A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

The Rest of Your Life


A new app combines personal sleep analytics with research.

There are plenty of cellphone apps on the market designed to help people monitor their sleep patterns. The apps generally record data on when people go to bed and when they wake, and many use the device’s microphone and accelerometer to take note of noises in the night and monitor how much people toss and turn.

A group of Brown University computer scientists and clinical psychologists has come up with an approach that takes sleep monitoring one step further. Dubbed SleepCoacher, it uses sleep anaytics to generate personalized recommendations informed by the scientific literature on sleep. SleepCoacher then guides users through a self-experimentation framework to help them find the recommendations that best work for them.

“The idea is to not only present people with information about their sleep, but to give them some control over it by giving recommendations along with a step-by-step plan for improving their sleep,” says Nediyana Daskalova ScM’16 PhD’20, a computer scientist who is leading the development of Sleep-Coacher. Daskalova and her team developed SleepCoacher under the direction of Jeff Huang, PhD, an assistant professor of computer science and leader of Brown’s Human-Computer Interaction Group.

“Our work is the first of its kind to guide people to figure out whether the data is causal, instead of just correlation. That’s particularly exciting for me,” Huang says. “We have an approach that could work in the long term to continuously improve sleep over months or even years. And because we are aiming for a lifetime of improvement, this could be personalized for whether you are a night owl or morning person, a light or heavy sleeper, or even someone who needs more than the usual eight hours of sleep.”

The SleepCoacher self-experiment process is designed to account for that variation and help people develop a tailored plan for better sleep. An important component of the approach, Daskalova says, was engaging the Warren Alpert Medical School faculty who work in the area of sleep, including Nicole Nugent, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior (research) and of pediatrics (research); Julie Boergers, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior (clinical) and of pediatrics (clinical); and John McGeary, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior.

Nugent stresses that approaches like SleepCoacher are not a replacement for clinical intervention for people who have serious psychiatric conditions that interfere with sleep, like post-traumatic stress disorder or severe anxiety disorders. “This approach is really aimed at people whose sleep is a little off and who would like some help,” she says.


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