New device can detect stress levels during sleep

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A new study from the University of Vermont has unveiled a promising pathway towards early intervention for stress management: using wearable technology to monitor changes in sleep patterns as indicators of stress levels.

Led by Laura Bloomfield, a research assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, this research is part of the Lived Experience Measured Using Rings Study (LEMURS) and marks an important advancement in understanding the relationship between sleep and stress.

The study, which involved 1,113 participants aged 45 to 75 from the Emory Healthy Brain Study, utilized the Oura ring—a wearable biosensor—to collect data on various sleep-related metrics such as total sleep time, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate.

The findings showed a clear link between these metrics and participants’ perceived stress levels, indicating that changes in sleep could indeed reflect underlying stress.

One of the study’s significant discoveries is the correlation between sleep duration and stress, with data suggesting that each additional hour of sleep could reduce the odds of experiencing moderate-to-high stress by 38%.

Similarly, the study found that an increase in nightly resting heart rate was associated with a 3.6% rise in the likelihood of experiencing stress.

This research is part of the broader LEMURS project, conceived by Chris Danforth and Laura Bloomfield, which aims to leverage wearable technology to enhance young people’s health and well-being through personalized feedback.

With college students facing a high prevalence of stress and mental health issues, the LEMURS team is also exploring the effectiveness of various interventions, including exercise, nature excursions, and group therapy.

The comprehensive data collection approach of LEMURS, which includes temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, sleep duration, exposure to nature, and subjective survey responses, provides a multifaceted view of the participants’ health.

This holistic dataset allows researchers like Mikaela Fudolig, who co-authored the PLOS Digital Health paper, to uncover patterns and relationships that could inform future health interventions.

An intriguing aspect of the study is the identification of two distinct heart rate curves, especially among women, which are linked to reported impairments in daily life due to anxiety or depression.

This finding underscores the potential of wearable technology to offer insights into the complex dynamics between physiological responses and mental health.

The urgency of addressing stress and mental health, particularly among young adults, has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a marked increase in reports of persistent sadness and hopelessness.

The LEMURS project not only aims to shed light on these issues but also to provide actionable insights that can help develop support systems and interventions tailored to the needs of this vulnerable population.

In summary, this study represents a significant step forward in the quest to understand and mitigate stress through innovative use of wearable technology.

By capturing the subtle changes in sleep patterns that accompany shifts in stress levels, researchers hope to pave the way for timely, personalized interventions that can enhance the mental and physical well-being of individuals across various life stages.

If you care about sleep, please read studies about herb that could help you sleep well at night, and these drugs could lower severity of sleep apnea by one third.

For more information about sleep, please see recent studies that coffee boosts your physical activity, cuts sleep, affects heartbeat, and results showing how to deal with “COVID-somnia” and sleep well at night.

The research findings can be found in PLOS Digital Health.

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