Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting a Good Night's Sleep_HKUST Professor Zhang Qian and Adjustable Pillow_photo

Adjustable pillow prevents dangerous sleep apnea 


Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being. There are several factors that could affect the quality of your sleep. Among all, snoring can affect the quality of your sleep and that of your family members and roommates. A HKUST professor recently invented an adjustable pillow to monitor sleep quality, helping people sleep well without interruptions.

According to Professor Zhang Qian, Tencent Professor of Engineering and Chair Professor of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at HKUST, snoring could indicate sleep apnea. More than 3,000 people worldwide die of sleep apnea-related issues every day.

More than 90% of people who snore have breathing issues at night and could develop sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breathing while asleep.

Professor Zhang developed a portable sensor device which is attached to a person’s finger to monitor the status for his/her sleep, including the phase of sleep, such as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep (when dreaming), light sleep, or deep sleep, as well as to  measure the oxygen levels in blood – a sign of inadequate breathing. With inadequate breathing, the device triggers the adjustable pillow, which changes the shape and the height of the pillow to in turn change the person’s sleep posture, effectively reopening the breathing channel.

The sleep-monitoring pillow is non-invasive, inexpensive and portable, which can be used at home or during traveling. The pillow adjustment will not disturb the sleep of the patient, Professor Zhang said.

The technology was tested on around 300 patients with early stage and moderate levels of sleep apnea at hospitals in Guangdong. It cuts the number of low oxygen dips per night by 60 per cent from around 25 times to 11 on average, while shortening the duration of those episodes from 25 seconds to less than 7 seconds, she added.

The technology, which Professor Zhang has worked on with a Shenzhen company since 2013, is currently awaiting certification from the mainland’s China Food and Drug Administration. It is expected to be available in Hong Kong in 2017, costing within a range of HK$1,000-2,000.