An engineered mattress that tricks your body into falling asleep faster

Summary: The new pillow and mattress system stimulates the body to induce feelings of drowsiness using the sensation of heating and cooling. Researchers say the new system helps people fall asleep faster and improves overall sleep quality.

source: Utah Austin

When people feel sleepy or alert, this sensation is controlled in part by the tides of the 24-hour body temperature rhythm.

Bioengineers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a unique mattress and pillow system that uses heating and cooling to tell the body it’s time to sleep.

Sleep is possible when the body temperature drops at night as part of a 24-hour rhythm. This new mattress stimulates the body to induce a feeling of drowsiness, which helps people fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.

“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. Mr. Realig graduated in 2020.

The skin of the neck is the most important thermostat for the human body, the primary sensor that the mattress targets, with a heating pad. The mattress is designed to cool the central areas of the body at the same time while heating the neck, hands and feet, thus increasing blood flow to dissipate body heat.

Researchers have published a proof-of-concept study on the unique combination of a pillow-heating plus cooling and heating dual-zone mattress system in sleep research journalgiven two versions of the mattress: one that uses water and the other that uses air to control core body temperature.

They tested the mattresses with 11 people, telling them to go to bed two hours earlier than usual, some nights using the mattress’s cooling and heating functions and other nights not.

The study found that heating and cooling mats helped them fall asleep faster – about 58 percent faster than on nights when they didn’t use the cool-down function, even in difficult early-to-bedtime conditions.

Lowering the internal body temperature not only significantly shortened the time required to fall asleep, but 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.

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

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 holds a patent on cooling technology for mattresses and pillows and is seeking partnerships with mattress companies to market it.

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.

About this neurotechnology and sleep research news

author: Nat Levy
source: Utah Austin
Contact: Nat Levy – Utah Austin
picture: Photo credited to UT Austin

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“A new temperature-controlled sleep regimen to improve sleep: a proof-of-concept study” by Shihab Haqigh et al. sleep research journal


A novel temperature-controlled sleep system to improve sleep: a proof-of-concept study

The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the circadian process C and the homeostatic process S. Selective Thermal Stimulation (STS) of the cervical spine region enhances luminal skin blood flow (GSBF) and increases body heat dissipation to increase the distal to proximal cutaneous gradient (DPG) caused a decrease in Basal body temperature (CBT), which can shorten sleep onset latency time (SOL) and improve sleep quality.

A total of 11 healthy/normal sleeping males who challenged to go to bed (lights off) 2 hours earlier than usual, were randomly assigned to non-consecutive treatment and control night sleep sessions.

The treatment night included an invigorating dual temperature zone mattress with a cooler center and warmer periphery as well as an STS pillow that applies gentle heating to the skin of the cervical spine for 30 minutes after turning off the lights to sleep.

During the first 30 minutes after the lights are out, the GSBF (medium [standard error (SE)] Δ = 49.77 [19.13] perfusion units, s = 0.013) and DPG (average [SE] Δ = 2.05 [0.62] Celsius , s = 0.005) were significantly higher and had CBT (mean [SE] Δ = –0.15 [0.07] Celsius , s = 0.029) was significantly lower in the treatment than the control night, while there was no significant difference in these variables during the 45 min before lights out (baseline).

Moreover, SOL was significantly reduced (mean [SE] Δ = –48.6 [23.4] minute s = 0.032) and the quality of subjective sleep is much better (s<0.001) in the treatment of the control night. In conclusion, the new sleep facilitation regimen consisting of an STS pillow in addition to a dual temperature zone mattress resulted in a previous increase in GSBF and DPG and a previous decrease in CBT.

This resulted in a statistically significant shortening of SOL and an improvement in overall sleep quality, thus reducing S-process sleep stress, even under a challenging investigation protocol that required participants to sleep 2 hours earlier than normal.

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