More and more applications claim to be able to help insomniacs and other patients with disturbed sleep thanks to the sensors of their smartphone. What is it really? If they are not all to be thrown away, their scientific basis must however be qualified.
You are tired. You’ve seen it all day and it’s not a first. You can’t wait to slip under the duvet and enjoy good restorative sleep you’ve been waiting for so long. Except that. Except that once his head is on the pillow, Morpheus prefers to take his time. It’s already late. You still don’t sleep. What if an app helped you fall asleep?
We sleep less well than before
Rest assured, you are not alone in having this (night) reflection. Year after year, more and more people trust their smartphone apps and connected objects to monitor, analyze and improve their sleep. In 2019, according to a study by the National Institute of Sleep and Vigilance, the French sleep an average of 6h57 on weekdays and 8h14 on weekends. Above all, among the 1,014 individuals representative of the French population aged 18 to 75 who took part in this study, nearly a third were not satisfied with their sleep. 39% would be affected by a disorder that interferes with their sleep and 15% would have insomnia.
Figures that have been increasing in recent years, in particular because of what is internationally known as “coronasomnia”. A study by the French Society for Sleep Research and Medicine also sought to measure the impact of the health crisis on sleep disorders. Suffice to say that on the scale of France, the market for bad sleepers is significant.
Two types of applications
Developers of applications and connected objects have understood this well and a simple search on the Apple Store or Google Play reveals a hundred apps promising easy alarm clocks and patented sleep analysis techniques. Some companies have even specialized in this theme. But what are they worth? Difficult to analyze them one by one, but we can already separate them into two categories, as explained by doctor Sylvie Royant-Parola.
“Patients (…) distinguish playful well-being, the quantified self approach (i.e. the self-measurement of one’s body and the data that can be drawn from it, editor’s note), and medical. »
President of the Morphée network – a collective of 350 members, including 280 doctors who are dedicated to the management of chronic sleep disorders –, she details: “There are two types of applications. Those who only want to help you fall asleep and those who provide sleep analysis. The first, by broadcasting ambient sounds, can undeniably help relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. The success of an application like Petit Bambou, which invites you to meditate, is proof of this. »
Data that is often imprecise… even completely eccentric
What about seconds? Again, there is food and drink. And it all depends on how the data is retrieved. For some applications, all you have to do is leave your smart phone next to your pillow or on your chest of drawers and let the algorithm do its magic. As much to say it right away: the data retrieved is often imprecise, even completely eccentric.
“Some companies, such as Apple or Withings, are increasingly effective in recording sleep rhythms and waking phases. This is part of the data that can be kept, although it remains subject to caution. »
And for good reason, it is enough to live as a couple and sleep in the same bed or quite simply to have a mischievous cat for all the data to be distorted. “In other words, the resulting beautiful graphics have no clinical value”, explains the sleep expert, who recalls that several laboratories have thus compared the analysis of star applications and those of a real medical device. Unsurprisingly, the differences are stark. “Fortunately, patients are aware of this and it is quite rare that they come with their curves. They distinguish playful well-being, the process of quantified self, and medical. »
More and more efficient objects
However, not everything is to be thrown away in sleep analysis devices ! Without achieving the precision of a medical device, more and more health professionals concede the improvement of specialized connected objects. Or not. “More and more connected objects have a sleep tab. And some companies, like Apple or Withings, are increasingly effective at recording sleep rhythms and waking phases. This is part of the data that can be kept, although it remains subject to caution. » All it takes is a badly calibrated sensor when it leaves the factory to falsify any analysis.
In an era where the untimely collection of data is questioned by citizens and public authorities, the legitimacy of these companies to collect data on the sleep of its users remains problematic, particularly in terms of transparency and resale.
Nevertheless, when it comes to long-term monitoring, connected objects have their advantages: “You can compare how big life changes – like menopause or weight gain – have changed data recovery. They can thus serve as warning signals when we notice that the breathing rate has changed over a given period, or that sleep apnea is increasing. »
The big data of the sandman
While connected objects (especially watches and bracelets) have risen to the rank of gift of choice for Christmas and birthdays, sleep specialists concede that their democratization still makes it possible to recover a huge flow of data concerning sleepers. of the whole world. “It’s a magical tool to study people and sleep patterns around the world. Their number is such that more and more researchers are looking into their analyses,”evokes Sylvie Royant-Parola.
“We are seeing closer partnerships between start-ups and doctors. This will necessarily enrich our semiology. »
However, at a time when the inopportune collection of data is regularly questioned by citizens and public authorities, it should be remembered that the legitimacy of these companies to collect data on the sleep of its users remains problematic, particularly in terms of transparency and resales. “What is certain is that we are seeing the emergence of closer partnerships between start-ups and doctors. This will necessarily enrich our semiology. »
Nothing beats a healthy lifestyle
That’s all well and good, but in the end, in your bed, you still don’t sleep. As you will have understood, a meditation application can help you fall asleep and certain connected objects (which you put under the mattress or carry on your person) can help you detect specific trends in your sleep. or your lifestyle (average bedtime, waking time, etc.). But nothing will replace a consultation with a health professional.
Sleep experts recommend above all a healthy lifestyle: do not accumulate “sleep debt”, do not eat too heavily before going to bed, adopt a stable rhythm, learn to manage stress and invasive thoughts… The President of the Morphée network concludes: “In fact, it would not take an application, but many applications to better manage all these life parameters. This is why, from a medical point of view, we speak of a “program” for insomniacs. A good sleep is a multitude of factors to manage. »
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