The astronomical growth of wearable technologies to measure daytime activity and sleep is well known. These devices are now commodity products often with mobile phone interfaces. Everyone is into them – one of my patients recently claimed he was given a Fitbit wristworn device by Rupert Murdoch who is an avid user of this technology to monitor his health.
Despite the widespread availability of these devices, there is minimal scientific data on their value in recording sleep in either adults or children. A paper in the journal Sleep has recently compared the Fitbits performance in children with proper sleep monitoring. The paper, Comparison of a Commercial Accelerometer with Polysomnography and Actigraphy in Children and Adolescents by Lisa J. Meltzer, PhD; Laura S. Hiruma, PhD; Kristin Avis, PhD; Hawley Montgomery-Downs, PhD; Judith Valentin, RPSGT for the Children’s Hopital in Birmingham, Alabama will be published in early 2015. The paper is embargoed for journalists but available on the Sleep website for accepted papers for those with access. Let’s just say enthusiasm for these devices as accurate tools for scientific sleep research have been tempered by this publication.
Just as well one of our projects within the CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity is to develop better technology to assist in scientifically improving alertness in the Australian community. Perhaps a bit of science and proper validation studies will help turn these type of devices from sales jawboning to something that can be used in the field to assess sleep length and quality and measure improvements produced by treatment interventions.
Professor Ron Grunstein is a Sleep Disorder Specialist based in Sydney, who consults at the Woolcock Clinic and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and undertakes research at the Woolcock Institute, University of Sydney.