Sleep deprivation affects health, the regulation of emotions, coping and learning in a multitude of ways. Furthermore, problems related to the rhythm of sleep experienced by the young are realised as tardiness in school and issues of life management, potentially carrying on from school long into adulthood.
Anu-Katriina Pesonen, professor of clinical and developmental psychology at the University of Helsinki, is investigating sleep rhythm regulation in adolescents under the Sleep Helsinki! research project funded by the Academy of Finland. SleepCircle, a sleep application born out of the research, dates back four years to the Helsinki Challenge competition.
SleepCircle offers users sleep training based on data collected by wearable sleep and activity trackers. The application is compatible with nearly all sleep detecting devices available on the market.
“Sleep training utilises research-based evidence of improving one’s sleep rhythm”, Pesonen explains.
SleepCircle assembles this research data onto a single platform, serving it to the user in the form of cognitive and game-like tasks. These tasks, aimed at controlling sleep rhythm, guide users to observe, among other things, their personal need for sleep and the effects of sleep on memory functions.
Half of adolescents experience problems in maintaining their sleep rhythm
Research indicates that there is a biological pressure to stay up late particularly in teens and young adults. Their melatonin production begins later and they cope with tiredness better, being able to stay awake past the point ideal for going to sleep.
“However, behavioural factors can be used to regulate one’s circadian rhythm. In recent years, people’s interest in sleep has grown, and awareness of the significance of sleep has increased both in research and people’s minds,” Pesonen says.
This greater awareness, in turn, increases motivation to change one’s sleep rhythm.
Application to be investigated at a medical centre for children and adolescents
SleepCircle’s positive effects on quality of life will be tested at a medical centre for children and adolescents among young patients suffering from sleep disorders. The training is supported by a personal sleep coach that receives sleep data directly from the application.
“A virtual training service could reach a large number of adolescents who are not necessarily prepared to go to a physician to ask for help in controlling their sleep rhythm,” says Pesonen.
In addition, insurance companies are interested in testing the product as a wellbeing service to be offered as part of smart insurance targeted at adults. Sleep deprivation has an effect on accident proneness, for example, at work and in traffic.
On the lookout for new partners
SleepCircle has secured funding from Business Finland under the New Business from Research Ideas scheme until the end of 2018. A proof-of-concept has already been carried out, and a company for commercialising the product is to be established in early 2019.
“We want to introduce the product and collect feedback. We are also happy to listen to any wishes our potential partners may have – the product is based on code that can be tailored according to customer needs,” says Eeva Siika-Aho, project manager in charge of commercialising SleepCircle.