IBM Launches Sleep Study App on Watson Health Cloud

IBM and the American Sleep Apnea Association teamed up to deliver the SleepHealth app to build a sleep data repository to help fight sleep apnea.

IBM Watson Health HQ

IBM's enterprise mobility partnership with Apple continues to pay dividends, as today Big Blue announced it has teamed up with the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) on a study to determine the connections between sleep habits and general health.

The ASAA and IBM introduced a new application known as SleepHealth to help identify these connections. The SleepHealth app is built for the iPhone and Apple Watch, and data collected from the app will drive the SleepHealth Mobile Study. The study also will draw from insights gleaned by IBM's Watson cognitive computing system as new data is ingested.

According to Adam Amdur, chief patient officer for the ASAA who helped create the SleepHealth app, sleep apnea is estimated to affect as much as 10 percent of the adult population. However, Amdur said he believes many more people may suffer from it that have not yet been diagnosed. Amdur noted that sleep apnea has had "devastating" effects on his family and he has suffered from it for years.

Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 25 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and at least 10 percent suffer from chronic insomnia.

"While sleeping, the disorder is characterized by restlessness, choking, and pauses in breathing; during the day, by headaches and lethargy," Amdur said in a blog post. "Untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and accidents."

The ASAA hopes to sign up as many as 40,000 people for the sleep study. The SleepHealth app is available to anyone in the U.S. as a free download from the App Store, and IBM and ASAA plan to expand the program globally in the near future. As the study is patient-driven, IBM and the ASAA are hoping to get as much data as possible from as many sleep apnea sufferers as they can.

"We're reaching out to sleep apnea sufferers and others through social networking to create an information-sharing community—so people will readily join the study and stick with the program," Amdur said. "As a result of these changes, SleepHealth represents a reinvention of the way medical research is done. We're transitioning from patient-centered research to patient-led research."

Amdur noted that as a beta tester for SleepHealth, it has become an essential part of his daily routine. He began by responding to a series of short surveys about his life, his health and his sleep patterns that were posed to him via his Apple Watch. Each day, Amdur is prompted by the app to fill out brief surveys about his sleep habits and how he is feeling.

To complete the objectives of the study and submit the survey, SleepHealth participants must use the open-source ResearchKit framework designed by Apple. The ResearchKit framework makes it easy for researchers and developers to create apps that could revolutionize medical studies. SleepHealth is the first ResearchKit study to run on the Watson Health Cloud, IBM said.

"We believe that with the power of the ResearchKit platform that we will be able to reach hundreds of thousands of people around the world that would never have thought about participating in sleep research or any research at all," Darrel Drobnich, president of the ASAA, told eWEEK. "It helps us also reach the 'digital divide' and reach minorities and underserved communities that are almost always left out of traditional research. Because we are interested in finding complex connections between sleep health and chronic diseases such as heart disease, depression, Alzheimer's, Dementia and many others. Watson's sophisticated analytic capabilities will give us and other researchers tremendous possibilities in seeking new discoveries using a tremendous amount of data."

IBM said the Apple Watch is an ideal platform for the SleepHealth app, as the app takes advantage of the device's many sensors—including the accelerometer, the gyroscope and the heart rate monitor. It uses the heart rate monitor to detect sleep and it includes features such as a Personal Sleep Concierge and a Nap Tracker.

In other Watson Health news, the New York Genome Center and IBM earlier this week announced that they are working together to create a comprehensive repository of genetic data to accelerate cancer research and scale access to precision medicine using IBM's Watson cognitive computing system.

In addition, IBM today announced that Tiatros, a San Francisco-based healthcare startup, has joined the Watson Health ecosystem. Tiatros uses Watson APIs in its CarePod solution, which enables doctors, with patient consent, to create social networks around patients.