As much as 40 percent of children are experiencing a variety of sleep problems, and parents are now turning to specialized gadgets and smartphone apps.

But can your smartphone really help you get a good night’s sleep? And are these new devices’ information accurately reflecting children’s rest? That has not yet been determined.

Pediatricians are also interested in whether these devices are a useful tool to screen for sleep disorders. It appears these apps, unfortunately, are not the best tool to assess sleep problems, say researchers.

Apps and Gadgets

Sarah Biggs of Monash University’s pediatrics department, in collaboration 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 called MotionX 24/7, was also placed underneath the bottom bedsheet, near the child’s shoulder, for the entire night.

Awake or Asleep?

“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 actually rather good at assessing sleep. It correctly identified sleep 92 percent of the time.

But 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.”

Photo: N i c o l a/flickr

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