Wearable data suggest poor sleep may be linked with heart disease risk

Written by Ilana Landau, Editor

A novel analysis of wearable-derived data suggests that insufficient sleep may be associated with individuals’ more rapid biological aging and increased risk of developing heart disease.

For the first time, researchers from the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Precision Medicine and National Heart Centre Singapore (both Singapore) have analyzed individuals’ wearable tracker data and determined that insufficient, poor-quality sleep may be associated with premature telomere shortening — a widely accepted biomarker of aging and heart disease risk.

Considerable research has investigated the potential relationships between sleep quality and quantity, and various health outcomes, including hypertension, obesity and insulin resistance. Much of this work has relied on three key methods for determining individuals’ sleep quality and quantity; these are sleep questionnaires or diaries, actigraphy and polysomnography.

Despite their increased adoption, the potential for wearable devices to valuably contribute to sleep-related biomedical research remains largely uncharacterized. In this study, published in Communications Biology, researchers analyzed sleep-tracking data, questionnaire responses and multimodal, lifestyle information related to heart disease risk — such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels — from 482 healthy volunteers. Whole-genome sequencing and cardiac imaging were also performed. Investigators evaluated both the wearable-derived and self-reported sleep metric data, particularly considering individuals’ total sleep times and sleep ‘efficiency’.

The researchers observed that 7% of study participants who reported total sleep times of less than 5 hours per night were twice as likely to have shortened telomeres compared with individuals who slept for more than 7 hours each night.

Further, individuals who slept for less than 5 hours each night also presented with increased heart disease risk factors, including higher body mass indexes, compared with study participants who slept for longer than 7 hours a night.

Co-senior study author Weng Khong Lim (National Heart Centre Singapore) commented: “With whole-genome sequencing, additional experiments were not required to infer the biological age of our volunteers. This demonstrates the versatility of genome sequencing and its potential to enrich population health studies. What we found was that volunteers with enough sleep tended to have longer telomeres compared to those that did not. This was even after accounting for other factors such as age and gender, and provides evidence for a link between chronic sleep deprivation and premature aging.”

Patrick Tan (National Heart Centre Singapore), second senior study co-author, stated: “Consumer wearables have the capacity to capture a lot of data from individuals in their day-to-day life without being intrusive. Researchers can leverage wearables to obtain precise data such as sleep patterns more efficiently and can analyze large sets of data at one time.”


Teo JX, Davila S, Yang C, et al. Digital phenotyping by consumer wearables identifies sleep-associated markers of cardiovascular disease risk and biological aging. Commun Biol. doi:10.1038/s42003-019-0605-1 (2019) (Epub ahead of print);