Sleep apnea group part of first ResearchKit study to run on IBM's Watson Health

A new digital health app is playing a key role in a study focused on identifying connections between sleep habits and health issues.

The free SleepHealth app, developed by the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) and IBM, is part of the first ResearchKit study to run on IBM's Watson Health Cloud, according to an announcement. It will collect data on sleep quality and daytime activities, health and medical conditions and productivity and alertness. Users can contribute ideas for research topics, answer survey questions and communicate with the study team.

The researchers hope to include hundreds of thousands of users, and are working to secure funding to develop an Android app, as well as a Web version to expand participation internationally. The study's ultimate goal, after years of data collection, is development of personalized and public health interventions for a variety of sleep-related health issues, Darrel Drobnich (pictured), ASAA president, told FierceMobileHealthcare.

"We hope to be the largest sleep study every conducted in the world by having enormous data on health and unhealthy sleepers. This study will allow us to do this in a few months at a tenth of the cost of traditional research," he said. "The challenge will be to provide real value to users to stay engaged and in the study over multiple years. We would love to be around 10 years from now probably on some whole new form of technology and having solved some real health problems."

Drobnich said the app and study were conceived, designed and funded through the contributions of a small team of scientists, physicians, advocates and technology experts.

"Watson's sophisticated analytic capabilities will give us and other researchers tremendous possibilities in seeking new discoveries using a tremendous amount of data," he said.

The app makes use of Apple Watch sensors, including the accelerometer for tracking movement and the gyroscope, which measures and records movement during sleep. App features include a personal sleep concierge and nap tracker to instill healthy sleep habits, according to Drobnich.

It also will be the first ResearchKit app to leverage Apple's new Night Shift feature, which adjusts an iPad or iPhone screen color balance in relation to time of day.

"The movement of patient-centered research is helping to address issues by getting patients directly involved from the beginning," Drobnich said. "Now with platforms like Apple ResearchKit and IBM's Watson Health, we can literally put a laboratory in everyone's pocket."

For more information:
- read the announcement
- check out insight on the study