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Fitbit adds sleep tech to grow health assessment tools

March 7, 2017

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More than one year ago, Fitbit CEO and cofounder James Park noted that sleep apneawas one of the chronic conditions it sought to address with its activity tracking devices. One year later, in Fitbit’s latest product development wrinkle, the company deepened its sleep tracking tech with two new products that track and assess sleep quality, according to a company news release. The move reflects the growing interest in sleep tech, which was a big theme at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. CES tends to be a bellwether for tech trends for the rest of the year.

Fitbit’s sleep technology developments include a capability to detect heart rate variability as a way to estimate how long users spend in light, deep and REM sleep Sleep Stages. This tool can also assess the time users are awake each night. The goal is a better understanding of customer sleep patterns and the quality of sleep. A Sleep Insights component analyzes users’ sleep data to provide targeted guidance for how customers can improve sleep.

Fitbit has had a manual sleep tracking feature since September 2012 with its Fitbit One model and added that an automatic sleep tracking function was added in October 2014 with Fitbit Charge, a spokeswoman noted in response to emailed questions.

These earlier sleep functions use “advanced signal processing and machine learning algorithms” to track how long users slept and highlight how long people were awake during a sleep period, the spokeswoman added.

The activity tracking company also launched Fitbit Alta HR — a slimmer version of its wrist-worn activity tracker. The move reflects the company’s plan to diversify form factors based on its sensor technology innovations, something Park noted on the wearable developer’s quarterly earnings call last month. Park commented on those developments in the news release and also emphasized the company’s role in providing ways for customers to use its activity tracking devices to gain greater insights into their health and more effective ways to manage it.

“The miniaturization of our PurePulse heart rate technology opens up exciting opportunities for future generations of devices and new form factors,” Park said. “Our advances in sleep will provide millions of users around the globe accessibility to invaluable insights that previously could be obtained only through expensive lab tests.”

Sleep tracking has become something of a hot area of digital health — for wearables and other devices. For one thing, the sleep disorder market is huge. Also, the ramifications of poor sleep touch everyone from personal behavior to work performance. Poor sleep can also be a symptom or a cause of a deeper health problem.

Asked for his take on where the biggest consumers of sleep tech, Daniel Ruppar, Frost & Sullivan digital health global director responded in an email:

“The audience in my opinion at this time is mainly consumers for their use in their health interests — whether they have a [sleep] disorder or not, and are interested in sleep as part of their health, and if their doctor cares to use consumer-generated data. At this time, this is not the norm at a level of scale in common practice. Probably the more engaged providers in terms of digital health components will use the information generated by the consumer.”

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