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Breathe easy: Lightweight smart device identifies sleep disorders while you snooze
Snoring is a nuisance if you’re the one kept awake listening to it. But it can be much more troublesome for the actual snorer. That’s because it might also signal a condition called sleep apnoea – a disorder that not only brings non-restorative sleep and tiredness but can lead to hypertension, heart and liver problems and diabetes. It is estimated to affect 2-4% of children and about 10% of adults worldwide, with men more likely to suffer and obesity being a major risk factor.
The good news is that sleep apnoea is treatable. Unfortunately, it often remains undiagnosed and therefore untreated. Sunrise, a start-up launched by two brothers, offers hope through a smart home diagnosis kit.
Sunrise was established in 2015 by Laurent and Pierre Martinot. Its team of 15 people, split between two offices in Namur and Paris, created a 3-gram wireless sensor that, placed on the chin, can detect pauses in breathing or when breathing becomes abnormally shallow. The device monitors jaw movements and can analyse what the brain is doing through tracking muscle contractions. Connected to a mobile app, it measures micro-awakenings per hour and indicates the presence of respiratory effort, essentially telling the user the quality of their sleep.
It provides a home alternative to a conventional sleep test done in a hospital or a specialist sleep centre and was given an Innovation Award at the 2021 CES consumer electronics fair.
“The device gives clear, actionable results overnight and, if a sleep disorder is suspected, users can choose to be put directly in touch with a sleep physician to receive the diagnosis and discuss the next steps, cutting down the journey to treatment from what could be months to just days,” says Laurent Martinot, Sunrise’s CEO. “Given the high prevalence and important health consequences of sleep apnoea, we think that everyone should test their sleep at some point in their lives.”
Besides Belgium, where it has a dozen sleep specialist partners, Sunrise is currently available in the UK and France and plans to enter the US market in 2022. The device costs €119, with each test only being good for one night. “In most cases, one night’s data is a sufficient basis for diagnosis,” says Martinot. “Responding to user feedback we are now offering two- and three-night testing solutions, from which we can gain exponentially more information.”
Although the main focus is on sleep apnoea, which is the second most common sleep disorder after insomnia, Sunrise is also useful in detecting sleep bruxism – a condition that results in involuntary jaw clenching or teeth grinding and possible headaches, muscle pain or dental damage. “The information Sunrise provides can also help in diagnosing and treating insomnia disorders, sleep-wake rhythm disorders, hypersomnia disorders or insufficient sleep syndrome,” says Martinot.
While the device is already certified by the European Commission, Sunrise is looking to obtain further recognition in the medical world. A large study, partially financed by the French ministry of health, will take place later this year at 14 sleep centres throughout France. Martinot: “The objective of this study is to confirm clinical evidence and validate the cost-effectiveness of our solution in comparison to other current sleep diagnosis methods.”
The start-up aims to provide the French healthcare system with enough data to motivate reimbursement of the cost of Sunrise testing. And according to Martinot, it will not stop with France: “Our ambition is to eventually become fully integrated into healthcare systems so that we can grant everyone an easy and affordable access to sleep disorder diagnosis.”
This article was first published in the Wab magazine, spring 2021