There’s a socioeconomic divide between those who track their sleep and those who don’t
For the second year in a row, the Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show has had an entire section dedicated to the hazy, dreamy world of sleep. With an abundance of sleep-monitoring apps being so readily available, a lot of us are trying them out to get a better night’s rest. But a new study suggests that the ones who could benefit from sleep apps the most aren’t taking advantage of them. In fact, it’s the healthy and wealthy American populace who are using them.
The study conducted by researchers at NYU School of Medicine and published in Health Communication, is a first of its kind. The researchers looked at the sleep-specific use of mobile apps amongst 489 men and 431 women in the United States. Those eligible completed an online survey, finding a diverse range of people from less represented backgrounds, such as 50% who completed high school, 60% earning less than $50,000 a year and 30% black, latino, white and 10% Asian or other.
The questions fitted into three categories. The first being background characteristics, such as gender, age, education, race and income. Second, health questions: exercise, general health and whether the person smokes, diet and diagnosis; and lastly, current use of health apps.
The researchers found that generally, people who considered themselves to be healthy were the ones most likely to track their sleep, often eating healthy and doing more exercise. They also found that women were less likely to track their sleep than men. However, most concerning was the discovery that individuals earning over $75,000 were more likely to track their sleep than those earning less than $25,000.
“These findings suggest that sleep tracking may be part of a healthy lifestyle, but also that we may have more work to do to better reach individuals who are less healthy with mobile health intervention, such as efforts to promote sleep tracking, or perhaps tools that help individuals self-monitor and then achieve improvements in their sleep,” Rebecca Robbins, lead study researcher, told Alphr. “We found individuals who reported tracking their sleep on a mobile phone app are doing other healthy things such as healthy nutrition and regular exercise. Individuals who reported tracking sleep also rated their overall health very high.”
The socioeconomic impact on healthy living has been well documented in the past. A paper in Ethnicity and Disease published in 2011 found that increased obesity was linked to income below the poverty level, with another study in 2011 finding that people with very little education were more likely to report sleep problems. When you also take into account that sleep is becoming increasingly tied to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the socioeconomic links are hard to ignore.
“There is tremendous potential for sharing health data with healthcare providers. This is promising for it might offer more lines of communication between healthcare providers and patients to bolster motivation to be healthy on a day-to-day basis,” Robbins explained, though, “it should be noted that not all health apps have been validated to ensure the data participants see is strongly correlated with actual behaviour.”
Just looking at this study, you can see that sleep tracking skews towards those who are young and already healthy. If a long-term benefit of sleep apps is discovered, then it’s up to healthcare professionals to encourage their uptake amongst the groups that could truly benefit.