Every day, about 46% of Americans check their phones before they get out of bed. This number increases to 66% for people aged 18 - 241. While for many checking the latest entertainment gossip could be the big reason, for others it could be to check their emails received the evening before.
Alongside these individuals, there is a segment that looks at the data they personally create as they navigate the day. Since their mostly mainstream introduction in the early 2000s, the US Adult Wearable market has continued to increase. Currently, 22% of the population uses some sort of wearable, generally described as an “...accessory or clothing embedded with electronics, software or sensors that have the ability to connect to the internet”. Devices such as these “collect and exchange data with a manufacturer, operator or other connected devices”. Wearable users use them to quickly check emails, make todo lists, or receive text notifications more quietly.
What could go unnoticed are the more hidden everyday uses for wearables. Wearables are more and more being used to track breathing, anxiety, mood changes, and sleep patterns. While a lot of research is currently being done to see if wearables truly have a recognizable impact on our health, you can see them being used as a way to initiate the conversation on mental and physical health.
Anxiety is one of the biggest mental illnesses in the United States. If we look at adults, it affects about 40 million adults or 18.1% of the population every year2. One method to recover from an anxiety attack is to “Learn to calm down quickly” 3. The Breathe app from the Apple Watch, introduced in 2016 has this goal in mind. Users can focus from 1 minute to 5 minutes (or as the watch reads 7 to 35 breaths) and with haptic technology be guided through an intuitive breathing exercise.
Getting enough sleep is also a key indicator of having good mental and physical health. The Pillow app connects to your iPhone and your Apple Watch and then examines your movements, sleep cycles, and the time it takes for you to actually fall asleep. Whenever you wake up you can review your sleep analytics and make improvements as you see fit. There is certainly an increasing number of regulations that are getting involved in this new personal sleep tracking space. The National Sleep Foundation met with the Consumer Electronics Association in 2014 to start creating standards for sleep monitoring equipment and help develop future technology. Their goal is to ensure accuracy when it comes to sleep tracking and give consumers a “greater understanding of how their sleep habits impact their overall health.”3
Apps such as Pillow and the Apple Watches Breath app are available to the everyday consumer. However, one downfall to a user examining their own health analytics is that they could potentially interpret the data incorrectly. What would be more beneficial is for space designated to the clear examination of your results. “Ideally data visualizations should be contextually sensitive, individualized to the required degree, and readily understandable to the end-user. The challenge is a multidisciplinary one and is likely to be best met through a careful process of co-design.” 4
There is the argument that apps that track things from sleep to your mood throughout the day don’t have the same repercussions as an app that is tracking more critical data. However, as technology becomes more accessible and as health care becomes more inaccessible we could easily see apps that cost $5 - $10 being used to pinpoint critical health and mental health risk factors. Wearables are already starting to be used to treat and predict more critical health concerns. Currently, wearables that track eye movements are being designed and tested to predict and treat AIDs, Alzheimer’s, Dyslexia, Schizophrenia, Drug Addiction, and Multiple Sclerosis5.
Utilizing wearable technology in the health space could be extremely beneficial to a multitude of different groups. The companies using and creating these devices, however, should be held to key standards so the devices they create are trustworthy. If companies continue down this path of using big data to collect health statistics, consumers should know and trust that they are accurate, easy to understand, and accessible to many.
“U.S. Smartphone Users Statistics a 'Round-the-Clock' Connection.” Reportlinker Insight, 14 Mar. 2019, https://www.reportlinker.com/insight/smartphone-connection.html.
“Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.
“Sleep Tracker Improvements.” Sleep.org, https://www.sleep.org/articles/how-the-nsf-and-the-cea-are-improving-sleep-trackers/.
Marzano, Lisa, et al. “The Application of ‘MHealth’ to Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges.” Core, School of Science and Technology, Middlesex University, London, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/45309180.pdf.
Videl, Mélodie, et al. “Wearable Eye Tracking for Mental Health Monitoring.” Computer Communications, https://www.perceptualui.org/publications/vidal12_comcom.pdf.