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Blog Feature

By: Kevin Asp on August 5th, 2015

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Can I Fully Trust My Smartphone Sleep App? Study Says Not Yet.

Sleep Technologist Advice


Is there a clinical role for smartphone sleep apps?

A study published by The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine probed an issue perhaps a lot of us were wondering: How effective and reliable are those sleep apps on the market that have been gaining traction? Can I trust my smartphone sleep app to get a better night's sleep?

The study's purpose

It was to find out how accurate several inexpensive, readily downloadable smartphone apps are when it comes to monitoring sleep. 

Many of these apps claim to monitor the sleep of its users, but there has not been any official statement on whether they are actually effective and accurate. Therefore, these apps have not been recommended for widespread clinical use.

The study was conducted with a rather small sample pool with about 20 volunteers with no previously diagnosed sleep disorders as participants of the study. All underwent in-laboratory polysomnography (PSG) while simultaneously using the app. Parameters reported by the app were then compared to those obtained by PSG. In addition, an epoch-by-epoch analysis was performed by dividing the PSG and app graph into 15-min epochs.


According to the study:

There was no correlation between PSG and app sleep efficiency (r = −0.127, p = 0.592), light sleep percentage (r = 0.024, p = 0.921), deep sleep percentage (r = 0.181, p = 0.444) or sleep latency (rs = 0.384, p = 0.094). The app slightly and nonsignificantly overestimated sleep efficiency by 0.12% (95% confidence interval [CI] −4.9 to 5.1%, p = 0.962), significantly underestimated light sleep by 27.9% (95% CI 19.4–36.4%, p < 0.0001), significantly overestimated deep sleep by 11.1% (CI 4.7–17.4%, p = 0.008) and significantly overestimated sleep latency by 15.6 min (CI 9.7–21.6, p < 0.0001). Epochwise comparison showed low overall accuracy (45.9%) due to poor interstage discrimination, but high accuracy in sleep-wake detection (85.9%). The app had high sensitivity but poor specificity in detecting sleep (89.9% and 50%, respectively).

So what does that mean?

The absolute parameters and sleep staging reported by generic apps correlate poorly with PSG. But there is room for exploration with a need for further studies that will compare app sleep-wake detection to actigraphy.

Sleep technologists, do you recommend smartphone apps to your patients as a resource? Tell us in the comments below! 

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About Kevin Asp

Because of the implementation of his best practices of Implementing Inbound Marketing in its Medical Practice, he turned the once stagnant online presence of Alaska Sleep Clinic to that of "The Most Trafficked Sleep Center Website in the World" in just 18 months time.

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