An engineered mattress that tricks your body into falling asleep faster

Look at the heating and cooling sections of the mattress using a thermal camera. Credit: The University of Texas at Austin

Throughout the day, people alternate between feeling alert and sleepy. This sensation is controlled in part by the tides of the 24-hour body temperature rhythm. A unique mattress and pillow system that uses heating and cooling to tell the body it’s time to sleep has now been developed by bioengineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

When the body temperature drops at night as part of the 24-hour cycle, sleep is stimulated. With the new mattress, people may fall asleep faster and have better sleep because it stimulates the body to feel sleepy.

“We facilitate sleep preparation by manipulating internal body temperature-sensitive sensors to briefly adjust the body’s thermostat so that the temperature is thought to be higher than it actually is,” said Shehab Hagigh, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. Sleep Medicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who helped lead the development of the mattress at the University of Austin while earning their Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. Graduated graduate in 2020.

An important body thermostat for a human being is the skin of the neck. Therefore, it is the primary sensor that the mattress targets, via a heating pad. To increase blood flow to dissipate body heat, the ergonomically designed mattress is designed to simultaneously cool central areas of the body while warming the neck, hands and feet.

When people feel sleepy or alert, this sensation is controlled in part by the tides of the 24-hour body temperature rhythm. At the University of Texas at Austin, bioengineers have developed a unique mattress and pillow system that uses heating and cooling to tell the body it’s time to sleep.

In the Sleep Research JournalIn this study, scientists published a proof-of-concept study of a unique combination of a pillow-heating plus cooling and heating dual-zone mattress system. I looked at two versions of the mattress: one that uses water and one that uses air to control core body temperature. They tested the mattresses with 11 people. They were asked to go to bed two hours earlier than usual, on some nights using the cooling functions in the mattress and on other nights they didn’t.

According to the results, the heating and cooling mattress helped them fall asleep faster – about 58 percent faster than on nights when they didn’t use the cool-and-heat function, even in difficult conditions early on in falling asleep. In addition to significantly reducing the time required to fall asleep, lowering the internal body temperature also significantly improved sleep quality.

The project arose from a larger goal in the lab of Kenneth Diller, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering and an expert in thermoregulation and temperature for therapeutic devices, to find new ways to use thermal stimulation to help people sleep. Researchers published a study in 2019 that found that taking a warm bath an hour or two before bed helps people fall asleep faster and sleep better.

This project is similar but more targeted. The timely lowering of the body’s internal temperature sends a signal from the circadian clock that it is time for bed. Targeting important bodily sensors at only a few areas that control heat dissipation, and thus the level of body temperature, made more sense than focusing on the entire body.

“It is remarkable how effective gentle warming along the cervical spine is in sending a signal to the body to increase blood flow to the hands and feet to lower core temperature and expedite the onset of sleep,” Diller said. “This same effect also allows blood pressure to drop slightly overnight, with the benefit of allowing the cardiovascular system to recover from the stress of maintaining blood flow during daily activities, which is very important for long-term health.”

The team of researchers holds a patent for the technology of cooled mattresses and pillows and is seeking to establish partnerships with mattress companies to market it.

Reference: “A New Temperature-Controlled Sleep System for Improving Sleep: A Proof-of-Concept Study” by Shihab Haqeq, Sepideh Khoshnevis, Michael H. Smolensky, Ramon C. Hermida, Richard J. Castriota, Eva Shernhammer, and Kenneth R. Diller, July 19, 2022 Available here. Sleep Research Journal.
DOI: 10.1111 / jsr.13662

Other members of the team are Sebideh Khoshnevis and Michael Smolensky of the University of Austin, Ramon Hermida of the University of Vigo in Spain, Richard Castriota of the University of Southern California and Eva Shernhammer of Harvard University.

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