Looking for a REMedy

Thursday, May 2, 2019
By Alissa Kocer

New Bass Connections team aims to help patients sleep better in the hospital

Sleep is vital, especially during illness. It can help people recover faster, but it doesn’t always come easy. Patients recovering from illnesses in hospitals may experience 40 – 60 interruptions a night, which can negatively impact cognitive, immune, cardiac and respiratory functions, metabolism and recovery. While some of these interruptions can’t be helped – a doctor, for example, may not be able to change his/her schedule to accommodate a sleeping patient – figuring out a way to help reduce the number of sleep interruptions a patient experiences may help speed up recovery.

REMedy, a 2019 - 2020 Bass Connections team led by Susanne Haga, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, hopes to help combat this issue. The team initially formed during the 2019 Triangle Health Innovation Challenge (THInC), a weekend-long challenge that brings together students and young professionals to construct technological solutions that address specific problems in health and health care. They won third place.

The team will create a system using wearable devices that will inform hospital staff of patients’ sleep status. The wearable will monitor heart rate, body movements and vibrations, and indicate a patient’s sleep status through an LED traffic light display outside of the patient’s hospital room: green to indicate the patient is awake; yellow to indicate the patient is in light  sleep stages; and red to indicate REM or deep sleep stages.

“It’s important to distinguish between different sleep stages and communicate that information to hospital staff,” said Kamyar Yazdani, member of the Bass Connections team, “because if patients are woken up during crucial deep sleep stages, they are more likely to feel groggy, disoriented and unable to communicate effectively.” This system will help hospital staff recognize and avoid potential sleep disturbances, which will therefore enhance patient care.

To lay the necessary groundwork to turn their idea into reality, the team will focus their Bass Connections project on product development and production evaluation.

The product development phase will last three months. The team will select a sleep-tracking wearable device that will allow for reliable sleep stage data collection and that can be interfaced with Raspberry Pi, a low-cost credit-card sized high-performance computer. They will select up to seven wearables to evaluate accuracy. Then they will create a Rasperry Pi-based prototype that converts sleep data from the wearable into their traffic light display.

After that, they will recruit Duke students to enroll in a pilot study. Participants will be sorted into three groups: Group A will receive interruptions during light sleep stages, Group B during deep sleep stages, and Group C at random sleep stages. For four consecutive nights, participants will be woken up by an alarm twice nightly that they will have to turn off. A final alarm will go off at their designated wake up time, and they will immediately be asked to complete a survey in the team’s app to indicate their levels of consciousness, alertness, and sleep satisfaction.

The team hopes to compile all of their results into a publishable manuscript and begin working with clinical research collaborators in local nursing homes, Duke University Hospital and Duke Clinical Research Institute to run the first stages of testing on real patients.