Twitter data to help treat sleep disorders

Washington, June 12 (IANS) Researchers have generated a unique “digital library” of Twitter users with sleep problems to understand and help treat sleep disorders better.

After assessing the sentiments expressed in users’ tweets, the study gives preliminary hints that patients with sleep disorders may be at a greater risk of psychosocial issues.

Sleep deprivation and chronic sleep disorders are not well understood.

“We wanted to see if we could use new forms of online data, such as Twitter, to characterise the sleep-disordered individual and possibly uncover new populations of patients suffering sleep problems,” said John Brownstein from the Boston Children’s Hospital.

The research team used data from Twitter to create a virtual cohort of 896 active Twitter users whose tweets contained sleep-related words or hashtags or the names of common sleep aids or medications.

They then compared data from that cohort to those of a second group of 934 users who did not tweet using sleep-related terms.

The researchers also assessed the time of day and average sentiment — positive, neutral, negative — of each user’s tweets.

Taken together, the data suggest that Twitter users suffering from a sleep disorder are less active on Twitter on average but tweet more during traditional sleeping hours.

The increase in negative sentiment in their tweets suggests that sleep-disordered users could be at an increased risk for psychosocial issues.

Researchers from Merck — one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical, chemical and life science companies — also participated in the experiment.

Apart from their impact on productivity, accidents and risky behaviours, chronic sleep disorders also contribute to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.

“Social media can be a useful addition to our toolkit for studying the patient’s experience and behavioural epidemiology of sleep disorders,” the authors noted.

The research appeared in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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