Image source: Fitbit

Sleep trackers keeping people awake with undue worry, experts warn

Sleep trackers come in all forms and sizes. And while we buy them to promote more shuteye, some experts have warned these types of devices may actually have detrimental effects on our night’s rest.

Essential reading: Ten gadgets for advanced sleep monitoring

Scientists have even came up with a word for this – Orthosomnia. This is a phenomenon detailed in a 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The name is derived from the term “orthorexia” – the unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating.

Doctors noticed increased visits from people complaining they are not able to get enough kip time where the underlying cause is their trusty sleep tracker. It seems the gadgets are causing some people unnecessary worries in their unhealthy striving for a perfect night’s sleep. And it is this obsession that actually prevents them from getting enough quality rest time!

“They are having anxiety about sleep, they are trying to get more sleep and also they are spending more time in bed trying to sleep and that results in them having more awake time at night and also having their sleep more fragmented,” Kelly Baron, clinical psychologist at Rush University Medical Center and co-author of the study, explained.

What’s more, people are sometimes convincing themselves they have a sleep disorder based on data churned out by these devices. Which, in turn, leads to more unnecessary worries.

One of the case studies in the report describes a patient who complained he had been waking up irritable and unrefreshed. A recent gift from his girlfriend, a sleep tracker, indicated that this only happened when he had less than eight hours of sleep. Determined to set things right, he set himself a goal to hit this figure every night. Ultimately, it turned out that this caused added concern about his need to achieve the target, so his sleep kept getting worse and worse.

A new article published in the New York Times the other day also warns that people may be sabotaging their sleep in the quest to improve it. Experts are once again warning about this undue anxiety. Unhealthy habits fuelled by this obsession include checking sleep statistics on the phone while you are in bed, staying in bed longer than usual in order to hit that sleep target and more.

Types of sleep trackers

Many activity trackers and smartwatches offer sleep tracking functionality. These are what we like to call wearable sleep trackers. If such devices have a built-in heart rate monitor, the quality of their sleep tracking is typically better. A recent crop of wearables, such as the Garmin Vivosmart 4 and Forerunner 945, are also tapping into PulseOx sensors for even more detailed data.

The other kind are dedicated sleep trackers. These could be devices you place under your bedsheet that measure your sleeping patterns. Or those that sit on your bedside table, such as Sleepscore Max which manages to track your movements by employing technology similar to the echo location system used by bats!

Should you use sleep trackers?

And while there has been a boom in health and fitness wearables offering advanced sleep tracking, you will struggle to find two devices that dish out identical data. This is because sleep tracking is not an exact science. At least, not yet. But such devices can be useful for providing ballpark figures and identifying patterns.

If you want to get really clinical about it, the best way to measure sleep is still in a sleep lab. But this is not necessary unless you have a sleep disorder.

We all know sleep is important. It plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. The National Sleep Foundation recommendations state that adults should aim for between 7 and 9 hours per night. Those 65 and over should aim to hit the 7 to 8 hour mark.

But the best gauge on whether you have had enough rest is how you feel the next day, not your sleep tracker. If you feel tired or are awake for long periods of time during the night, then perhaps it’s time to seek professional help.

Most important of all – if you can’t sleep? Don’t lay in bed stressing about it!

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