Using Smart Phone and Motion Sensor Technology to Study 11–12 Year-Olds’ Sleep: Lessons Learned

April 18, 2017, 2:00pm – 3:00pm EDT
Jim Spilsbury Ph.D., MPH
Jim Spilsbury, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Jim Spilsbury, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Jim Spilsbury, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Director and Assistant Professor
Academic Development Core
Case Western Reserve University


Health disparities are a major public health issue, and disparities in sleep quantity and quality have been well documented among disadvantaged populations. Our data from Cleveland, OH, indicate that the age range of 11–12 years is a crucial period when substantial differences in sleep duration and timing emerge between African-American and white children. Based on our research and other investigations, the causes of this disparity likely involve a constellation of factors in the social environment. As an initial step to better understand the social setting in which adolescent sleep occurs, in the current study, we used ecological momentary assessment approaches to study the sleep and sleep environment of young African American adolescents. The study sample consisted of 26 African American or multi-ethnic early adolescent (ages 11–12 years) and parent dyads, recruited from local schools and social service agencies in greater Cleveland, OH. Over a 14-day period, adolescents used a novel mobile phone and motion sensor technology to collect more accurate, real-time data about nighttime activities and sleep environments, helping pinpoint specific factors and activities influencing sleep patterns. Development of this system was challenging and necessitated a series of key decisions around selection of equipment, identification and query of nighttime motion and noise “events” of interest to investigators, and construction of necessary survey instruments. In this presentation, these key decision points, logistical and ethical considerations, as well as adolescent experience and perspectives on the technology are identified and discussed. We hope this information will be useful to others interested in the use of ecological momentary assessment approaches to study sleep.


Dr. Spilsbury received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Case Western Reserve University in 2002 and his M.P.H. in health education from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For the previous 4 years, he has functioned as an instructor in the Center for Clinical Investigation and scholar of the Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Training Program, an NIH “Roadmap” Initiative to train future leaders for the nation’s clinical research workforce that is conducted collaboratively by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, MetroHealth Center of Cleveland, and University Hospitals of Cleveland. Dr. Spilsbury also teaches a course on investigating social determinants of health in the Clinical Research Scholars Program.