Capturing sleep-wake cycles by using day-to-day smartphone touchscreen interactions

NPJ Digit Med. 2019 Jul 29;2:73. doi: 10.1038/s41746-019-0147-4. eCollection 2019.


Body movements drop with sleep, and this behavioural signature is widely exploited to infer sleep duration. However, a reduction in body movements may also occur in periods of intense cognitive activity, and the ubiquitous use of smartphones may capture these wakeful periods otherwise hidden in the standard measures of sleep. Here, we continuously captured the gross body movements using standard wrist-worn accelerometers to quantify sleep (actigraphy) and logged the timing of the day-to-day touchscreen events ('tappigraphy'). Using these measures, we addressed how the gross body movements overlap with the cognitively engaging digital behaviour (from n = 79 individuals, accumulating ~1400 nights). We find that smartphone use was distributed across a broad spectrum of physical activity levels, but consistently peaked at rest. We estimated the putative sleep onset and wake-up times from the actigraphy data to find that these times were well correlated to the estimates from tappigraphy (R2 = 0.9 for sleep-onset time and wake-up time). However, actigraphy overestimated sleep as virtually all of the users used their phones during the putative sleep period. Interestingly, the probability of touches remained greater than zero for ~2 h after the putative sleep onset, and ~2 h before the putative wake-up time. Our findings suggest that touchscreen interactions are widely integrated into modern sleeping habits-surrounding both sleep onset and waking-up periods-yielding a new approach to measuring sleep. Smartphone interactions can be leveraged to update the behavioural signatures of sleep with these peculiarities of modern digital behaviour.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Human behaviour; Risk factors.