Last updated on March 29th, 2018
Sleep Junkies talks to Petteri Lahtela, CEO and co-founder of ŌURA, which makes a revolutionary, ring-sized sleep and ‘wellness computer’
The consumer electronics business is predicting big things for wearable technology. Some analysts have predicted the industry could be worth not billions, but trillions of dollars in the near future.
But there’s a problem with wearables that no-one seems to want to talk about. Although smartwatches, fitness bands and other types of wearable gadgets are flying off the shelves, research has found that after a while, the majority of people eventually lose interest.
This dirty little secret means that after a few months, instead of helping people track their fitness or sleep, most wearable gadgets get consigned to a bottom drawer, never to see the light of day again.
There are many reasons for this lack of long-term user engagement. Some users complain wearables are uncomfortable, durability is poor, battery life is too short, or the software is too convoluted. Others complain about the aesthetics.
The bottom line is, in order for the public to adopt wearables en masse, the technology has to satisfy several requirements:
- great design
- tangible long-term benefits
- minimal disruption to user’s lives
OURA, a new approach to sleep tracking
There are broadly two types of personal sleep trackers you can buy; wearable devices, and non-wearable solutions that attach to your bed or pillow.
But choosing between the two poses a dilemma. One one hand, wearables, which attach directly to your body, are more accurate at taking measurements of body temperature, heart rate, breathing patterns than many ‘in-bed’ solutions.
On the other hand, because they have to be ‘worn’ they are more likely to cause an annoyance to your sleep habits.
Which brings us to OURA, a ‘wellness computer’ that’s worn as a ring on your finger. On first impressions it seem like nothing more than a slightly over-sized piece of futuristic jewellery. But this unassuming device hides a wealth of product expertise, both in terms of design and cutting edge sensor technology.
OURA’s sophisticated hardware and algorithms offers a level of fitness and sleep monitoring solutions not yet seen in a single consumer wearable. And crucially for a sleep tracker, OURA is small and unobtrusive enough not to get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
As a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, OURA expects to be shipping out its first deliveries in November 2015. To find out more we spoke to CEO of Oura, Petteri Lahtela at length about this exciting new innovation in the sleep tracking world.
PL: Our passion to create this kind of a product is based on our own need to stay balanced and well performing in the middle of hectic business and family life. We needed to find a way to understand what we could do to improve recovery from the mental and physical load of everyday life.
If you want to maintain and enhance your daytime performance, improving sleep quality is one of the most crucial parts of the formula. We are all unique and our lifestyle preferences, rhythms of life, activities, and other choices we make every day, affect our sleep. In other words, our daytime choices determine how refreshing our sleep is to our body and mind.
Our goal was to create a simple and comfortable way for people to learn how to be fully charged at the start of every day and ready to perform at their best. Therefore we needed to learn about our body reactions in relation to what we do, a long-term view on how our body and mind responds to sleep, rest, daily rhythms and active life to build up understanding what we can do to maintain balance and improve sleep quality.
We tried using many products available in the marketplace for all this, and while they each had some excellent functionalities, none of them gave satisfactory answers to our questions, they were uncomfortable and did not feel and look good – and thus we ended up doing it ourselves.
Several members of our team have previously created high-tech consumer products, both medical, wellness, sports and/or mobile and highly sophisticated embedded systems for different purposes. Many of us have done research and created algorithms for example at Polar, the world-leading manufacturer of heart rate monitors and activity trackers.
Some of us have long experience in user experience design and other parts of product creation process at Nokia and other companies. Together we have created and taken into global markets consumer products used by millions of people all over the world. We have also measured ourselves with different gadgets for tens of years.
We knew that to get a long-term view on physiological changes in the body we had to find a unique way to access the data in high accuracy but at the same time make very desirable and ergonomic design with high wearing comfort.
Through extensive research and prototyping we found the finger to be an optimum place for accessing comprehensive physiological data. The ring is one of the oldest wearable form factor that snugly fits on your finger. With thorough design we eventually managed to fit a full featured computer into a comfortable and stylish form. The ŌURA ring was born.
JM: There are literally hundreds of fitness/sleep trackers available on the market. What do you think are the pros and cons of ŌURA versus wrist-band devices, bed-based devices, smart-watches etc. What’s your USP?
PL: Oura turns deep scientific knowledge into concrete user benefits. In a very unique way it combines style and ultimate wearing comfort with high-end technology and proprietary algorithms applying over three decades of science and pioneering research of human physiology, psychophysiology and behavior.
Oura ring is an accurate and comfortable companion for improving sleep quality and gaining understanding of what choices help you to do that. Fatigue and performance and intimately linked and sleep is one of the most important variables to get right to help sustain both cognitive and physical performance both in short and long term. Improving sleep quality is not only about tracking your sleep while sleeping or adjusting the amount of sleep you get. It’s also about doing small adjustments on your daytime habits and rhythms by understanding how they improve your sleep.
During sleep our body and mind recovers from the mental and physical load of our daily life. Getting enough restorative sleep has a profound impact to our well-being and performance. Ōura ring measures our sleep in detail, thus letting us know for example our sleep time, sleep efficiency and how long we spend in each sleep stage – each stage and their various combinations being important for different aspects of recovery.
Oura’s proprietary technology and algorithms provide accuracy which can be compared to that of sleep laboratory methods. Since the OURA ring accesses the blood volume pulse on the arteries of the finger in high accuracy it can derive pulse waveform, the exact time between the heart beats and other physiological signals.
When combined with 3D accelerometer data it makes it possible to interpret the stages of sleep and cardiovascular reactions of the body as well as the balance and reactions of autonomic nervous system in relation to your sleep, rest, activities, daily rhythms and lifestyle context sensitively. Since the measurements are done directly from your body the signal-noise -ratio is much better and therefore enables higher quality data to be processed by algorithms as well.
With Ōura you will also see how your activities are reflected in sleep parameters and resting heart rate both in short and long term. The readiness of your body to strenuous loading varies significantly from day to day. Some days the focus should be in recovery while some others are perfect for challenging your body and mind in order to increase capacity.
Once you get the objective data on your activity quantified, it’s easier for to set targets for gradual improvements and balancing them to the needs of your body.
The timing, length and intensity of your daytime activity affects each one of us and our sleep quality in different ways. For some people, a high intensity exercise a couple of hours before sleep is good while for others it may have negative effects on sleep quality and restorative effects of sleep.
Some people benefit more e.g. of short walk or some relaxing exercise that helps preparing for a good sleep. Since we are all different Ōura helps you to learn what is good for you. Also it helps you to understand how this may vary over the time along with the changes of your life.
By optimizing our physical activity and ensuring good recovery we can maximize our energy levels and ensure performance in the long term. Ōura App gives personalized and actionable guidance how you can balance your activity in relation to sleep and recovery.
Our body is not ready for 10000 steps every day and some days it has capacity for much more than that. Balancing the physical activity based on the actual needs and readiness of the body provides the way to maintain and increase capacity over time. Like Athletes do.
The OURA ring enables monitoring your sleep in normal daily life context whether you sleep at home or are travelling. It helps you to adjust to new time zones quicker by providing you with understanding of your circadian alignment and actions you can do to improve it. And since the measurement is done directly from your body, it is not disturbed by other people or pets sleeping on the same bed.
JM: In your video you claim you can detect sleep staging with comparable accuracy to a full polysomnogram in a sleep lab. How do you achieve this without using EEG sensors like some other products on the market?
PL: One or the core elements of the OURA ring is the proprietary algorithms that interpret the body reactions. The algorithms are based on over three decades of science and pioneering research of human physiology and psychophysiology and developing high-end consumer products applying the results of top tier research.
It is our target to get as close to sleep lab accuracy as possible. EEG sensors are part of the sleep lab measurements, but thinking honestly and based on the experiences of many people, they might not be very convenient to wear when sleeping in your own bed every night.
Our long experience with consumer electronics and wearable heart rate and activity based products helped us to get most reliable sleep analysis with data that is conveniently available from Ring sensors. In polysomnography, sleep stages are mainly defined based on brainwave signals and eye movement.
However, brain also communicates with the rest of the body via autonomic nervous system and hormones, and subsequently, sleep stages are also reflected in our breathing, heart rate dynamics, vascular tone and body movements. Basically, all these body signals are most stable in deep sleep, while REM sleep includes changes in heart rate without frequent limb movements.
Actigraphy is relatively good at detecting periods of wakefulness, but acceleration sensors only simply can’t differentiate REM sleep. Therefore, the infrared sensors on the inner side of the ŌURA ring became very important in sleep staging. They measure the timing and strength of every heart pulse during sleep.
We also utilized machine learning in the algorithm design, and the algorithms make full use of all the cues they get from the body signals in order to connect them with corresponding sleep stage. All the steps taken in the development process were designed so that the Ring would work in different kinds of people.
However, ŌURA is not a medical device and it doesn’t replace medical consultation and PSG in sleep diagnostics. The excellence of the sleep analysis of ŌURA lies is in the combination of it’s convenience and reliability.
The OURA ring is a stand-alone device, a ring-size computer with processor and enough memory for processing and storing the physiological signals and analyzing the data with algorithms in the ring. It does not need the smart phone for any analysis but processes all the data and does the sleep and other analysis work by itself. One important side benefits appreciated by many people is that the need for Bluetooth communication with the app is very limited and can be turned off completely during the night.
JM: The statistics for people using fitness/sleep tracking devices on a long-term basis are not very encouraging with many people lose interest after a few months. Do you think products like ŌURA will change this situation, by making the technology as unobtrusive and effortless as possible?
PL: With fitness gadgets you quickly learn about your activity level, but your body’s reactions are not measured and therefore goals are not adjusted optimally for you. Therefore benefit is very limited and people loose interest in them very quickly. But when people get personalized recommendations based on accurate and objectively measured data from their own body, they are more inclined to make small adjustments to their lifestyle for improved sleep quality and daytime performance.
We believe that one reason for ignoring the needs of the body is that we have not had easy and comfortable ways to monitor how our body is reacting in our daily life. There has not been a simple way to get concrete, quantitative and comprehensive information about how our body is doing in relation to our sleep, activity, overall lifestyle and daily rhythms.
For developing and maintaining optimal wellbeing, body-mind balance and performance we need to be able to form a comprehensive picture of how our daily choices affect our sleep and performance during the day. That is what we wanted to enable.
JM: We’ve already seen home testing kits for sleep apnea. As sleep tracking technology becomes more sophisticated what role do you see products like yours playing in the booming home-health market?
This is definitely a big market opportunity for us as well. Even thought the OURA ring is not a medical device it has raised a lot of interest since it enables monitoring your sleep in normal daily life context whether you sleep at home or are travelling.
JM: As privacy and data breaches seem to be occurring on an almost weekly basis, what’s ŌURA’s philosophy on user data, security and sharing. What can you say to those who might be wary about what happens to their personal data?
JM: Can you tell us any (secret!) plans you have for future development?
PL: The firmware software in the OURA ring as well as the App software will be developing continuously. New features and functions revealing the comprehensive capabilities of the ring will be added, e.g. breathing and relaxing exercises with biofeedback to help improve your daytime performance and to prepare for a good night sleep. Natural alarm based on sleep stage i.e. waking you up in light sleep so that you can feel more refreshed.
Recovery measurements will be enhanced with additional parameters and unique features. Later during the spring 2016 there will be among others cloud service and open API for 3rd party developers. We foresee that the comprehensive and deep data available from the OURA ring will enable us to start building an ecosystem of 3rd party apps and services around the OURA ring. This will enhance the possibilities of the ring later on – so, the same ring HW will provide lots of more opportunities than will be available in the first App versions.