Sleep-tracking wearables and apps no substitute for sleep tests

But they do present an opportunity to discuss sleep quality

Sleep-tracking devices and mobile apps should not be used to screen for sleep disorders, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

sleep problems

While they can help engage users in improving sleep health, none of the technologies has been proven accurate or validated for screening, the academy said in a position statement.

Still, they are generating patient interest in sleep quality, which is a positive trend, write the authors in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

"Patients bring in their devices and want to know what the numbers mean and how we can help," said the lead author Dr Seema Khosla, chief medical officer of the North Dakota Center for Sleep.

"Sleep is too important to ignore," she said. "The effects spill into every organ system."

Devices and apps can help patients initially understand their sleep concerns and spur conversations with doctors, Dr Khosla's team writes.

However, they haven't been rigorously tested for accuracy against the professional equipment in sleep clinics, and they can't replace a medical evaluation.

"Patients often have anxiety when they search online for questions about their data," Dr Khosla said.

"We want to partner with patients to understand what they're concerned about, what their symptoms are and what we can do."

Since most devices and apps are sold in the lifestyle/entertainment category, they don't require regulatory approval or oversight.

The technologies claim to track and define sleep-related metrics such as number of hours asleep, as well as movement and restlessness overnight.

But clinicians can't really use this information since the technologies haven't been validated.

Also, the data aren't standardised from one device or app to the next.

In addition, sleep apps don't tend to use the latest research data or national guidelines to back up their recommendations, the authors note.

"Over time, we've learned that bad data is worse than no data," Dr Khosla said.

"Patients will come to me with concerns about the number of times they woke up or how much deep sleep they got, but once we look at the numbers and talk, we see that it's actually quite normal."

The statement encourages doctors to be aware of sleep technologies and to be open to discussing the data with patients.

In the future, sleep devices and apps could provide long-term data for sleep research, allow doctors to review patients' sleep data remotely between office visits and become part of electronic medical records, the statement said. - Reuters Health

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