Posted by:Nithin Rao March 3rd, 2016

How important is sleep?

Short Answer. Very.

While the exact number of hours of required sleep for people may vary by age, it is a universal fact that good sleep is a vital indicator of good health, well being and happiness. But the fact is that sleep disorders affect a huge percentage of the population. Statistics show that chronic insomnia affects more than 10 percent of Americans. And according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 million people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow breathing during sleep. While symptoms may include daytime lethargy, sleepiness and impaired alertness, it is however, often undiagnosed. If untreated, it can lead to a host of other problems, ranging from diabetes to workplace accidents.

But, with the introduction of ResearchKit, its open source framework, Apple is helping researchers use technology and the power of the mobile to shed light on disorders like these by recruiting more people for studies and collating increased data on patterns and improving health outcomes. Read more about ResearchKit and its impact here.


The American Sleep Apnea Association and IBM introduced the SleepHealth App and the patient -driven SleepHealth mobile study to connect the dots between sleep habits and health outcomes. This app uses Apple’s ResearchKit framework and enables patients to submit surveys and complete tasks. It is also the first ResearchKit study to run on IBM’s Watson Health Cloud. Powered by IBM’s advanced cognitive and analytics technologies, Watson’s Health Cloud serves as a secure data hub with data fed from diverse sources. By being able to analyze huge volumes of data, it can enable researchers to draw more intelligent insights.

By using the ResearchKit framework to build the app, researchers now have the ability to  attract more participants and can crowd source data to help better understand sleep patterns. As a patient-driven study, participants can now contribute ideas, suggestions and survey quons , thus making them feel more empowered. Carl Stepnowsky, PhD, an associate professor at University of California at San Diego is the principal investigator of this study. He sees this study and the associated app as a positive step forward in patient-led research and data-driven discovery.

As the chief patient officer of the American Sleep Apnea Association and someone who suffers from sleep apnea, Adam Amdur has been instrumental in creating and beta-testing this app. He sees this as an effort to draw more attention to this condition and help physicians and researchers better understand the causes and develop treatments. He says, ‘SleepHealth is the first ResearchKit study developed by an all patient team of researchers and advocates, and we believe it has the potential to be the largest international sleep study ever. Our ultimate goal is to uncover patterns to advance good sleep practices, optimize health and predict who is at risk for sleep disorders or other medical conditions.’ Read more of this thoughts here.

The SleepHealth app’s back end data solution has been provided via Watson Health for ResearchKit. The app also makes use of many sensors in the Apple Watch such as accelerometer and gyroscope to measure and record movements.It also uses Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor to detect sleep.

The Watson Health Cloud has HIPAA security and researchers can use data collected from the app and combine it with other sources like medical literature and clinical data for better insights. The app also serves as a patient engagement tool by offering users more understanding on their sleep patterns and its effects. Through health tips and notifications, they are encouraged to stick to healthy sleep habits and schedules.

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