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Obsessed with sleep tracking tech? Here’s why you need to give it a rest

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
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Sleep trackers could be ruining our sleep

Ever tried to improve your sleep by using tracking technology? You may be doing more harm than good.

We’re a nation of tired women. According to research, almost one in two people get less than six hours’ sleep a night, around one in 10 people take sleeping tables, and women are twice as likely to experience insomnia as men.

And many of us who have struggled with sleeping have turned to technology to help track how much sleep we’re getting, and the quality of it.

In fact, we’re so obsessed with getting the perfect night’s rest that researchers have even come up with a term for it: orthosomnia.

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But it turns out that monitoring our sleep in order to try and get the right amount could actually be having the opposite effect, making our sleep worse.

Speaking to the New York Times, Dr Kelly Baron said that while sleep trackers can be helpful in identifying patterns, she had noticed patients were putting too much stock in them.

Baron was one of the authors of a case study on sleep published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2017. The paper said that there was a “growing number of patients who are seeking treatment for self-diagnosed sleep disturbances such as insufficient sleep duration and insomnia due to periods of light or restless sleep observed on their sleep tracker data”.

Relying too much on sleep trackers could be making our sleep worse.
Relying too much on sleep trackers could be making our sleep worse.

The researchers found the people in its case study were spending “excessive time in bed in attempts to increase the sleep duration reported by the sleep tracker, which may have exacerbated their insomnia”. Patients also found it difficult to stop relying on sleep trackers, even if the data they were returning was flawed.

Dr Seema Khosla, medical director of the North Dakota Centre for Sleep, said that technology was good for increasing greater awareness of our sleep. But she was wary of inaccurate data and the increased worry sleep technology resulted in, and found that some patients who relied on sleep trackers ignored basic advice, like following a regular sleep schedule.

“People will shell out 200 bucks for some sleep device, but we’re not willing to just shut of our phones and go to bed,” she said.

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Fitbit’s research director Dr Conor Heneghan defended tracking devices, saying that they can emphasise the importance of a consistent bedtime and wake time. He added: “What we’re trying to do is give people a tool to understand their own sleep health.”

What’s not in doubt is that there is plenty of advice out there about how to get a good night’s sleep, from cutting down on screen time just before going to bed to avoiding caffeine and listening to soothing podcasts to send you into the land of dreams.

Sleep trackers can be part of the mix, as long as we understand how to use it, and don’t get obsessed with it. 

“We want to partner with out patients to improve their sleep,” Khosla said. “This means that we need to understand sleep technology – including its limitations – without dismissing this potentially valuable resource.”

Khosla said that one thing we should do is let go of the idea that there is such a thing as a “perfect” night’s sleep.

That’s something we can get behind; as women we can feel so much pressure to be perfect in all parts of our lives, we don’t need to strive for perfection when we’re sleeping as well.

Images: Geoffrey Baker/Getty, Unsplash

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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.

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