Benefits of IDEA-FAST outcomes for those affected by fatigue und sleep disorders

By Walter Maetzler

My family and I moved from southern Germany to northern Germany four years ago. It is beautiful here. However, there is something that I perceive as incriminating: In winter, there is about one hour less daylight than in the south of Germany. I have the feeling that the lack of this time of daylight makes me rather fatigued. However, I don’t know for sure, and I would like to know more about it.

That is why I was immediately interested in the topic of IDEA-FAST, also for personal reasons: Is it really possible to measure fatigue with these small portable electronic devices that we can almost buy in the supermarket these days? We are now already in the second year of IDEA-FAST, and as scientists we are increasingly convinced that we can actually capture aspects of fatigue with digital technology. We are currently conducting a first study with very committed participants – they suffer, to a large extent, from diseases associated with fatigue – to test how portable devices can be used to assess fatigue objectively. We also will learn where the pitfalls are for the use of these devices in everyday life. We are also working hard to develop a framework to help us explain the term “fatigue” so that we and other scientists can study the phenomenon more efficiently.

Why could this be interesting for you, the interested reader? Well, would it not be wonderful if you could soon keep a “fatigue diary”, which you could perhaps fill in a little bit yourself but which is passively written by allowing your smartphone or smartwatch to observe your mobility, your reactivity, your interaction with friends? As I write this, I can think of the reasons why it might not be so attractive: can someone else watch me? Is the data secure? Do I even want to know it? These are all questions that need to be considered when thinking about the use of digital technology. The fact is that we are entering a new era of medical diagnostics and therapy, and that this brings with it a new dimension for all of us: Patients can actively participate in diagnostics and therapy. But for this they need information: information that only they have, and not the doctor. The smart thing is that they can either keep it with them or share it with the doctor – or with the physiotherapists, the self-help group, whatever they think makes sense.

This is what IDEA-FAST stands for: The project wants to capture a really annoying symptom that many people have in a completely new dimension of accuracy and granularity. This will be achieved with new technology that can be used at home. It is our dedicated aim that the knowledge is then primarily to be made available to those affected.

By the way: the project also focuses on measuring sleep disorders. You will immediately guess it: Fatigue and sleep disorders are probably closely related, and sleep disorders are also very common. Therefore, this focus makes maximum sense in IDEA-FAST.

I will continue to miss the daylight in winter. But hopefully I can use next winter to test our hypotheses on my own body. It would be fascinating if it worked…