New research out of Rush University and Northwestern University in Chicago examines whether sleep trackers actually help people sleep better. The researchers found that trying to get perfect sleep based on information gathered by a sleep tracker can actually lead to increased anxiety about sleep and, eventually, exhaustion.
The researchers looked at people who took the data from their sleep trackers very seriously. These people worried about their sleep patterns even when they felt like they had slept well. In fact, some people could not be convinced that their sleep was good even when they participated in a laboratory study, had their sleep monitored, and were told that they were sleeping well.
The study labels this condition “orthosomnia,” which means “correct sleep.” People who suffer from the condition become so worried about getting their sleep data perfect that, sometimes, they don’t get much sleep at all.
Why Should You Track Your Sleep?
Even though wearing sleep trackers makes getting good sleep more difficult for some people, there are still some good reasons to track your sleep.
- Sleep is key for good health. Not getting enough sleep raises your risk of developing certain diseases, increases your chances of being in an auto accident, and can even shorten your lifespan. While sleep trackers may not be 100% accurate in what they detect about your sleep, you can still see patterns over time. This information can help you make changes in your lifestyle so you can get better sleep and improve your health.
- Wearing a tracker helps you focus on your sleep. It’s easy to let yourself get away with poor sleeping habits simply because changing them takes a lot of energy. When you are busy and tired, it can be hard to be intentional about getting good sleep. Wearing a sleep tracker and paying attention to the results is a way to examine your sleep intentionally, without having to expend a huge amount of energy.
- Get data on your sleep without doing a sleep study. While spending the night monitored in a hospital is the best way to get an official diagnosis regarding sleep issues, sleeping away from home often changes your sleep patterns. Trackers allow you to get some data while you are at home, so you can decide if you need to follow up with your doctor.
- Sleep raises your performance level and helps you recover. If you like to be active, exercise a lot, or are a serious athlete, then you probably know from experience that sleep is important. Studies show that athletes who get enough good sleep improve their performance and that their bodies bounce back to normal after strenuous activity faster than those who aren’t sleeping enough.
If you are concerned about falling into orthosomnia, here are things you can do to avoid the problem.
- Keep a sleep diary. You can do this alongside tracking your sleep and then compare the two, or you can do it instead of wearing your sleep tracker every night. This helps you focus on your experience of your sleep, rather than only on what the data says. It can also help you pinpoint where your sleep tracker is and is not accurate.
- Recognize that your tracker is not completely accurate. Some trackers are more sensitive than others, and it’s impossible to tell exactly how each one calculates your sleep patterns because manufacturers keep their science secret. Realizing that your tracker is not the ultimate authority on your sleep can help you trust your experience over what it says.
- Get your sleep officially monitored. If you still aren’t sure how well you are sleeping, talk to your doctor. It may be time to arrange a sleep study, to rule out any issues and convince you, finally, that you are sleeping well.
The 5 Best Sleep Trackers
- Fitbit Alta. This slimline tracker won’t take up too much space on your wrist, but will still give you basic sleep information. It won’t track everything, but it will give you enough to get started.
- Jawbone Up3. This is another small tracker that will give you details about how much time you spend not only asleep but in light, deep, and REM sleep. It uses data from things like your respiration rate to determine your sleep state.
- Fitbit Ionic. This is a large tracker that looks more like a smartwatch than anything else. Its focus is on health, though, and it even has a tracker that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. Ultimately, this may allow it to detect and track sleep apnea.
- Misfit Ray. This little tracker won’t tell you the details about your sleep, but it will tell you when you fell asleep and when you woke up, and it will even try to wake you only when you are sleeping more lightly.
- Fitbit Charge 2. Fitbit is clearly focusing on sleep, and this tracker is no slouch. If you want a solid fitness tracker that will also give you decent sleep data but won’t break the bank, this is probably the option for you.
No matter which tracker you use, wear it wisely. Remember that it’s not always accurate and that how you feel after you sleep is at least as important as what the tracker says.