Samsung Galaxy Watch cleared for sleep apnea detection

A person wearing the Samsung Galaxy Watch as they sleep.
Image: Samsung

The FDA has authorized a sleep apnea detection feature for the Samsung Galaxy Watch, clearing the way for a software update to the Samsung Health Monitor app in the third quarter of this year that will enable the feature for US users. South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety gave its nod of approval last fall for using wearable devices to detect breathing interruptions that are commonly associated with the sleep disorder, and the update will roll out there first.

Although doctors warn that smartwatches are unreliable tools for sleep apnea detection and other health disorders, that hasn’t stopped major wearables makers like Apple, Fitbit, Withings, and others from trying to enter the space.

In December, Bloomberg reported that Apple is working on advanced health monitoring (including sleep apnea and hypertension) for the next Apple Watch. The FDA hasn’t approved it yet, and Apple is still dealing with a patent lawsuit over blood oxygen monitoring that required it to remove the feature from the devices it currently sells.

Users will have to sleep with their Samsung Galaxy Watch on and monitor their sleep twice (for a period of at least four hours each) within a 10-day period to use the feature. The Galaxy Watch can monitor the wearer’s blood oxygen levels throughout the night to see if they drop, which is a common sign of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic, breathing interruptions during sleep are one of the key symptoms of both central sleep apnea (when your brain doesn’t send signals to your breathing muscles) and obstructive sleep apnea (when your throat muscles block air from reaching your lungs).