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Can the New Apple Watch Detect Sleep Apnea?

Mar 19, 2024
· 7 mins read

Adapting mass technologies, such as mobile apps and smartwatches, to be used as medical devices has become popular in recent years. According to Bloomberg’s report , the new Apple Watch Series 10 is being promoted as a tool to help detect and monitor blood pressure, sleep apnea and other health problems.

This new Apple Watch is not a replacement for currently available sleep studies, but it is being presented as a tool that can highlight signs of sleep apnea that you could later discuss with your doctor.

Here, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the functions that the Apple Watch can fulfil and whether the information it retrieves could be used for medical purposes.

Are Apple Watches FDA-Approved to Detect Sleep Apnea?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the new Apple Watch Series 10 or any Apple Watch for sleep apnea detection, nor for diagnosing any other breathing-related sleep disorder or other medical issues such as hypertension. The process to obtain FDA approval can take a long time, and Apple is just starting to explore sleep-tracking functions and sleep related metrics.

Despite this, the Apple Watch is considered by the FDA as a wearable medical device (or simply a “wearable”) because of its ability to measure heart rate and rhythm.

While these health features have been used mostly for fitness purposes, they could potentially help track some sleep apnea symptoms. However, Apple Watches and other smartwatches are not as accurate as a full sleep study or an at home sleep test , and therefore do not substitute these.

Man using an apple watch

How Does an Apple Watch Track Your Sleep?

The Apple Watch sleep monitor function can track day-to-day changes in a person’s sleep patterns. It measures sleep using three sensors:

  • •Blood oxygen levels sensor, which uses pulse oximetry to estimate the percentage of oxygen present in the bloodstream. It is important to note that this requires the watch to be in the right position and is only done a few times throughout the night.

  • •A heart rate sensor measures the peripheral arterial tone (PAT), an indicator of the pressure caused by a pulse of blood. This requires the watch to be in a particular position.

  • •An accelerometer that tracks motion to understand breathing and body movements allows the algorithm to calculate the breathing rate with this information.

Using the data collected by these sensors, WatchOs (the watch’s algorithm) calculates respiratory rate, total sleep time, and how long you spend in each sleep stage. These stages usually go one after the other, starting with light sleep, then deep sleep, and finally, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which repeats itself throughout the night.

Therefore, the information collected by the Apple Watch sensors could identify people who have trouble sleeping, a feature shared by those affected by obstructive sleep apnea, for example. However, many medical conditions could lead to this altered pattern, and the Apple Watch is not designed to tell them apart.

If connected with outside apps in your iPhone, the Apple Watch can detect loud snoring and be used as a blood pressure sensor. Some smartwatches can collect data that relates to sleep apnea symptoms.

Data collected by smartwatches and how it could possibly relate to sleep apnea symptoms.

What Should I Do if My Apple Watch ’s Data Suggests I May Have Sleep Apnea ?

If your Apple Watch’s metrics suggest sleep apnea, you should consult with a healthcare provider. They will evaluate your symptoms and, if necessary, ask you to take a proper sleep test, such as a home sleep test.

The opposite can also happen. If you think you have sleep apnea but your Apple Watch has not flagged any notifications, you should still see a healthcare provider to properly rule out the possibility of having sleep apnea.

At Sleeplay , we have sleep experts who can help you identify your symptoms and guide you through the sleep apnea diagnosis process. Contact us to get started.

Is the Sleep Data Collected by an Apple Watch Intended for Medical Use?

The new Apple Watch Series 10 was not designed to be a useful tool in diagnosing sleep apnea or any other health issues. Because of its inaccuracy, the respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, and other sleep-related information it tracks are not intended for medical use.

A doctor with a patient

Diagnosing sleep apnea and other medical conditions requires more in-depth information than the Apple Watch can provide. In the best scenario, it can be used as a warning to consult with a healthcare provider to determine whether you need to take additional tests.

How to Get Tested for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by a doctor, requiring a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis.

There are two types of sleep apnea tests. The first type is home sleep apnea tests, which is conducted in the comfort of your home using a specialized device like the WatchPAT One Home Sleep Test. This type of sleep study is more comfortable and affordable.

WatchPat One Home Test

The second type of sleep study is an in-lab sleep study or polysomnography, which must be carried out in a sleep laboratory. It can measure more variables than home sleep tests, but it can also be more expensive and uncomfortable.

Once a diagnosis is made, your doctor will tell you if you need to use a CPAP machine as part of your treatment. Understanding how to buy a CPAP machine can be overwhelming initially, but remember, your doctor will advise you to get the best type of CPAP device for your needs.

Getting diagnosed is the first step to better sleep. At Sleeplay, we want to help you find out if you have sleep apnea so you can start getting better sooner. Take our sleep apnea quiz to find out if you need a consultation with our experts.


Is There A Smartwatch That Can Detect Sleep Apnea ?

Yes, various smartwatch brands can detect signs of a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. However, the US FDA has not approved them as diagnostic tools. Some examples of smartwatches that can measure heart rate, blood oxygen level, and sleep stage are Garmin, Cubitt, Fitbit, and Samsung smartwatches.

What Signs of Sleep Apnea Does an Apple Watch Track?

The new Apple Watch Series 10 will be able to identify symptoms such as a fluctuating respiratory rate, occasional drops in blood oxygen levels, frequent changes between sleep stages, and a higher proportion of light sleep or awake periods.

However, it is important to note that how this wearable device measures these symptoms is not as accurate as an at-home sleep test or a polysomnography.

Can I Use my Apple Watch to Track the Effectiveness of my Sleep Apnea Treatment?

The data collected by these wearable devices can offer insight into how your sleeping patterns can change over time. However, it does not offer medically accurate information to monitor sleep apnea therapy.

The best way to notice whether your treatment is effective is by paying attention to your symptoms and meeting with your healthcare provider regularly.

Can Garmin Detect Sleep Apnea ?

Like most new-generation smartwatches, Garmin can measure information related to sleep apnea symptoms. The collected information can be accessed through the Advanced Sleep Monitoring feature on the Garmin Connect app.

Garmin’s smartwatch can track:

  • •Total time spent sleeping

  • •Sleep stages

  • •Blood oxygen levels

  • •Respiratory rate

  • •Body movements

  • •Heart rate and rhythm (when paired with the Venu 2 Plus)

  • •Loud snoring (when paired with outside apps)

Can Fitbit Watches Detect Sleep Apnea ?

Most modern Fitbit watches can be useful as an alerting system to warn you about potential signs of sleep apnea. This smartwatch can track the same sleep-related information as the Garmin watch, including snoring and heart rhythm.

Is there an App that Can Detect Sleep Apnea ?

Many apps function as health coaching services and have been designed to detect sleep apnea and notify users if they show signs of sleep apnea so they can consult with a healthcare provider. For example, there is the Android app ApneaApp, SleepTracker-AI, and SnoreLab.

Although none of these apps is FDA-approved for diagnosing sleep apnea, some have clearance from the FDA so that they can be used with a doctor's prescription to pre-screen adults with suspected obstructive sleep apnea. Some examples of these cleared apps are SleepCheck and Drowzle.

What Is the Best Smartwatch for Tracking Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

The newer smartwatches in the market are all very similar in what they can measure and how accurate they are. Garmin, Cubitt, Fitbit, and Samsung smartwatches can all measure the same things, including heart rate and rhythm, breathing rate, blood oxygen levels and sleep stages.

How Accurate Is The Apple Watch Monitoring Sleep Patterns And Identifying Sleep Apnea ?

The Apple Watch is not as advanced as other wearables regarding sleep tracking. The app includes a sleep mode, a customizable alarm, and basic data tracking. It is better as a fitness tracker than as a sleep tracker.

The Takeaway

The new Apple Watch won't be able to diagnose sleep apnea. However, it may be able to detect sleep apnea symptoms, alerting you to contact your doctor for further testing. From there, an in-lab sleep study or home sleep test will be required to diagnose sleep apnea accurately. If diagnosed, you can receive a prescription and sleep apnea therapy. 

Do you suspect you may have sleep apnea? Has your Apple Watch alerted you of possible signs? Find out in just one night with our home sleep test. It's fast, easy, and conveniently done in the comfort of your own bed. 

Gabriela Alvarado

Medically reviewed: Daniela García

Medical Doctor. She has actively participated in various research projects and currently holds the position of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the Central University of Venezuela.

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