Microbiome Analysis Powers Insights to Improve Sleep

Ingrid Hein

January 21, 2019

A cutting-edge kit that consumers can use to have their individual microbiome analyzed could provide insight into sleep problems.

It is not easy to give your doctor objective information about how well you sleep, or to understand why you are having trouble sleeping, said Colin Lawlor, chief executive officer of SleepScore Labs.

"You can remember how well you're eating and how much you exercise, but when it comes to sleep, you might know you have a problem, but most people can't describe it," he explained. "And it is even more difficult to solve."

With the Explorer kit, made by uBiome, consumers submit a feces sample that is subjected to 16S gene and shotgun metagenomics sequencing to assess at microbes in the gut.

In addition to the effect of microbes on gluten sensitivity, inflammation, lactose intolerance, weight, and metabolism, the analysis looks at levels of bacteria that produce neurotransmitters involved in natural sleep rhythms, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

"We can offer information on serotonin-producing microbes and report whether they are average, low, or really high," said Sarah Gupta, MD, director of medical affairs at uBiome. The report also provides information on ways diet and lifestyle can help change these levels.

People want to know if there is something they can do through diet to sleep better.

People want to know if there is something they can do through diet to sleep better.

"People want to know if there is something they can do through diet to sleep better," Gupta told Medscape Medical News. "If I ate more probiotic yogurt, would I sleep better?"

Results of the microbial change can be monitored with a second test.

Gupta said she would love to see SleepScore Labs test results after a diet change designed to boost bacteria related to sleep. With about a quarter of a million microbiome samples, the tests offer insight when you compare your own microbiome with "the world's largest dataset."

This type of benchmarking is increasingly the way for "citizen scientists," Gupta said. "they want this information about their body."

The microbiome kit was just one of the new technologies looking at sleep that were presented at the Consumer Technology Association 2019 Digital Health Summit in Las Vegas.

There are thousands of products that claim to help you sleep better, but it's hard to know which ones work. "There are some great solutions out there," Lawlor told Medscape Medical News, "but how do you measure their effect?"

No-Contact Sleep-Quality Monitoring Technology

Another technology presented at the summit can be used to measure the quality of sleep. The SleepScore app measures wakefulness, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep by allowing a smartphone sitting on a bedside table to bounce low-power radio-frequency energy off the body every 30 seconds.

An algorithm in the app — developed in partnership with ResMed, a company that specializes in continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and breathing masks — generates a score from 0 to 100 to indicate the quality of a person's sleep.

The data can provide doctors and patients with objective sleep information so that they can have a meaningful conversation about sleep.

"If your score is above 78, your sleep is better than normal; if it is below, then it is worse," Lawlor explained.

The company has more than 50 million hours of sleep data, "so we have a pretty clear picture of sleep norms for age and gender," he said. The goal is to find the biggest gaps and issues, and help people solve their problems.

The app offers breathing techniques for relaxation and other advice, suggests optimal wake up times for your sleep profile, and has a smart alarm so that you wake up during a light cycle in your sleep. It also offers clinical data on the effectiveness of sleep products on the market, such as snoring solutions, white noise machines, and blue light filtering.

New Insights Through Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing with new technologies is where the real revolution lies, said Daniel Kraft, MD, chair for medicine and neuroscience at Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community that uses exponential technologies to tackle the world's biggest challenges.

"We are starting to move from spot-selection personal quantified self-analysis to much more quantified health, he said. When Fitbit came out, it was used by a small group; "now millions of people using Fitbits offer a way to connect the dots — crowdsourcing insights — "which is much more meaningful."

"Insights into the microbiome, glucose monitors, metabolic data from breathing into a handheld device — all this in combination gives us new ways of getting detailed information," Kraft explained. These become effective when you can send patients home armed with a way to monitor and track their health "instead of sending them home with pamphlets."

Increased tracking and monitoring of activity can have a real impact on disease. "We can use these tools to track not only vital signs, but also behaviors," he added. Already, diabetic coaching and wearables can reverse type 2 diabetes. "Data, chat bots, and human coaches" can be used to offer effective support.

The challenge is to take these emergent technologies and integrate them in a useful way. "We are entering an era of health-utility technology," Kraft said. "We are gaining the ability to optimize health and wellness and detection early."

Lawlor is the chief executive officer of SleepScore Labs. Gupta is director of medical affairs at uBiome. Kraft is founder and chair of exponential medicine.

 

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