According to the National Sleep Awareness Project, some 25 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep apnea, whether it is apnea, which involves breathing cessations of 10 seconds or longer, or hypopnea, in which the reduction of ventilation is at least 50% during sleep. While lack of restful sleep is a problem in and of itself, sleep apnea can also lead to more serious health problems like stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular issues.
That’s why Fitbit has stepped into the game, planning to incorporate sensors into its new products that may identify apnea in consumers who wear their product. While the activity-tracking company has secured a large share of the market with its fitness-focused products, scientists are skeptical of how the company will successfully pull off tracking such a sensitive and complex health problem like sleep apnea.
This product, titled the Ionic Smartwatch, is said to have optical sensors and machine learning tools to identify the telltale cessation of breathing or reduced breathing in wearers of the device. For those who are knowledgeable of apnea and the way it is diagnosed, there are questions of whether or not people will actually wear the device when they sleep in the first place, and two, whether or not the sensors and algorithms in the device can actually accurately identify these conditions.
According to an article on The Verge, which covers tech and popular culture, the move is likely a calculated one by Fitbit, which is looking to jump in head-first into a growing market that analysts expect may hit $6.7 billion by 2021. This would be a definite improvement as the company has seen “iterative product launches, slowing sales, and a sinking stock price” over the past year and is clearly actively seeking to prove to investors that it can still innovate in an increasingly crowded health and fitness tech space.
Consumers’ fascination with health and fitness technology has urged companies to push out more products that claim to help us keep tabs on our health and fitness, but it brings about the question: Do these products actually do anything to help us stay healthy? Does tracking every detail of your day on an app really result in better overall health and wellness? Some would argue that any tool that helps remind you to stand up and walk more, or to watch your calories, or to push for fitness goals throughout the week has got to be beneficial to our daily lives. But others will say that these tech “wearables” and phone apps are simply cluttered that really have no effect on our fitness levels and that people will continue their unhealthy habits, even if they are wearing a tracking device that tells them otherwise.
It remains to be seen whether or not devices like the Fitbit Ionic Smartwatch will help identify and diagnose sleep apnea say, in the same manner, that professionals like the New York sleep apnea clinic Silent Night Therapy use, which involve doctors’ consultations, at-home controlled testing, test result review (again with a doctor), and treatment after the results are in. To many, it seems that a Fitbit analysis will never surpass the diagnosis and certainly cannot provide the expert treatment that only a doctor can provide.