This iPhone, Apple Watch app - and IBM Watson - might help you finally get a good night's sleep

Do iOS devices dream of electric sheep, too?

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Data collected from Apple Watches could aid sleep research.

Image: CNET

A new iOS (Apple Watch and iPhone) app that uses IBM's cognitive computing prowess to monitor sleep patterns aims to help researchers explore the connection between quality of sleep and overall health.

The SleepHealth app uses Apple Watch sensors -- including the accelerometer, gyroscope, and heart rate monitor -- to record how well you're sleeping. SleepHealth is built on Apple's open-source ResearchKit framework so that participants can submit surveys directly from the SleepHealth app.

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Doctors and researchers will use the SleepHealth app, and an associated mobile study by the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA), to explore the connections between sleep quality and alertness, productivity, general health, and medical conditions.

Data contributed by app users will be stored on the Watson Health Cloud, where researchers will conduct analysis to uncover patterns and connections in the data. Researchers can also use Watson Analytics to interrogate the data further.

SleepHealth is the first ResearchKit study to run on the data-rich Watson Health Cloud.

Crowd-sourcing

Chronic insomnia affects more than 10 percent of Americans, and 25 million suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic sleep loss, whether from a medical condition or lifestyle, is associated with increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, cancer, and depression, it said.

"We've made life the laboratory for this study by crowd-sourcing data and input to achieve an unprecedented understanding of sleep in a non-invasive manner," said Carl Stepnowsky, the principal investigator for the study, associate professor at University of California at San Diego, and ASAA's chief science officer.

The new app will help build the world's largest study to collect data on both healthy and unhealthy sleepers that can be published as an open study and shared with other researchers.

Some of the app's features, such as the Personal Sleep Concierge and the Nap Tracker, were designed specifically with Apple Watch in mind to help instill good sleep habits. With iOS 9.3, SleepHealth will be the first ResearchKit app to leverage Apple's new Night Shift feature that reduces light exposure before sleep.

After several years of data collection, the research team hopes to develop personalized and public health interventions for a variety of sleep-related health issues -- helping athletes optimize training before a big event, mitigating fatigue in the workplace, or detecting early symptoms of Alzheimer's and mental health disorders, for example.

The SleepHealth app is available in the US as a free App Store download; IBM said that subjects' names are removed from the study data to protect privacy.

IBM has been making a big push into healthcare recently. The array of sensors that we carry around in smartphones and increasingly in other wearable devices is a potentially rich source of data that, through using analytical tools such as Watson, could be mined to find potential insights into various health conditions.

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