Getting Enough Sleep: On the Importance of Collecting Longitudinal Data from Wearables to Assess Sleep Quality and Seasonal Effects on Variability in Daily Activity

María Óskarsdóttir, Anna Sigridur Islind, Elias August, Erna Sif Arnardóttir, François Patou, Anja Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The method considered the gold standard for recording sleep is a polysomnography, where the measurement is performed in a hospital environment for 1-3 nights. This requires subjects to sleep with a device and several sensors attached to their face, scalp, and body, which is both cumbersome and expensive. For longer studies with actigraphy, 3-14 days of data collection is typically used for both clinical and research studies.

The primary goal of this paper is to investigate if the aforementioned timespan is sufficient for data collection, when performing sleep measurements at home using wearable and non-wearable sensors. Specifically, whether 3-14 days of data collection sufficient to capture an individual’s sleep habits and fluctuations in sleep patterns in a reliable way for research purposes. Our secondary goals are to investigate whether there is a relationship between sleep quality, physical activity, and heart rate, and whether individuals who exhibit similar activity and sleep patterns in general and in relation to seasonality can be clustered together.

Data on sleep, physical activity, and heart rate was collected over a period of 6 months from 54 individuals in Denmark aged 52-86 years. The Withings Aura sleep tracker (non-wearable) and Withings Steel HR smartwatch (wearable) were used. At the individual level, we investigated the consistency of various physical activities and sleep metrics over different time spans to illustrate how sensor data from self-trackers can be used to illuminate trends.

Significant variability in standard metrics of sleep quality was found between different periods throughout the study. We show specifically that in order to get more robust individual assessment of sleep and physical activity patterns through wearable and non-wearable devices, a longer evaluation period than 3-14 days is necessary. Additionally, we found seasonal patterns in sleep data related to changing of the clock for Daylight Saving Time (DST).

We demonstrate that over two months worth of self-tracking data is needed to provide a representative summary of daily activity and sleep patterns. By doing so, we challenge the current standard of 3-14 days for sleep quality assessment and call for rethinking standards when collecting data for research purposes. Seasonal patterns and DST clock change are also important aspects that need to be taken into consideration, and designed for, when choosing a period for collecting data. Furthermore, we suggest using consumer-grade self-trackers (wearable and non-wearable ones) to support longer term evaluations of sleep and physical activity for research purposes and, possibly, clinical ones in the future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


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