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Mobile App Screens for Sleep Apnea

ApneaTracker report

ApneaTracker report screen shot (Aalto University)

3 July 2020. A medical software team designed a mobile app that records and analyzes a person’s sounds and sleep positions to detect signs of sleep apnea. The ApneaTracker app is a product of a physician specializing in sleep science in Helsinki, and computer science graduate students at Aalto University in Espoo, Finland.

Sleep apnea is a common but potentially serious disorder where breathing stops and starts during sleep. In obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, muscles in the throat intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep, causing snoring and repeated stopping and starting of breathing. The pattern of repeated breathing stoppages can interrupt regular sleep, resulting in disrupted sleeping routines, daytime fatigue from lack of sleep, and cardiovascular complications, such as high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.

Diagnosing sleep apnea today usually requires a polysomnograph, a thorough assessment of sleep patterns looking for sleeping disorders.. A polysomnograph records and measures air flow in and out of the lungs, sleep position, brain activity using EEG, eye movements, muscle activity, and heart rate. This test usually requires individuals to spend a night at an outpatient sleep center or install equipment in the home for one night.

Because of the expense and cumbersome equipment needed for polysomnography, neurophysiologist Tapani Salmi at University of Helsinki sought simpler and easier techniques to screen for sleep apnea. In a paper published in 2016, Salmi and colleagues show audio recordings of snoring, plus an individual’s medical history, indicate a higher probability of obstructive sleep apnea. Salmi later founded the company Smart Valley Wearable to develop and commercialize the technology.

The ApneaTracker app builds on Salmi’s earlier work. The app uses a smartphone or smart watch microphone to record a person’s sounds while sleeping, but also the device’s motion sensors to record sleep position, another indicator of sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back, for example, is more likely to result in sleep apnea, and the app’s premium version gives off a warning to change your sleeping position. ApneaTracker also provides a report with an analysis of the user’s sleep pattern with color-coded indicators of safe or problematic snoring and sleep position, with the premium version offering a more detailed report.

The app was designed by three graduate students at Aalto University: Joni Gardemeister, Jonatan von Martens, and Sowrov Doha, working with Salmi. The developers say the app is meant to be a monitor that encourages better sleep, not a full-fledged diagnostic device.  Gardemeister notes in an Aalto University statement that, “when performing a home recording, it is not possible to control that the user performs the measurement under optimal conditions.” He adds, however, “the application makes it easy to make repeated measurements, which compensates for the situation and increases the reliability of the results.”

ApneaTracker is still in beta testing — largely completed, but still working out last-minute bugs — and available at the moment only for Android devices, downloadable from Google Play.

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