IBM, along with the American Sleep Apnoea Association (ASAA), has introduced the SleepHealth app designed for iPhone and Apple Watch, as well as the patient-driven SleepHealth Mobile Study to help identify connections between sleep habits and health outcomes.

The SleepHealth study uses the open source ResearchKit designed by Apple to make it easier for participants to complete tasks and submit surveys from the app. SleepHealth is the first ResearchKit study to run on Watson Health Cloud.

“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,” said principal investigator and ASAA’s Chief Science Officer, Carl Stepnowsky.

“One of our goals at IBM Watson Health is to eliminate silos that hinder collaboration between researchers, patients and clinicians, and create new opportunities for these communities to share and learn from one another,” said Watson Health Chief Health Officer, Kyu Rhee.

According to Kyu, sleep is an under-appreciated factor that impacts numerous health outcomes like heart disease and diabetes.

“Now that data is in a digital format that can be leveraged and screened and analysed, this is where tools in this era of cognitive technology, like Watson, can actually make sense of the data,” said Kyu.

The SleepHealth app taps into Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor to detect when a subject falls asleep before gathering movement data with the on-board accelerometer and gyroscope. For users running iOS 9.3, the app will make use of Apple’s Night Shift feature, which shifts an iPhone or iPad’s display colour temperature toward the warm end of the spectrum to help ease physiological side effects of being exposed to cool blue light.

The SleepHealth study will 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, making it possible for researchers to conduct extensive analysis to uncover patterns and connections in the data.

Once it has completed several years of data collection, the research team expects to develop personalised and public health interventions for a variety of sleep-related health issues.

The SleepHealth app is available to anyone in the US as a free download from the App Store, with plans for global expansion in the near future.

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