"The results of our study showed that the smartphone application did not accurately assess sleep, substantially overestimating the amount of time the child was asleep and underestimating the number of awakenings during the night," says Sarah Biggs. (Credit: iStockphoto)

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Apps and gadgets don’t track kids’ sleep very well

With up to 40 percent of children experiencing a range of sleep problems, parents are turning to specialized devices and smartphone apps—even though it’s unknown if the information will accurately reflect their children’s rest.

Doctors are also interested in whether these devices provide a useful tool to screen for sleep disorders.

Unfortunately, these apps aren’t the best tool to assess sleep problems, according to researchers.

Two devices and an app

Sarah Biggs of the pediatrics department in the Monash University School of Clinical Sciences, in conjunction with the Melbourne Children’s Sleep Centre, undertook a study of 80 children who attended the center over a period of six months.

“We asked the children to wear a Jawbone UP and an actiwatch, a device commonly used by sleep experts to assess sleep and wake patterns over time, during a diagnostic sleep study at the Centre.”

At the same time, a smartphone, with a sleep application activated (MotionX 24/7), was also placed underneath the bottom bedsheet, near the child’s shoulder, for the entire night.

Asleep or awake?

“The results of our study showed that the smartphone application did not accurately assess sleep, substantially overestimating the amount of time the child was asleep and underestimating the number of awakenings during the night,” says Biggs.

The Jawbone UP was quite good at assessing sleep, correctly identifying sleep 92 percent of the time, though it was less accurate at assessing wakefulness, correctly identifying when the child was awake only 69 percent of the time.

As these devices are based on movements, the Jawbone UP had a tendency to overestimate wakefulness with normal movements during sleep being recorded as the child being awake.

“While this device provides a fairly accurate assessment of sleep patterns, it is not so good at assessing sleep quality,” says Biggs.

“Our research suggests that the wrist-based devices may be useful in screening for sleep problems that relate to the timing of sleep, such as behavioral insomnia or phase delay syndrome, but perhaps not as useful in screening for sleep problems that affect the quality of sleep, such as sleep disordered breathing or periodic limb movements.”

Briggs presented the research at the Australasian Sleep Association’s Sleep in Aotearoa conference in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Source: Monash University

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