The ebb and flow of a 24-hour rhythm of a person’s body temperature affects how awake or drowsy they feel in part. The University of Texas at Austin’s bioengineers have created a special mattress and pillow system that employs cooling and heating to signal the body when it is time to sleep.
When the body temperature drops at night as part of the 24-hour rhythm, sleep is possible. With the new mattress, people can fall asleep more quickly and have better-quality sleep since it stimulates the body to make them feel drowsy.
Shahab Haghayegh, Pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, explained how they manipulate internal body temperature-sensitive sensors to temporarily adjust the body’s thermostat so it thinks the temperature is higher than it actually is.
The major sensor that the mattress with a warming pillow addresses is the skin of the neck, which serves as an important biological thermostat for people.
In the Journal of Sleep Research, the researchers released a proof-of-concept study regarding the novel cooling-warming, dual-zone mattress system and warming pillow combination. The study compared two mattress models: one that uses water to regulate body temperature and the other that uses air. They used 11 volunteers to test the mattresses, asking them to go to bed two hours earlier than usual on some nights and not on others, depending on whether they wanted to use the cooling and warming features of the beds.
Even in the tough environment of an earlier bedtime, the study discovered both the warming and the cooling-warming mattress helped individuals fall asleep more quickly—roughly 58 percent more quickly than on evenings when they did not employ the cooling-warming feature. In addition to drastically reducing the time needed to fall asleep, lowering internal body temperature also produced noticeably better sleep.
The study grew out of a bigger objective in Kenneth Diller’s lab to discover novel applications for thermal stimulation to promote sleep. Diller is a professor in the School of Engineering and an expert in heat and temperature regulation for therapeutic devices. In a study that was published in 2019, the researchers discovered that having a warm bath an hour or so before bedtime helped participants fall asleep more easily and sleep better.
While comparable, this endeavour is more focused. The signal that it is time to sleep is sent when the body’s internal temperature drops at the appropriate circadian hour.Instead of targeting the entire body, it made more sense to concentrate on a select few crucial body areas that control heat dissipation and, consequently, body temperature level.
It is amazing how well moderate warmth along the cervical spine works to tell the body to increase blood flow to the hands and feet, lowering core temperature and hastening the onset of sleep, according to Diller. The benefit of letting the cardiovascular system to recover from the strain of sustaining blood flow throughout daily activities—which is crucial for long-term health—is that the same action also enables the blood pressure to fall somewhat over night.
The company is looking for partnerships with mattress businesses to commercialise their patent-pending cooling-warming mattress and pillow technologies.
The team also includes Ramón Hermida from the University of Vigo in Spain, Sepideh Khoshnevis and Michael Smolensky of UT Austin, Richard Castriotta of the University of Southern California, and Eva Schernhammer of Harvard University.
The benefit of allowing the cardiovascular system to recover from the strain of sustaining blood flow throughout daily activities—which is crucial for long-term health—is that the same action also allows the blood pressure to fall somewhat overnight.
The company is seeking partnerships with mattress manufacturers to commercialise their patent-pending cooling-warming mattress and pillow technologies.
The group also includes Ramón Hermida from the University of Vigo in Spain, Richard Castriotta from the University of Southern California, and Eva Schernhammer from Harvard University. Sepideh Khoshnevis and Michael Smolensky are from UT Austin.
Haghayegh, S., et al. (2022) Novel temperature-controlled sleep system to improve sleep: a proof-of-concept study. Journal of Sleep Research. doi.org/10.1111/jsr.13662.