Fitbit Really Wants To Be Able To Diagnose Your Sleep Apnea

Photo: Victoria Song, Gizmodo

If you wake up during the night feeling like you can’t breathe, or if you roll out of bed each morning wondering why you slept like shit, you might have sleep apnea. An estimated 22 million American adults have the disorder, and many of them don’t know it. A diagnosis usually requires undergoing a supervised sleep study at a clinic, which is an entire ordeal that most people want to avoid. But Fitbit thinks it might soon be able to tell you if you have sleep apnea using data collected on your wrist.

The company has put SpO2 sensors in just about every fitness tracker and smartwatch it’s released in the last two years with the goal of one day diagnosing the sleep disorder, but hasn’t made that data available to users until now. A new Estimated Oxygen Variation graph is showing up in the U.S. version of the Fitbit app for owners of the Versa 2, Versa, Versa Lite, the Charge 3, and the Ionic smartwatch. It doesn’t go so far as to tell you that you have sleep apnea, a tool that would require clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it does offer an overview of your blood oxygen levels while you sleep. Big variations in those levels could signal that something serious is going on, and you should probably seek medical advice.

Screenshot: Fitbit

Fitbit has been working on diagnosing sleep apnea for years, first adding an SpO2 sensor in a device back in 2017 with the Ionic smartwatch and then rolling out a Sleep Score Beta, which was expected to make use of data from the sensor. But then Fitbit was acquired by Google, leaving users to wonder what would happen next. For now, it seems the acquisition hasn’t impeded Fitbit’s mission. The Estimated Oxygen Variation feature may be the last step toward gaining FDA approval.

“Fitbit is continuing to collect clinical data to test and develop FDA-cleared features for sleep apnea,” a Fitbit spokesperson told Gizmodo. “They expect to submit for FDA clearance soon and are maintaining a dialogue with the FDA throughout this process.”

Fitbit has competition. Hybrid smartwatch maker Withings just announced its $US249 ($361) ScanWatch, which will offer atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea diagnosis features when it launches in the second quarter of this year (although that launch is also contingent on FDA clearance). Apple in 2017 acquired Beddit, which makes a sleep-tracking sensor, and has long been rumoured to be working on measuring blood oxygen levels, but the Watch isn’t capable currently.

In the not-too-distant future, it seems like every smartwatch will be able to tell you how diseased you are. Or at least how badly you sleep.

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