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Are Smart Mattresses with Haptic Sensors on the Horizon?

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Thanks to the rate at which technology is evolving, you could soon be drifting off to sleep to the calming vibrations of haptic sensors. A smart mattress with haptic technology could revolutionize how we sleep, creating countless customization options to better support individuals who struggle with back issues, breathing disorders, medical conditions, and other sensitivities. 

The word haptic relates to the sense of touch, and haptic technology refers to the creation of a tactile experience through the use of vibration or motion.

Recently, Apple has submitted a request for a patent relating to haptic technology and sleep. Below, we explore what this could mean for the sleep industry and how we might benefit.

Apple’s Haptic Sensor Patent Request

Apple has a notable history of creating innovative, user-friendly products. Recently, rumors have begun to swirl regarding Apple’s foray into the sleep world. News has emerged about the company filing for a patent, the details of which suggest the brand is exploring the vast possibilities of haptic technology.

The patent was submitted[1] in September of 2020 and included designs for a haptic mattress topper, so it appears that Apple could be developing a smart mattress; or a topper-like product to enhance an existing bed. The proposal’s details explicitly indicate the use of fluid[2] elements, pointing to the utilization of air, gas, or liquid.

Theoretically, these elements could be infused into a chamber inside the product to creatively animate the surface, enabling the product to mold and cater to a user’s specific needs. The patent highlights the importance of control, as the liquid or air-filled chambers would likely need to operate independently from one another. 

Apple bought the Finnish company Beddit in 2017, and the Apple Watch already includes sleep tracking abilities, so it’s clear that the company has been nurturing plans to extend its reach beyond computers and handheld devices for some time. In the brand’s apparent quest for expansion, it appears likely that the company might have its sights set on sleep improvement given their patent submission.

What Are Haptic Sensors?

Haptic sensors simulate the sense of touch by combining vibration, motion, and force, creating a sensation similar to what the program is trying to emulate. For example, if you’re driving a car in a virtual world, the hand controls might shake as you drive over a bumpy road, mimicking what it feels like in the real world. However, that simple example is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, the technology has grown to be incredibly sophisticated, and systems can now produce a tactile sensation in mid-air[3] through the use of ultrasound waves. Haptics, as the technology is commonly referred to, is growing at a significant rate and is now being used in cars, smartphones, game consoles, and more.

Many companies have begun incorporating haptics into their products due to the technology’s practical applications. Augmented reality programs, surgical simulation equipment, virtual reality games, and high-end military simulation equipment are just a few of the mediums in which haptics enhance our world.

Haptic technology is not only useful, it could have profound, life-saving results. VR programs employing haptics have recently expanded to the medical field, allowing residents to practice critical, tactile skills[4], without the risk of life-altering mistakes.

By 2024, the industry is expected to grow to over $12 billion.

What This Could Mean for the Future of Mattress Technology

We are each born with unique bodies in various shapes and sizes, and because of this, most of us will never have a traditional mattress made specifically for our individual needs. Introducing haptic technology to the surface on which you sleep brings endless possibilities, including customized back support, pressure alleviation, snoring relief, breathing assistance, and more.

Stephen Light, a certified Sleep Science Coach and the co-owner of Nolah Mattress, believes the possibilities surrounding haptic sensors and sleep are endless. Stephen explained to us, “the technology can wake people without using any noise, or make people relax [through exerted pressure]… haptic sensors can be an excellent alternative to intrusive and sudden alarms.

Many individuals find it challenging to close their eyes after a hectic day. Conversely, it’s not uncommon to struggle when waking up to an alarm clock. However, through the use of advanced sensors, relaxing evenings and peaceful mornings could be pillars of a not-too-distant future through haptic technology.

Haptics could offer more than enjoyable nights and mornings; researchers are discussing how haptics might detect sleep disorders, improve medical conditions, and study our sleep patterns as well, potentially alerting us of issues before they arise.

Detecting Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be challenging to combat, given that they occur while you’re unconscious and unable to make necessary adjustments. Smart mattresses employing haptic technology could offer sleepers the opportunity to detect and identify disorders as they arise, allowing individuals to confront conditions early on. Further, haptics could even prevent issues before they become a problem, as the technology might recognize precursor behaviors indicative of sleep conditions.

Individuals who struggle with snoring often lay on their backs. The drawback of this position is that gravity can make the muscles in your throat and tongue[5] collapse in the back of your throat, which is what causes the sounds you hear when someone snores. The smaller the passageway in which air flows, the more your throat tissues vibrate and the louder you snore. For those who struggle with snoring, we recommend our list of best mattresses for snoring.

A mattress with haptic sensors might prevent this issue by creating vibrations or increasing pressure in specific areas to trigger you to sleep on your side, alleviating the snoring.

Positional obstructive sleep apnea typically happens when you’re laying on your back[6], so, similarly, with snorers, a haptic surface could encourage sleepers to move back to their sides using similar tactics.

Help with Medical Conditions

Those who struggle with restless leg syndrome (RLS) may be able to find relief through a smart mattress. Many individuals who suffer from this condition find it difficult to sleep because their legs are restless for significant periods in the night.

Research has shown massage and heat therapy to be an effective treatment[7] for RLS. Using a smart mattress with haptic technology could help by using vibration to massage the limbs. Alternatively, or possibly simultaneously, the technology could create a warming sensation, providing relief to those battling RLS.

Individuals who have issues with lower back pain or scoliosis (curvature of the spine) might sleep on their stomachs because they find it most comfortable due to their spinal alignment. However, according to Dr. Clayton Stitzel of ScoliSMART[8], a clinical practice that treats scoliosis, their doctors don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach because it puts your neck in an unnatural position and additional stress on the spine.

The issue can be helped by sleeping on your side; however, remembering to do so could be challenging while you’re asleep. Haptic technology could assist by using pressure and movement to encourage you to roll over to your side each time you return to the stomach position.

Having trouble with RLS? Take a look at our list of best mattresses for restless legs syndrome.

Sleep Studies from the Comfort of Your Own Home

Being able to track your sleep routine from home could be enormously insightful when managing and analyzing habits. Technology already exists to wake you up when you’re in a lighter stage of rest and most receptive. For example, Sleep Cycle[9] tracks your breathing through your smartphone and gently wakes you during lighter sleep stages.

A haptic mattress could provide the same benefits but with far more advanced and sensitive technology. Imagine waking up daily to a breakdown of your sleep quality. The technology could help you pinpoint which foods thwart your sleep, which alcohols affect your slumber, how you snooze after a morning versus evening workout, which exercises promote the most profound rest, and more.

Benefits of Sleep Tracking

Tracking your sleep habits and having an in-depth understanding of your nighttime patterns could provide valuable insight. For example, you may snore and not realize it, which could be a precursor to sleep apnea, and catching it ahead of time may help.

Individuals who battle frequent headaches might benefit as well, as lack of sleep is associated with migraines[10]. You could be spending plenty of time in bed yet struggling to gain deep rest, and tracking your sleep could let you identify issues so you can find a solution before it becomes a severe problem. You could be suffering just as much as an insomniac without realizing what’s happening.

Certified Sleep Science Coach McKenzie Hyde explains, “smart mattresses like these can gather critical data identifying complex sleep behaviors and habits which can be used to fuel more timely and accurate sleep studies and research in the future.”

Haptic technology has seemingly limitless possibilities, and we’ve only just begun exploring how those might be helpful.

Rachael Gilpin

Rachael Gilpin

Content Writer

About Author

Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness.

Back Sleeper

Sources and References:

[1] “Apple Invents a New Differential Piezoelectric Sensor That Monitors Biological Vibrations for a Future Beddit Sleep Monitoring System”, Patently Apple, 11 Feb. 2021

[2] Mike Peterson, “Apple Researching Mattress Haptic System to Wake, Relax Users”, AppleInsider, 25 Mar. 2021

[3] Dr. Hannah Limerick, “Haptics: 6 Reasons Touch Is Important”, Ultraleap

[4] “The Virtual Reality Surgical Simulator”, Fundamental Surgery

[5] “Snoring”, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Dec. 2017

[6] “Positional Sleep Apnea Therapy: No Mask Treatment: VA, MD, DC.”, Comprehensive Sleep Care, 22 July 2020

[7] Ariane Park, et al., “Randomized Pilot Trial for the Efficacy of the MMF07 Foot Massager and Heat Therapy for Restless Legs Syndrome”, National Center of Biotechnology Information, 2 Apr. 2020

[8] “Scoliosis Sleeping Tips and Best Sleeping Positions”, ScoliSMART Blog, 8 Jan. 2021

[9] “Sleep Cycle: Sleep Tracker, Monitor & Alarm Clock”, Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, 18 Dec. 2020

[10] Jiyoung Kim, et al. “Insufficient Sleep Is Prevalent among Migraineurs: a Population-Based Study”, The Journal of Headache and Pain, Springer Milan, 28 Apr. 2017