Despite the fact that we spend roughly a third of our lives snoozing (or at least trying to), sleep is not well understood by scientists — to say nothing of the estimated 35% of Americans who don't get enough of it.
Part of the problem is how difficult it is to study slumber. Experiments currently require individuals to come into a hospital or laboratory, cover themselves with an army of electrodes and allow a team of doctors to observe their attempts to drift off. "It's kind of a nightmare," says Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "They're hooked up to all these things and they can barely move." This environment can make it challenging to capture data about normal sleep and is often prohibitively expensive to maintain for longer than a night or two — a necessity for researchers looking to understand trends over time.