Photo/Illutration Masaaki Fujiwara, right, president of S'UIMIN Inc., shows off an electrode sheet made by the company to assess sleep quality, in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. The woman next to him holds a compact device designed to store brain waves data measured during sleep even at home. (Naoki Shoji)

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Prefecture--A service measuring sleep quality that a startup company here is offering has potential to help insomnia patients finally get a good night's rest.

The service, from S'UIMIN Inc., an entrepreneurial spinoff from the University of Tsukuba, easily evaluates sleep quality using artificial intelligence and a sheet embedded with electrodes that the patient wears on their forehead.

"In this modern age, where many people have problems with their sleep, there must be huge demand for the service," said S'UIMIN President Masaaki Fujiwara, adding, “If the quality of sleep is shown objectively, it can also be helpful for confirming the performance of bedclothes and health food products.”  

Professor Masashi Yanagisawa, who is globally famous for his basic research on sleep, helped found the company in 2017.

Around that time, technologies to assist people to sleep better were gaining a lot of attention worldwide, resulting in a wider use of smaller sleep activity meters.

But most of the meters simply speculated on the quality of sleep based on body movements and heart rate of users, monitored while they are asleep in bed at night.

Yanagisawa said the trend displeased him because he believed that to “accurately assess how soundly one sleeps, brain waves must be examined.”

The sleep disorder diagnosis method known as polysomnography (PSG) requires patients to be hospitalized.

As so many electrodes have to be applied to patients' bodies for brain wave measurements, it makes it difficult for them to move about freely.

The collected data also needs to be analyzed by specialist engineers, and the process takes no less than several hours.

To address the issues with conventional techniques, S'UIMIN developed a disposable electrode sheet that users can wear around their heads and a palm-sized device that stores measured data.

After sleeping with the sheet on for seven or so nights, users are supposed to send the storage device back to the company with the data it has collected on their brain waves, eye movements and other elements.

AI technology developed by the university’s Center for Computational Sciences then instantly analyzes the information.

After that, the user will receive a report on the results, showing how the individual goes through REM sleep and non-REM sleep with detailed graphics. Their sleep quality will be rated on a five-grade scale of A to E, with advice on how to improve their sleep provided as necessary.

S'UIMIN representatives say that their sleep evaluation method is as accurate as PSG tests analyzed by specialist engineers. 

The company began offering the service in September, first catering to corporate customers, targeting a few companies developing sleep-related products in particular.

It has only produced a few dozens of its sleep evaluation devices to date, but is ramping up production.

If business proceeds according to plan, S'UIMIN will pitch its service to hospitals offering health screenings and complete physical examinations. It also intends to provide the service to individuals.

S'UIMIN is also considering working with the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (IIIS), which is headed by Yanagisawa.

The IIIS has been measuring brain waves of tens of thousands of mice to identify mechanisms associated with sleeping and waking.

Big data on human brain waves to be collected through the new evaluation service is expected to help researchers make new discoveries in their studies.

“I hope the achievements of both the business and research will create a positive cycle of mutual effect,” Yanagisawa said.