The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends  that adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night, and in recent years, consumers have had the choice of a proliferating number of sleep trackers and wearables to measure how often they’re getting a good night’s rest.

Of course, sleep health is about much more than how many hours of shut-eye people get each night, and while consumer devices like the Apple Watch, Garmin, and Fitbit provide important data and insights that can help people improve their overall sleep hygiene, they’re not medical-grade diagnostic or monitoring devices .

Why is this so significant? Because poor sleep is often a symptom of a more serious underlying medical issue like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – a condition linked to cardiovascular diseases - that is currently undiagnosed in an estimated 80 percent  of the roughly 54 million Americans  believed to suffer from it and costs the U.S. economy 9.6 billion annually .

Moreover, sleep apnea is very deceiving. Many sufferers wake up after what their sleep tracking app tells them was a full eight hours of sleep – when in reality, their (likely undiagnosed) apnea caused so much disruption to their brain that they experienced the equivalent of four hours of sleep without even knowing it.

WatchPAT®ONE is the first and only disposable home sleep apnea test (HSAT). It offers the same simplicity, accuracy, and reliability as other WatchPAT products. The simple smartphone app transmits the WatchPAT®ONE's data from seven channels to the cloud. As soon as the study is completed, the clinician can review the automated study results. (Credit: itamar medical)

Faced with a growing physician shortage , the market needs to harness the power of technology to meet demand, offer providers much-needed clinical support, and provide patients living with OSA the monitoring they need. To that end, Amazon may be expanding its reach in the consumer sleep technology market, geared toward conditions like OSA, with Business Insider reporting  last month that the tech giant is developing an Alexa-powered device that aims to monitor users’ sleeping and breathing patterns using millimeter-wave radar.

While it remains to be seen whether Amazon’s initiative will bear fruit, its work on the project underscores that to diagnose and monitor OSA, it is necessary to meld wearables with more advanced technology.

Equipping patients with medical-grade sleep health monitoring devices will provide physicians the rich and accurate data and visibility they need to raise the standard of care along the entire patient pathway, from diagnosis to treatment. Following this approach will save healthcare systems millions, reduce the risk for major chronic disease such as diabetes and heart illness, and enhance patients’ quality of life.

The Power of Sophisticated Monitoring

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital health and tech-enabled health services to help patients and providers remotely and effectively monitor and manage an array of chronic health conditions.

For those living with OSA but who don’t realize it, monitoring solutions that focus on detecting sleep apnea – potentially including more sophisticated wearables – are vital  to optimal disease management and the prevention of more serious cardiovascular- and respiratory-related complications.

Thinking about sleep health just in terms of a narrow set of factors, like sleep duration and snoring throughout the night, which is what wearables and other consumer sleep products generally provide, while ignoring the quality of sleep and common breathing disorders, offers a very misleading picture. Much more is at stake – which is why patients need solutions that examine the problem from a much more comprehensive perspective.

Medical experts stress  the importance of telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) to track key patient metrics and empower patients to stay on top of their overall health. While these tools are more sophisticated than wellness gadgets, they don’t focus on OSA specifically. FDA-cleared, medical-grade OSA monitoring can fill this gap and meet the urgent need for continuous and comprehensive sleep apnea management and disease burden monitoring.

Innovating OSA Treatment

Over the past year, healthcare providers and public health experts have spent ample time illustrating how health conditions influence the likelihood of deterioration in COVID-19 patients. Among the salutary effects of this discourse has been a growing public awareness of how various conditions interact and influence health outcomes, which in turn has inspired many people to do more to take charge of their overall health and well-being.

This newfound appreciation must be applied to the realm of sleep health, with clinically validated approaches to diagnostics, monitoring, and treatment, including devices and scalable solutions for sleep disorders. consumer-grade wearables alone won’t cut it. Instead, to improve patient outcomes and make care more seamless and efficient, physicians need interoperable digital platforms that can empower them to oversee the full patient sleep care pathway.

Patients need much more than better diagnostics. Living — and thriving — demands nothing less than a full-spectrum approach. Clinical-grade solutions can provide patients and their doctors with full, real-time visibility into their whole health, from sleep quality to cardiovascular metrics. As COVID-era experiments in telehealth and RPM foster a greater appreciation for the benefits of accessible, home-based care and monitoring, this revolution in how healthcare is delivered will increasingly extend into areas like OSA treatment. Once these solutions are made available to those who need them, millions of patients and their families can rest easier.

This guest blog was written by Gilad Glick, CEO, Itamar Medical .