to check. A newly disclosed patent shows that Apple has been looking at alternatives, specifically ones that don’t require any physical contact with the sleeping person.
There were indeed devices where a princess would have to find out less than a pea width tracker placed on the mattress. This includes Apple’s own Beddit sleep monitor, which was acquired when Apple bought Beddit – and then discontinued in January 2022.
However, the “Method and System of Physiological Monitoring” suggests a system that lacks even this connection.
The Apple patent says: “Physiological monitoring is performed using devices that do not require ECG, EEG, or other electrophysiological signals with uncomfortable electrodes, but are based on comfortable movement and sound measurement.”
She continues, “Measurements necessary for such unobtrusive monitoring are made using systems, such as microphones to measure sounds of motion, sounds of breathing and snoring, and motion sensors such as radars…”
This same section of the patent also mentions “bed-mounted force sensors, wearable motion sensors,” and more. So Apple doesn’t rule out sensors on the body or in the bed, but the majority of this proposal is concerned with how to track sleep without any such hardware.
“When monitoring physiological parameters, for example the sleep of one person sleeping on a bed,” says Apple, “virtually all measurement data from sensors that are not disturbed relate to the sleeping person, and it is clear that expected external influences, such as ambient noise, disturb the measurement.”
Track two people at once
On top of that, Apple is planning a single system that will track two people sleeping in the same bed, and it thinks this proposal works for that.
“However, when the physiological parameters of two or more people are monitored, for example, two people sleep in the same bed, unobtrusive monitoring becomes more difficult,” he continues.
“In a typical measurement scenario, each monitored person would have an unobtrusive sensor,” Apple says. “The output of each sensor relentlessly will also contain information about the person who is not intended to be monitored by the respective sensor, for example, a first person motion sensor will also detect the movements of another person and vice versa.”
It’s a difficulty, especially since “the extent of the problem depends on the unobtrusive sensor used,” says Apple. For example, “Microphones are more likely to pick up signals from multiple people.”
Gestures may be a nice word for “snoring,” but the combination of sound and motion data helps differentiate people with a minimal amount of what Apple calls “crosstalk.”
The amount of crosstalk between the sensors,” Apple continues, “that is, how strong the heartbeat of a person sleeping on one side of the bed, for example, appears on the sensor signal of a person sleeping on the other side, depends on, for example, the type of sensor used.”
This proposal focuses on using multiple sensors, potentially including wearable devices, in order to collect data that can then be discerned. It’s mostly about what she calls unobtrusive hardware, which “may include a smartphone.”
Apple lists as examples, “smartphone, tablet, TV, or table computer.” In other words, the iPhone you’re charging next to your bed could be part of your sleep tracking system.
This patent is attributed to three inventors, each of whom had previous work related to determining sleep quality.