German experts raise concerns about apps and smartwatches for sleep monitoring

Sleep monitoring devices and apps have gained popularity. With the support of technical gadgets, people want to screen their nightly sleep – and either get rid of persistent sleep problems or start the day particularly fit and rested, Westfallen Post reports (link in German).

Sleep monitoring apps want to be able to use the motion sensors or the microphone in the phone to be able to recognize how long you sleep, how often you move during the night, how regularly you breathe – and whether there are snoring noises and dangerous breathing pauses (sleep apnea) that reduce the quality of sleep.

Those who look at the innovations through scientific glasses are skeptical about the trend, including sleep physicians like Professor Christoph Schöbel. “Very few of these sleep trackers have really been compared to measurements in sleep laboratories,” he told Westfallen Post.

Schöbel is a board member of the German Sleep Society (DGSM) and also head of the sleep medicine center and professor for sleep and telemedicine at the University Hospital Essen.

Professor Schöbel is pleased that more and more people are using digital technologies to deal with their sleeping patterns. However, he sees a problem in the question of how and what exactly is measured. Activity sensors could determine that the person is not moving in bed. “But whether that’s really sleep or she’s just reading or lying awake, you can’t tell from that alone.”

Schöbel’s DGSM board colleague Hans-Günter Weeß confirms: “Many sleep trackers and apps are actually Stone Age methods of sleep research,” says the sleep expert from Pfalzklinikum Klingenmünster.

The majority of sleep monitoring devices, including sleep trackers available are therefore not very reliable from a medical point of view: “With these devices, we know that they often overestimate the total sleep time,” says Schöbel. The restorative sleep phases, i.e. deep and dream sleep, on the other hand, are often underestimated.

However, Schöbel takes the results of the first devices on the market that have been certified as so-called medical products by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) more seriously. In addition to the criteria of safety, functionality, quality, data security and data protection, a comparison with established medical measurement methods is a prerequisite. Only a few smart watches with sleep measurements are also marked as medical devices

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