The Longevity

National Sleep Foundation and Merck Partner on Sleep Study

The benefits of improved sleep- and the costs of insomnia- are inarguable. People who get enough sleep are happier, healthier, and more productive, while insomnia is associated with worsened health, lower productivity, and lower overall quality of life. In response to the prevalence of insomnia (research suggests that up to a third of adults experience insomnia) sleep solutions form a multi-billion dollar industry, with tech solutions for sleeplessness ranging from sleep tracking devices like Nokia Sleep and sleep-tracking mattresses to in-room sensors that suggest environmental improvements to support better sleep. Employers can even offer their employees digital cognitive-behavioral therapy programs to treat insomnia.

But does all this data really help us sleep better? A joint study by the National Sleep Foundation and pharma group Merck has set out to study the utility of sleep data gathered using wearables in a primary care setting.

The Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute, in a partnership with the National Sleep Foundation and pharma giant Merck, will be distributing more than 200 of the popular mHealth wearables to patients dealing with insomnia.

Activity trackers like Fitbits measure sleep by tracking periods of inactivity associated with sleep, along with heart-rate patterns that correlate to resting. While much of that data isn’t clinically validated, it does give healthcare providers a platform on which to detect trends.

More importantly, researchers say, it gives them an opportunity to collaborate with patients who might otherwise not know how to describe their sleep issues to doctors.

The study aims to examine the use of sleep data collected with the Fitbit 2 to determine the role that data collected by consumer sleep trackers can play in diagnosis and treatment of sleep conditions.

“The primary objective of the study is to determine if a program using a commercially available sleep tracker can be used to improve physician-patient dialogue regarding sleep,” Babar A. Khan, MD, a research scientist at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research at Regenstrief Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a recent press release.

Patients involved in the study will use a Fitbit 2 wearable to measure sleep patterns, and upload that data into the NSF’s SleepLife platform to share with their primary care providers. They’ll also answer questionnaires about their sleep habits and other outside factors.

“This study will provide insight into the utility of consumer sleep monitoring devices for the incorporation of sleep as a vital sign in the primary care setting,” Michael Paskow, MPH, the NSF’s Director of Scientific Affairs and Research, said in the release. “Delivering relevant sleep information to providers in a streamlined fashion is paramount to encouraging communication about sleep and helping people get a better night’s sleep sooner.”

Researchers hope the data will be useful to patients and providers alike by enabling providers to make informed decisions regarding a patient’s reported insomnia. The research could also be helpful to providers if it can provide guidelines on how to best make use of patient-generated sleep data.

Researchers say those interventions could help more of the estimated 70 million Americans who are experiencing common sleep disorders because they enable the patient and PCP to work on the problem together.  Such a platform could also reduce the workload for specialists, giving them more time to focus on the more serious cases.

“Wearable devices have revolutionized our ability to collect and monitor health data on a much larger scale and the ability to provide sleep data on a daily basis can help increase our understanding of real world sleep habits and how to improve them,” says Dr. Conor Heneghan, lead sleep research scientist at Fitbit, whose wearables are at the center of many mobile health programs designed to better link patients to care providers for daily care management.

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