The SleepHealth App, a free sleep health analysis tool offered by the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) and Sleeptember®, has just completed its first trip around the sun! We’re proud to announce that in one year’s time, it has become one of our most useful apps for both users and sleep health researchers.
The SleepHealth App Journey So Far
Twelve months after its launch, the SleepHealth App, a mobile app study and wellness tool powered by Apple’s ResearchKit and IBM Watson Health Cloud, has been viewed at the Apple app store over 53,000 times and downloaded by nearly 20,000 users.
What’s perhaps more interesting: almost half of all users who download and use the SleepHealth App (at peak, 47 percent) have opted in as participants for the SleepHealth Study. The study is registered as the SleepHealth Mobile Application Study, PROTOCOL NO. 20151042.
The SleepHealth Study aspect of the SleepHealth App makes it unique from all other sleep tracking apps. Designed by a patient-led community of sleep health activists, it invites its users to serve as equal partners in both the monitoring and management of their symptoms. The data collected on their behalf helps to direct future research itself through participation in our community forum, Sleeptember®.
The SleepHealth App joins the emerging mHealth effort
Associate Adjunct Professor Dr. Carl Stepnowsky guides the SleepHealth Study as its primary investigator. He is Chief Science Officer for the ASAA and is conducting the SleepHealth Study with a team at the University of California, San Diego.
“As a patient-led, patient-governed organization, we can approach research from a different angle than a traditional researcher,” he says. “Given our previous experiences in research, we consider this a high percentage, and are really encouraged by this level of interest of the community in participating in a study of sleep health.”
Stepnowsky admits that carving out medical research space by way of emerging mobile health applications (often referred to as “mHealth”) makes the process of running a research study through the confines of a smartphone app somewhat mysterious.
“This really represents a new way of doing medical research,” Stepnowsky says. “We are in the beginning stages of learning how to do it… But truth be told, we are less concerned about number of participants and more about the quality of the research that we are able to conduct, and whether it can help answer questions that are important to our community.”
How does the SleepHealth App work?
Anyone 18 years or older can use the SleepHealth App, regardless of health status, sleep habits, or other variables. You can be an insomniac or you can sleep, as they say, “like a baby.” In either case, your participation will still be useful, not only for your own sleep health awareness, but as a participant in long-term sleep research.
The SleepHealth App is comprised of two separate functions: the personal sleep tracking function and the sleep study participation function.
Personal sleep health tracking
The SleepHealth App is a personalized sleep analysis tool. It helps you track daily activity, bed times and rise times, overall sleep quantity, and daytime alertness. Just download the app at the Apple store.
The app requires no special sensors or programs to make it work. The design is meant to be simple, straightforward, and informational.
Using this app can help you gain greater insight into your sleep habits and sleep issues. After participating for a while, you may begin to discover associations between your sleep quality and quantity as they relate to your other medical conditions. What you learn over time may indeed motivate you to make healthy changes to your sleep practices to enhance your overall wellness.
SleepHealth Study participation
It’s, again, a simple matter of downloading the app and registering an account. You will be prompted to give consent to the SleepHealth Study Team to collect health and activity data from your iPhone and/or Apple Watch or wearable device(s). Once you’re on board:
- You receive health surveys that require you to answer a few questions (by selecting a single answer on your device).
- You are asked to complete tasks related to sleepiness and alertness as they occur. These are prompted by a reminder or notification, which you control in the settings.
- The app may ask you to provide additional health data or perform specific additional tasks while using your iPhone and/or Apple Watch.
- The data you share is entered into an ever-growing database of sleep statistics.
- Your contributions are voluntary and confidential. You can participate as little or as much as you want.
- Overall, study survey and task requests should not take longer than 20 minutes per week to complete.
- It’s important to remember that the more information you are willing to share, the more useful your contributions are to the larger subset of data collected and used to examine the links between sleep health and overall health.
A Constantly Evolving App
By early spring, the designers behind the curtain of the SleepHealth App and Study will roll out new features and improvements (stay tuned here for details). Even so, they regularly fix bugs and asking participants to give them feedback on ways to make using the app as smooth and effortless as possible.
Stepnowsky points to many surprising insights and inspirations that have resulted from launching the app.
“In terms of some of the surprising findings over the last one year, several stick out to us,” he says. Their ability to process such a high volume of data using Apple Health means he and his colleagues are “taking a closer look at the heart rate data, for example, to see if we can find some important trends in the data.” Heart health is well understood to correlate with overall sleep health.
The rise of “citizen researchers”
He’s also encouraged by the large percentage of app users (65 percent) who haven’t taken part in medical research studies prior to downloading the app. Now they eagerly give consent to participate in the SleepHealth Study.
“One of our goals is to spread the word about the importance of taking part in research,” Stepnowsky says. “But directly related to that point is that we want interested individuals to not just participant in a single research study, but to consider joining our community as well, and be part of the research movement.”
The Sleeptember® forum and website refer users to these opportunities to partake in these opportunities as “citizen researchers.” They encourage all app users to see this tool as a means for receiving support, sharing insights, and helping direct future research.
Stepnowsky believes users, by participating in such research, can also improve their knowledge of “what our medical system does and how they do it.”
Coming soon to a SleepHealth App near you
Updates and improvements to the dual-function app will be announced later this spring. Its designer expects new Android functionality to become a reality in the later part of 2017.
Sleeptember® is a campaign designed to create fun and engaging online and community events in order to raise awareness of the public health impact of sleep loss, connect the dots with other comorbid health conditions, generate funds for medical research, advocacy efforts, and to change the sleep and health habits of individuals and society as a whole. Visit the forum here.
We are a community of people with chronic health conditions, patient advocates, non-profit organizations, and other partners working together to raise awareness of how sleep impacts our health, safety, well-being, and productivity.
About the American Sleep Apnea Association
The American Sleep Apnea Association, founded in 1990, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes awareness of sleep apnea, works for continuing improvements in treatments for this serious disorder, and advocates for the interests of sleep apnea patients.
It’s initiatives include the A.W.A.K.E™ national network of education and support groups for people with sleep apnea, Sleeptember®, and the CPAP Assistance Program (CAP) which has provided CPAP equipment for patients who cannot afford their life saving treatment since 2010.
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