The patent explains that most people have typical bedtime habits recurring every night, such as going to the bathroom, shutting blinds, taking a shower, etc. These “sleep ritual activities” directly affect each person’s “sleep onset latency,” or the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep after first lying down and attempting to go to sleep. The problem with most modern alarm apps is that they can’t understand a restless night’s sleep, or a lengthy sleep onset latency period, and Apple’s new patent tries to address these issues.
A new patent filed by Apple in 2015, and published today by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, shines some light on what the company could be working on in regards to sleep tracking technology and its recent acquisition of Beddit. Called “Adjusting alarms based on sleep onset latency,” the new patent describes in detail a system that could receive data from devices like an iPhone, Apple Watch, or a Beddit-like flat, flexible sensor, and intelligently track user behavior to help them get their best night sleep possible.
About the Technology
In some implementations, sleep logic can identify sleep ritual activities based on application usage. For example, the user may have a habit of using specific software applications installed on computing device immediately before going to bed. The user can check calendar application. The user can set a wake up alarm using alarm clock application.
The user can use social media applications, news applications, a game application, an e-book reader application, and/or other applications before going to sleep. Sleep logic can monitor application usage before the predicted sleep time (e.g., 1 hour before, 0.5 hour before, etc.) and determine which applications the user uses before the user’s predicted sleep time. Sleep logic can store the detected application use activities as sleep ritual activities in sleep ritual database.
Taking this information into account, once you actually try to go to bed, the sleep tracking system will begin looking at how long it actually takes you to fall asleep (heartrate and breathing are mentioned), remembering your sleep ritual activities and calculating how they affected your sleep onset latency. Apple’s theoretical system would also understand when you’re obviously not asleep, like if you’re currently on your iPhone on another connected device, and adjust tracking accordingly.
Of course, that risks some users getting a later start on their day than they are comfortable with, so Apple’s patent has a wide range of features that can prevent you from not waking up later than you intend to. The system would recognize calendar data, so if you have an appointment at 7:30 AM, your 7:00 AM alarm wouldn’t be adjusted. Likewise, travel time to your first appointment of the day would be taken into account.
Similar to nighttime rituals, the system is said to also track how long your morning rituals last over time. Using this data, it’ll also be able to figure out the best wake up time, so if you have a long morning ritual, your alarm might go off earlier than someone whose morning ritual is faster. Over time, all of the data gathered by the sleep tracking system would help users “feel more rested” throughout their day, according to Apple’s new patent.
An alternative “power nap function” describes a way for a device — here a “wearable device such as a watch” is specifically mentioned — to wake you up when the system determines that you’ve entered and stayed in a deep sleep for a period of previously-determined time. After figuring out when your heart rate and breathing rate have reached the “deep sleep threshold” for a period of time, the system would begin waking you up, so you can “realize the benefit of sleep without the grogginess that is experienced when a user is awakened from a deep sleep.”
The specific kinds of sensors referenced in the patent — including light- and sound-based sensor are implemented in modern iPhones, but it’s unclear whether a sleep tracking system described in today’s patent would simply be an addition to an existing Apple device, a new iteration of a product like Beddit, or a combination of both. Apple slowly began expanding its sleep tracking support with “Bedtime” in the iOS 10 Alarm app, but that feature simply tracks the hours between when a user manually inputs a bedtime and when they silence the morning alarm, with no ability to understand how long the user is actually sleeping.