Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Apple and IBM team up to tackle sleep apnea

Steve Rogerson
March 15, 2016
 
Apple and IBM are working with the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) to identify connections between sleep habits and health outcomes. They have introduced the SleepHealth app designed for iPhone and Apple Watch and the patient-driven SleepHealth Mobile Study.
 
The study uses the open source ResearchKit framework designed by Apple to enable participants to complete tasks and submit surveys right from the SleepHealth app. SleepHealth is the first ResearchKit study to run on the IBM Watson Health Cloud.
 
Sleep is one of the most important factors impacting health, safety and quality of life. Yet one in four Americans experience sleep problems, which severely impact daily functioning, health and longevity. Chronic insomnia affects more than ten per cent of Americans, and 25 million suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
 
Often undiagnosed, sleep apnoea is characterised by disrupted sleep, loud snoring and repeated pauses in breathing. Chronic sleep loss, whether from a medical condition or lifestyle, is associated with increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, cancer, depression, motor-vehicle crashes and reduced quality of life.
 
In concert with researchers, physicians and patient advocates in the USA, the SleepHealth study aims to explore the connections between sleep quality and daytime activities, alertness, productivity, general health and medical conditions. App users will have the opportunity to help shape the study by contributing ideas for research topics, survey questions, engagement activities and messaging. Data contributed by participants will be stored on the Watson Health Cloud, where researchers will conduct analysis to uncover patterns and connections in the data.
 
“We’ve made life the laboratory for this study by crowd-sourcing data and input to achieve an unprecedented understanding of sleep in a non-invasive manner,” said Carl Stepnowsky, associate professor at University of California at San Diego and ASAA’s chief science officer. “This study also marks the association’s commitment to patient-led research and data-driven discovery. With ResearchKit and Watson Health Cloud, this new app will help us build the world’s largest longitudinal study to collect data on both healthy and unhealthy sleepers that can be published as an open study and shared with other researchers.”
 
The back-end data system is provided via Watson Health for ResearchKit, which runs on the secure, HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud and enables researchers to combine data collected via the SleepHealth app with diverse data sources such as medical literature, treatment guidelines, claims data and clinical data. Researchers can also opt to apply Watson Analytics for deeper insights from the data.
 
“One of our goals at IBM Watson Health is to eliminate silos that hinder collaboration between researchers, patients and clinicians, and create opportunities for these communities to share and learn from one another,” said Kyu Rhee, chief health officer for Watson Health. “It is exciting to see Watson Health and our ecosystem of partners help advance our understanding of how an essential, yet often under-appreciated factor like sleep impacts so many health outcomes like heart disease and diabetes.”
 
In addition to generating insights for research, the app is also a personalised tool that is designed to help users better understand the link between their sleep habits and general wellbeing. Participants will receive tips on health and sleep through the app such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends and days off.
 
The app makes use of many Apple Watch sensors – such as the accelerometer, which detects movements, and the gyroscope, which determines orientation in space – to measure and record movements such as shifting positions during sleep. It also uses Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor to detect sleep. Some of the app’s features, such as the Personal Sleep Concierge and the Nap Tracker, were designed specifically with Apple Watch in mind to help instil good sleep habits. With iOS 9.3, SleepHealth will be the first ResearchKit app to leverage Apple’s Night Shift feature that reduces light exposure before sleep.
 
“As someone who suffered for years with undiagnosed sleep apnoea, I’m eager to see how this app contributes to our understanding of sleep health and its connection to serious health conditions,” said Adam Amdur, ASAA’s chief patient officer, co-investigator, and the father of a young child battling the condition. “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, optimise health and predict who is at risk for sleep disorders or other medical conditions.”
 
After several years of data collection, the research team hopes to develop personalised and public health interventions for various sleep-related health issues, for example helping athletes optimise training before a big event, mitigating fatigue in the workplace, or detecting early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and mental health disorders.
 
The SleepHealth app is available to anyone in the USA as a free download from the App Store, with plans for global expansion in the near future. Study participants must be at least 18 years of age and understand English. The app includes a simple process to ensure informed consent for participation in the study. To help maintain participant privacy, subject names are removed from the study data.