Smartphone earbuds can identify health issues by listening to you breathe as you sleep

earphones sleep

Soon you won’t need a smart wristband, sleeping app, special bedside light or one of many other devices built to help you track and improve your sleep each night. A team of researchers has developed a way to use a pair of earphones with an in-line microphone plugged into a smartphone to track breathing patterns and detect sleep disorders.

By plugging a pair of microphone-equipped earbuds into an iPhone, researchers from Stevens Institute of Technology and Florida State University were able to track the breathing habits of six participants in a six-month study. The participants didn’t have to actually wear the earbuds as they slept – even when the earbuds were placed on a table beside a participant’s bed, the in-line microphone was able to monitor breathing “to within half a breath per minute of what could be recorded with a chest-worn respiration monitor and a microphone clipped to participants’ collars,” according to MIT Technology Review.

Monitoring someone’s breathing patterns could help identify sleep-related health problems (e.g., sleep apnea), something other forms of sleep monitoring technology can’t do. It’s also an affordable approach, especially for those who already have a pair of earbuds with an in-line microphone.

The team of researchers hopes to release an app for this “noninvasive fine-grained sleep monitoring” next year.