Study: People got more sleep, not less, in 2020

Withings analyzed data from sleep trackers, smartwatches, and scales to understand how lockdows and WFH affected overall health.

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Digital device maker Withings crunched data from their users and found that people got a little more sleep in 2020 than in 2019.

Image: Withings

A new digital health study found that people who used health tracking devices had a relatively good year in 2020 despite lockdowns and limited social schedules. People who used fitness monitors from Withings got more sleep and were more successful with weight loss goals compared to 2019. 

The company found that people got about 10 minutes more sleep each night and were slightly more successful at hitting weight loss goals, despite an overall drop in physical activity.

Withings conducted the study based on anonymous, aggregated data from a pool of 5 million users of Withings devices, including a smart scale, hybrid smartwatches, and smart thermometers. The company said it took steps to avoid re-identification of the data. 

SEE: Navigating data privacy (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Research firm Canalys predicts that smart fitness bands will pass 200 million units in 2021. The company also thinks that sales of wearable bands and earbuds will do better than smartphone sales and estimated that shipments were up 32% in 2020. A research analyst for the firm,  Cynthia Chen, said in a press release that the global pandemic hurt smartphone sales but helped wearables and earbuds. 

"Consumers' attention to health and wellness has increased significantly during the pandemic, which is a great opportunity for wearable devices, such as those from Xiaomi, Garmin, Fitbit, and Huami," she said.  

Canalys predicts that wearable bands will grow at 12% in 2021.

The Withings study that used data from wearable and other smart tracking devices found that in 2020, people slept 8 minutes and 34 seconds longer than in 2019, and people in the UK scored highest on this metric with 11 minutes and 40 seconds more sleep. In addition to counting total sleep time, Withings calculates a sleep score based on four factors: 

  • Duration: Total time sleeping
  • Regularity: Consistency between time to bed and time to wake up
  • Depth: Time spent in deep sleep
  • Interruptions: Time spent awake

High sleep scores in 2020 went up 5% over the course of the year so people were sleeping a few minutes more and getting better quality sleep as well. The study also looked at heart rates during sleep because a lower rate is a sign of good health. The average beats per minute was down slightly in 2020 with Canadians showing the most gain with a reduction of 2.56 bpm. Sleepers in the UK and Switzerland went in the wrong direction with slight increases in this rate.

In addition to reviewing sleep and activity data, the study authors examined overall weight change over the year. The study found that more people reached weight loss goals in 2020. Five percent more people were able to lose 1 kg (2.2 pounds) and 2% more people were able to lose 5 kg (11 pounds) as compared to 2019. 

The study authors attribute this to better sleep, fewer late nights out on the town, and less restaurant dining. Bans on indoor dining have been bad for the bottom line at restaurants but good for waistlines as eating at home generally results in healthier food choices.

The downside to working from home and staying in most nights is that people took fewer steps in 2020. Withings found that people took 511 fewer steps per day, a drop of 10%. Other physical activity dropped as well such as running and swimming but biking saw a global rise of 8%.

Although these health metrics are positive, the authors put this health study in the broader context of 2020: The data cannot put a sunny picture over a year that has revealed incredible inequalities among populations in certain countries and for others a lack of collective knowledge concerning public health. 

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