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Grounding sleep health interventions on objective data

By Ulrich Reimer, OST

Meeting of Expert Group Digital Health, 17 December 2021


Sleep disorders are frequent and often associated with stress and mental health problems such as depression. In industrialised countries the prevalence averages around 10%, with a range from 6% to 19% in European countries. Since this is a huge societal and economic problem various members of the expert group are aiming at developing personal digital assistants to support people to improve their sleep by giving advice on behavioral changes. This should not only help improve sleep but also reduce the need for medication. We coined the activities around this topic “Digital sleep health”. As opposed to existing approaches which aim at treating people with already manifested sleep disorders we rather target people who have sleep problems that have not (yet) developed into sleep disorders. We will focus on two kinds of sleep problems: excessive daytime sleepiness/hypersomnolence and insomnia.

Current and planned activities:

The group’s activities on digital sleep health are staged. In the ongoing first stage Clinic Barmelweid and Helsana collected and analyzed data on medication that is highly indicative of sleep problems. The goal of this stage is to get more accurate figures on how prevalent sleep problems are in the Swiss population. Ramin Khatami (Barmelweid) and Roman Sauter (Helsana) reported about this ongoing study in the meeting. Final results are expected for spring 2022.

The next stage in the digital sleep health activity will be a workshop in spring with a range of experts to discuss approaches for measuring sleep problems, esp. sleepiness, in an objective way that does not require a (costly) stay at the sleep lab. This can e.g. be done by using an app together with appropriate sensors. Based on these measurements alternative treatments can then be devised. Insomnia, the opposite to hypersomnolence, is a second aspect which might be addressed in the same workshop or in a follow-up event.

The third stage will then be about setting up project proposals to get funding for developing solutions along the ideas from the workshop.

In a nutshell:

Digital sleep health is about

  • developing solutions to support people with sleep problems – sleepiness/hypersomnolence and insomnia – that have not yet manifested into pathological sleep disorders;
  • developing means to objectively measure sleepiness/hypersomnolence and insomnia outside the sleep lab;
  • developing alternative treatments that do not require medication but aim at behavioral changes;
  • grounding sleep health interventions on objective data, i.e. suggesting personalized behavioral changes on the basis of the measured objective data.