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Sleep and digital health - the good, the bad and the ugly

Introduction

Can a smartphone help improve our sleep? Until recently, the answer would have been a simple no, with screens and connectivity viewed as the enemy of sleep.1,2 Yet emerging digital technologies are challenging this dogma. Paradoxically, our smartphones could aid in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.

The Good

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to close the doors to our Sleep Disorders Centre, it truly opened our eyes to the power of digital health. Whilst keeping patients and staff safe, it proved to us that we could continue to provide high-quality, comprehensive patient-care, which was not limited by geographic boundaries. Communicating with patients via their digital devices proved to be so beneficial, that now our doors have reopened, many patients are opting to continue with digital consultations. Instead of travelling to hospital and sitting in a waiting room (for what might only be a 15-minute consultation), patients can now save time and expense, as well as feel more empowered in a setting of their choosing. Assessing patients virtually further enables bed partners to attend clinics more easily, and they are often pivotal in helping to diagnose sleep disorders, as they are witness to nocturnal events which the patient may be unaware of e.g. snoring, leg movements, night terrors etc. Moreover, being able to see a patient’s home and/or bedroom environment can be incredibly helpful, especially in behavioural sleep medicine. So, the clinician may see the bedroom which doubles as an office, the large television which dominates the bedroom, or the wine bottle on the bedside table and so on; here, a picture really is worth a thousand words.