Merck, National Sleep Foundation to launch new Fitbit-powered study

By Dave Muoio
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Physicians have touted the benefits of a good night’s sleep for centuries, if not longer, but it hasn’t been until recent years that a provider can see clear data on whether or not their patients have been hitting the sack.

To investigate whether wearable sleep trackers could play a role in patient-provider conversations, researchers from Indiana University’s Regenstrief Institute have launched a new study funded by Merck and the National Sleep Foundation that will equip insomnia patients and their primary care physicians with data from Fitbit devices.

“This study will provide insight into the utility of consumer sleep monitoring devices for the incorporation of sleep as a vital sign in the primary care setting,” Michael Paskow, director of scientific affairs and research at the National Sleep Foundation, said in a statement. “Delivering relevant sleep information to providers in a streamlined fashion is paramount to encouraging communication about sleep and helping people get a better night’s sleep sooner.”

According to a statement, the prospective, randomized, parallel group study will enroll 210 insomnia patients and their Indianapolis-based primary care providers. Daily sleep data collected via Fitbit Charge 2 wearables will be fed into the National Sleep Foundation’s SleepLife mobile app, which offers users sleep recommendations, group and demographic-based sleep behavior comparisons, and sleep reports that are easily viewed by users and shared with their physician.

The researchers will examine the data collected through the devices and the app, as well as more subjective findings collected through questionnaires. These findings are expected to serve as a starting point for continued research on patient-provider communication, and the role of trial data collected through apps and devices.

“Wearable devices have revolutionized our ability to collect and monitor health data on a much larger scale and the ability to provide sleep data on a daily basis can help increase our understanding of real world sleep habits and how to improve them,” Dr. Conor Heneghan, lead sleep research scientist at Fitbit, said in a statement.

Fitbit’s various consumer wearables have become an increasingly popular tool for researchers interested in continuous health data — for example, one study published in December used Fitbit Flex or Charge devices to monitor the impact of post-surgery activity on readmission. On a larger scale, the National Institutes of Health announced last year that 10,000 Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Alta HR devices would be the first wearables used in its ambitious All of Us Research Program.