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Apple patent tracks sleep, adjusts alarms based on device input

Source: USPTO

A patent granted to Apple on Tuesday details the use of devices like iPhone and Apple Watch — and potentially Beddit — in adjusting morning alarms based on monitored sleep patterns, shedding light on the company's research into sleep science.

As awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,692,874 for "Adjusting alarms based on sleep onset latency" describes a method of automatically configuring alarms using data gathered by personal mobile devices.

People normally set alarms to wake up in the morning for work, for example, and in turn go to sleep the night before based on those preset wake-up times. In many cases, however, people do not immediately fall asleep when they go to bed. Apple refers to the disparity between intended sleep time and actual sleep time as sleep onset latency, a problem the company believes can be alleviated with modern technology.

Leveraging modern on-device sensors like accelerometers, heart rate sensors, microphones and more, along with advanced computational algorithms, Apple proposes the creation of a sleep logic. The resulting system would be capable of determining a user's sleep ritual, intent to sleep and actual sleep time.

In some embodiments, the patent uses its set of onboard sensors to determine a user's sleep ritual, or the set of activities a person normally performs just before bed each night. For example, people often brush their teeth, shut the blinds, close doors or take a shower prior to bedtime, all activities that can be detected using sound, motion or light sensors.

Information gathered during the sleep ritual stage can then be applied to determine sleep intent, or when a user gets into bed and attempts to fall asleep. Here, too, device sensor data might be implemented for more accurate results.

Finally, to detect sleep, the invention relies on both sensor data and basic logic. For example, a device might determine a user is asleep by monitoring their heart rate, breathing rate or movement. Alternatively, if a user is interacting with their device — touching its screen, viewing a movie — the sleep logic can determine that the person is still awake.

This information is subsequently used to adjust, or push back, a previously set alarm, thereby providing adequate sleep time — or at least more sleep time — for the end user. Similarly, information from apps like Calendar can be queried for upcoming appointments, which might further adjust wake-up alarm time.

The system also builds in smart reminders for attaining sleep goals, as well as napping functions to catch up on sleep during the day.

The goal, Apple says, is to help consumers feel more rested than they would with traditional alarms.

Apple already integrates some of the functionality described in today's patent in a barebones sleep tracking feature called "Bedtime." Part of the iOS 10 Alarm app, Bedtime lets users configure a "Bedtime Alarm," or reminder to go to sleep, and "Wake Alarm" with customizable sound volumes. Users can adjust the number of hours of sleep they get per night using a graphical slider mechanism.

Bedtime connects to Apple's Health app for more in-depth analysis like estimated sleep times. Health can also integrate more accurate sleep tracking with third-party hardware like fitness bands and the Beddit 3 sleep tracker. Perhaps not coincidentally, Apple purchased Beddit in May. The company has yet to disclose how it will integrate Beddit technology into future products, though Beddit sleep trackers are still being sold in Apple's retail stores.

Apple's sleep tracking patent was first filed for in September 2015 and credits Roy J. Raymann, Wren N. Dougherty, Divya Nag, Deborah M. Lambert, Stephanie Greer and Thomas R. Gruber as its inventors. Raymann, a sleep science specialist, was poached from Philips Research in 2014 and recently left Apple in May shortly after the Beddit acquisition.