Beat the System: These ‘smart pajamas’ will track your breathing, heart rate and sleep patterns

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Scientists at the University of Massachusetts have some exciting news to wake up the sleepy world of slumberwear.

“Smart pajamas” — the ultimate in wearable night-time tech.

“We’d like to bring this to market in the next couple of years,” says UMass Professor Trisha Andrew, one of the scientists behind the product. “If Apple wants to contact us, we’re certainly open to that. We’ve been talking to a couple of companies.”

Andrew and her colleagues have just unveiled their new “physiological-sensing textiles” and published the research behind them.

The idea of technology that monitors you even when you’re asleep may sound Orwellian to some. But this could be a major health breakthrough, the researchers say.

The so-called smart pajamas ­or “Phyjamas” will be able to monitor your sleep in ways that the current generation of wearables can only imagine. The jammies can track not just your breathing and heart rates, but even the position in which you are sleeping.

“More than half of the population entering middle age is likely to suffer some form of sleep disorder,” says Andrew. Current “wearables,” such as the FitBit FIT, -0.90%  and Apple AAPL, +1.22%   Watch, are designed to track sleep, but the UMass technology will make it possible to monitor sleep quality without a wristband, researchers say, because the pajama fabric itself is woven with sensors that can track vital signs and body movements.

Sleep apnea, which means your breathing gets interrupted while you’re asleep, is a major problem for adults but you can’t track it from anyone’s wrist, Andrew says. Until now the only ways to track someone’s sleep properly was by watching them or filming them while they slept, she noted. It’s costly and time consuming to do per person.

That also means we don’t have much research data on how people are sleeping and why so many of us aren’t getting a good night’s sleep. Widespread use of “Phyjamas” could give researchers massive amounts of data to crunch.

High-tech wearable materials aren’t completely new, but it’s a challenge making them as wearable as regular clothes, and making them adapt to real life. The key breakthrough at UMass was to develop materials that feel like regular clothes, and are so sensitive that they can monitor your vital signs even when worn loose.

The “Phyjamas” are made of a medium-weave “metallized cotton.” “It feels just like a [regular] pajama,” says Andrew. Meanwhile it can monitor your heart rate through your chest wall, even while resting lightly on your skin. The material could also lead to “smart shirts” and all the rest.

The process of manufacturing the materials is not very expensive, and the main cost of the prototypes was “the cost of the cotton,” says Andrew.

See also: 5 ways lack of sleep could alter the course of your life

Sleep quality plays a significant role in people’s health and even affects the overall economy. People who sleep less than six hours per night on average have a 13% higher mortality risk than those who sleeps between seven and nine hours, a RAND study found. Poor sleep leads to a less productive work day, costing the U.S. an estimated $411 billion each year, RAND found.

The “Phyjamas” development is just yet another breakthrough in a “health tech” phenomenon that is transforming lives, and is very big business. Critics scoffed when Apple’s Tim Cook unveiled the company’s first Apple Watch four years ago, but the product has become steadily more popular, and it’s a key part of the company’s push into healthcare services.

The Apple Watch is arguably more of a healthcare product than a recreational gadget. It competes with a wave of rivals, from companies such as FitBit, Garmin GRMN, -0.30%, and Samsung SSNLF, +0.00%  .

Populations are aging. Baby Boomers are retiring. Meanwhile society is grappling with the rocketing costs of healthcare. Smart devices that help us identify health issues early, so we can treat them before they get worse, are likely to play a big role in the fight. Get ready for the… iJams?