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Home gadget to study your sleep patterns

Irish start-up BiancaMed uses wireless technology to monitor the quality of your sleep, the aspect of your health the company calls "the final frontier."

DUBLIN, Ireland--It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you're awake.

"It" is neither Santa Claus nor a monster in the closet. Rather, it's technology from Dublin-based BiancaMed that can track and analyze a person's sleep and night-breathing patterns without disturbing the sleeper, said CTO Philip de Chazal. In contrast with some sleep analysis systems used in laboratories, the person doesn't need to wear electrodes or lie on a plastic pad. Instead, a wireless device tracks the sleeper's movements.

BiancaMed Baby Monitor
BiancaMed's Philip de Chazal with the front end of the Baby Monitor. Click for more photos of the company's device. Michael Kanellos/CNET

Software devised by BiancaMed separates the signals corresponding to breathing and other body movements. In the morning, users log on to a personal Web site to see when they were awake, when they slept, how long it took them to fall asleep, and other metrics, including sleep efficiency (that is, how much of time spent in bed was time spent sleeping).

Eventually, the company also wants to track people as they move through the different levels of sleeping.

BiancaMed's SleepMinder device is for adults. Its Baby Monitor system lets parents listen to their children sleeping--and if a child doesn't breathe for 15 seconds, it sends an alarm.

The idea here is to target the largely overlooked area of sleep therapy, de Chazal said. A good deal of attention--and gadgetry--has already been directed toward other areas of personal health, from sports and fitness to eldercare.

Sleep ranks right up there with a good diet and exercise in staying healthy, de Chazal said. Lack of sleep, meanwhile, has been associated with a host of problems, from overeating to poor performance at work or school. More than 82 million Americans, or roughly 40 percent of the teen and adult population, suffer from some form of regular insomnia.

"Sleep is the final frontier," de Chazal said. "There is very little attention on it."

BiancaMed was spun out of NovaUCD, the technology incubator at University College Dublin. In an effort to boost its tech economy, Ireland is plunking money into research and development with the intent to commercialize interesting ideas. Overall, Ireland wants to double the number of Ph.D.s that graduate in the hard sciences by 2013. Many of the major universities here revved up technology incubators in the past few years.

Many scientists see the attraction right away. Others need prompting, said Pat Frain, who runs NovaUCD.

"We make sure they know that funding could be cut if there is no economic benefit," Frain said.

BiancaMed got its start by developing a wireless sensor for detecting sleep apnea for a company called ResMed. It takes only a couple of nights to determine whether someone has the condition. Sleep monitors--conceivably--can make the same basic technology a daily part of life, the company hopes.

The Baby Monitor has already received FDA approval and is expected to hit store shelves in the United States toward the fourth quarter, priced at around $200. The company will begin conducting FDA tests on SleepMinder toward the middle of the year.

Later, BiancaMed hopes to insert its motion sensors into wristwatches and turn them into heart monitors.