Sleep monitoring isn’t a new concept. There are already hundreds of fitness trackers and smartwatches that can monitor your sleep 24/7. But what Amazon recently got FCC approval for is a bit different. It’s a radar-based sleep monitoring device that operates on the 57-64 GHz frequency band.
In simple words, soon, a high-frequency EMF-emitting device may be sitting beside your bed, monitoring you as you sleep.
Although this is one praiseworthy invention, many experts are understandably concerned about the privacy and health issues that may tag along with this new device.
I’m writing this post to explain things in simple words and make all of this a bit clearer for you. So, you can make the right decision when this device finally goes to market.
So, let’s begin.
Sleep Monitoring Then Vs. Now
Until a few decades ago, the tools for sleep monitoring were only available in labs and research institutes. They used huge machines that gathered sleep data through electrical impulses and movement tracking.
As years went by, these tools started becoming more compact, and now you can monitor your sleep just by wearing a smartwatch or fitness band, or even a ring.
Your sleep-tracking-capable smartwatch comes with many in-built sensors. There are accelerometers that track your small movements, heart rate and respiration trackers, and some even have a microphone to listen to your sleep sounds.
The combined data from all these sensors creates a relatively accurate sleep analysis, which can tell you how you’re sleeping and what changes you can make.
But is sleep tracking actually beneficial?
Pros of Sleep Monitoring
Monitoring your sleep gives you the data necessary to manage your sleep for optimal health. According to Dr. Kelly Baron of the University of Utah, this is the biggest benefit of sleep monitoring. If you can detect patterns in your sleep behavior, you can make specific changes to help you sleep better.
Besides that, sleep trackers can also help you create a bedtime routine, identify sleep disorders, and create a healthy wake-up habit.
So, all in all, there’s a huge upside to sleep monitoring. But are these benefits worth the risk that may come with monitoring your sleep using smartwatches and possibly radar? Let’s have a look.
Cons of Sleep Monitoring
Getting rid of your screen-based gadgets at least two hours before bed is crucial for a good night’s rest. Dr. Baron argues that sleep trackers can incentivize people to break this rule.
Several experts have also mentioned that inaccuracy is a major concern when it comes to sleep monitoring. And inaccurate data may motivate you to do things that aren’t, in fact, good for your sleep.
Besides that, some say that sleep trackers can actually worsen insomnia.
A study by the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, found that patients with sleep trackers spent an excessive amount of time in bed trying to maximize their sleep duration. This kind of behavior is known to exacerbate insomnia.
What Does Adding Radar to Sleep Monitoring Do?
The fitness trackers and smartwatches we have in the market rely on compact sensors to analyze your data. This can sometimes be inaccurate, which, as I already mentioned, can further hamper your sleep.
Radar, on the other hand, proposes a better solution.
“What radar does, when you think about aircraft radar, is it’s tracking the direction and velocity of things,” says Chris Harrison, an associate professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. “Radar’s been around since WWII, and we’ve been able to miniaturize it and reduce the cost such that you can stick it into a smartphone or a bedside appliance.”
Radar has proven itself for many years now, and if applied correctly, it has the potential to significantly advance the sleep monitoring industry.
Let’s have a look at the benefits that come with radar sleep monitoring.
To begin with, radar-based sleep monitoring devices will be significantly more accurate than fitness trackers. This feature alone makes the technology superior to the sleep-tracking devices that we have now.
Different research groups have demonstrated the power of radar. They say it can:
- Pick up respiration
- Monitor heart rate
- Track movement
- Gauge the expansion and contraction of your lungs to see how you’re breathing, even from above a blanket
- And recognize if you’re tossing and turning in bed
Second, even though radar has been miniaturized, we can’t fit it in something as small as a smartwatch. So, radar-based sleep monitoring devices will be slightly larger. In Amazon’s case, maybe an Alexa-based device like an Echo.
It will be plugged in on your nightstand, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to wear the device. It’s always on, and ever-present in your bedroom.
Finally, radar isn’t a camera, so Harrison says Amazon’s device will be “innately privacy-preserving.”
Right now, experts recognize two specific types of risks from radar-based sleep monitoring systems: EMF risks and privacy risks.
As you may already know, all modern electronic gadgets emit powerful levels of EMF radiation. And research studies say that prolonged exposure to such EMFs can cause problems ranging from minor sleep disorders to chronic diseases like cancer.
Exposure to even minute radiation levels for a prolonged period can cause several problems. Read my post, “Apple Watch: What are the Side Effects and Health Concerns?” for more information.
You can learn more about EMF’s health effects on my separate resources page.
EMF & Sleep
Ironically, experts say that sleep monitoring devices that are supposed to make you sleep better can harm your sleep. How?
As just one of many examples, a 1999 study demonstrated how prolonged exposure to magnetic fields can disrupt sleep. They say that EMF decreases your total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and time spent in REM sleep, and increases the amount of time you toss and turn in bed.
This is just one study. There are more.
This research study from China says, “EMF exposure may damage human sleep quality rather than sleep duration.”
Another study from the University of Melbourne, Australia, says, “The results show the significance of disruption of melatonin due to exposure to weak EMFs, which may possibly lead to long-term health effects in humans.”
This study from Iran says, “The results presented in this paper showed a positive correlation coefficient between occupational exposures to ELF electromagnetic fields and sleep quality score, so it cannot reject the impact of the fields on sleep quality.”
And finally, this research study from India says, “There were significant changes seen in the time taken to fall asleep and total sleep period but the time taken to wake up from sleep remained unaffected. The sleeping habits of medical and dental students showed no significant changes.”
So, you see, even the weaker EMFs we face daily can significantly hamper our sleep.
The Problem Increases with Radar
The problem with the radar sleep monitoring system is that it operates on the 57-64 GHz frequency band. Right now, even 5G doesn’t operate above 25-39 GHz frequencies.
So, the EMF exposure you’ll face from your radar-based sleep monitoring system will be significantly higher than, say, from your fitness band, smartwatch, or even cell phone.
Although right now, there are very few studies on the biological effects of extremely high-frequency EMFs, we can make a pretty good guess based on what we know about the effects of EMF on the radiofrequency range.
Although some experts say that radar-based sleep-monitoring devices will come with several privacy measures, many disagree.
“Surveillance as a service has come to sleeping technology, and it’s as creepy as Silicon Valley gets,” said Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at American University who focuses on privacy issues.
“The privacy of your bedroom is a place that deserves the utmost protection from outside forces, especially from private companies without much regulation or oversight,” he said. “Companies wishing to monetize sleep habits are signaling that there is nowhere outside their reach.”
“Can sleep-tracking data reveal how many people are in the bed?” asked Vitaly Shmatikov from Cornell University.
“Imagine the sleep-tracking data combined with Fitbit data combined with location data from people’s cellphones,” he said. “The information gathered by each separate device may appear innocuous, but the accumulation and aggregation of data feeds from multiple trackers can reveal intimate details about users’ lives.”
But how does this data help companies like Amazon, and what’s the downside for you?
Data Collection: The Secret Sauce to Many Tech Companies’ Success
With radar-based technology, providers can collect more sensitive health information than ever. And this data is obviously precious to companies like Amazon, which runs an online store selling everything from A-Z.
So, I wouldn’t be surprised if I monitored my sleep with their device today, and tomorrow I got bombarded with ads for pillows, mattresses, and nutraceuticals.
There are two problems with this.
First, a for-profit company deciding what you need is rife with issues. Read my post, “Tech Companies Have Successfully Hacked Our Evolution-Based Brains,” to learn why.
And second, it’s an AI recommending what you need for your sleep. You haven’t visited a doctor, there haven’t been any tests, and you don’t know what’s actually wrong.
When it comes to AI, there’s no individuality. What may be working for others may not work for you. But, since you fit the profile, you’ll take what the other person similar to you is taking.
So, What’s The Verdict? Is Amazon’s Concept Gadget Bad?
Unless a thorough clinical study is performed on the effects, I can’t tell you whether or not Amazon’s radar-based sleep monitoring device will be bad for you.
This is why I am giving you as many facts as possible about what could happen, so you can make an informed choice when the time comes.
I always advocate against buying unnecessary devices. So, if you decide to buy a radar sleep tracker, all I would say is to ask yourself if buying this new shiny gadget is really necessary for you.
Remember that you’re adding a high-frequency device to your bedroom that will expose you to powerful EMF for the entire sleep duration.
So, ask yourself, is that exposure or the data you’ll be revealing worth the benefits this gadget will bring?
Although modern technology has made our lives significantly easier, it has also brought some unavoidable risks. From prolonged EMF exposure to the physical, mental, psychological, and emotional effects—technology that was invented to enhance your quality of life can also deteriorate it.
Now, the problem is that technology is so well integrated into our lives that even if we wanted to, we couldn’t quit using it. And even I wouldn’t want you to because there’s a simpler solution to this problem: building a healthier relationship with technology.
And how do you do that?
Well, let the experts tell you. The Healthier Tech Podcast features fascinating discussions with a range of experts from different industries sharing how they make it safer and healthier to live alongside technology. It’s available on all major platforms, so give it a listen.