Sleep Number to Study Impact of Sleep on Cancer
Sleep Number’s beds use sensors to monitor things like heart rate and breathing. Sleep Number Corp.

Sleep Number to Study Impact of Sleep on Cancer

Through a partnership with the American Cancer Society, the Minneapolis-based mattress seller says it will use data collected through its “smart beds” to research how sleep impacts cancer diagnoses.

Minneapolis-based Sleep Number Corp. on Wednesday said it plans to use its vast trove of customer data to study the impact of sleep on cancer.

As part of an agreement with the American Cancer Society, Sleep Number will share sleep data collected through its “smart beds” for cancer-related research. Like an Apple Watch or any of the other numerous biometric devices on the market these days, Sleep Number’s mattresses use sensors to monitor things like heart rate and breathing.

“We’re going to use the data to find different patterns or associations between behaviors and outcomes,” said Cassie Morris, Sleep Number’s VP of innovation strategy and business ventures, in a Thursday interview.

Sleep Number customers already sign a license agreement to share their biometric data with the company when they buy a bed. But customers taking part in the cancer research have to opt in separately. Morris said there’s a community of about 200,000 Sleep Number customers who have chosen to share their data for the sake of scientific research. “In that community, we can conduct research on particular questions or protocols that we send through an institutional review board,” she said. Morris described it as “traditional, clinical-esque research.”

The American Cancer Society partnership will be a six-year study. The nonprofit will combine its own research on cancer patients with Sleep Number’s data. As part of its ongoing cancer prevention studies, American Cancer Society has already been collecting data from more than 300,000 individuals throughout the country.

“We’re going to link the people in that population with the people in our population, because we know there has to be some overlap,” Morris said. “We’re going to identify individuals to follow and figure out what their sleep behavior is compared to their cancer diagnosis or treatment status. There’s going to be a lot of data privacy and contractual agreements between us and the American Cancer Society to link up those two datasets.”

The end goal is to develop the “first-ever, cancer-specific sleep guidelines.” What sorts of guidelines can we expect?

“It will depend,” Morris said. “That’s the beauty of this particular research. Is it just duration? Is it timing? We want to tease out those pieces… The conclusion of this six-year study will be designing and testing interventions.”

This isn’t the first time Sleep Number has used customer data for medical research. Morris noted that the company conducted a Covid-19 study that asked participants to fill out questionnaires about symptoms and test results. The company then paired that information with sleep data to get a better understanding about how the illness progressed. “We found that we could predict the onset of symptoms,” Morris said. “That’s the kind of scientific research taking place with that sleep science community.”

There is, of course, a dark side to customer data collection, if it’s not handled properly. Consider the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the early 2010s, which involved a British company collecting data from Facebook users without their consent. Or, more recently, there’s the tale of, a startup that had been collecting conversations from a suicide text line to improve its own automated customer service software.

But Morris noted that all of Sleep Number’s data is anonymized, and that the company does not sell its data to third parties. “The data is completely anonymized and aggregated in a way that there’s no way for us to determine individuals,” she said. Users consent to share their data when they buy a bed, and they must consent a second time if they want to participate in research. Plus, if so desired, a user can turn on “privacy mode” and stop sending data to Sleep Number at any time.

In Morris’s view, the research has the potential to transform how we understand cancer.

“This is an exciting advancement in our goal to understand sleep science,” said Morris, a former research director at Medtronic. “The American Cancer Society has all kinds of guidance on tobacco use, exercise, and all sorts of things, but guidelines for sleep have never really been established. This is an opportunity to impact society in a really meaningful way.”