December 7, 2017
We all know sleep is important for our health, from stopping depression to boosting brain function. And we all stay up too late staring at smartphones anyway. When sleep tracking apps and devices hit the market, they seemed like a great way to use the same tech that so often hurts our sleep to track our process and help us improve our slumber in a data-driven manner.
And now we’re finding out that that handy sleep tracking tech might not be so great after all. A new study out from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine purports that tech lovers’ focus on sleep trackers is hurting them.
It’s Called “Orthosomnia”
According to the study, an estimated 10 percent of U.S. adults use a wearable fitness or sleep tracking device regularly, and another 50 percent would consider buying one. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.
“Despite the growing interest among consumers, sleep professionals have been wary of incorporating these devices into treatment because of low concordance with polysomnography and actigraphy. There are an increasing number of patients who are seeking treatment as a result of their sleep tracker data because of concerns over both sleep duration and quality,” the study’s intro opens.
It sounds a bit like the WebMD effect: Because more data is available, patients are increasingly attempting to parse it, despite not having proper training. According to the paper, the issue demands a new term:
“We termed this condition ‘orthosomnia,’ with ‘ortho’ meaning straight or correct, and ‘somnia’ meaning sleep, because patients are preoccupied or concerned with improving or perfecting their wearable sleep data. We chose this term because the perfectionist quest to achieve perfect sleep is similar to the unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating, termed orthorexia,” the study explains.
But Trackers Are Still Useful
The lesson to learn is that depending on tracking data to an obsessive amount — while an easy trap for a tortured insomniac or hypochondriac to fall into — will hurt you more than help you in the long run. Sleep trackers aren’t doing any harm to you by themselves, but your response to learning more data about your sleep habits could be. For instance, maybe don’t try sleeping more:
“These cases suggest there may be unintended effects of sleep tracking for a subset of patients. For example, all three patients were spending excessive time in bed in attempts to increase the sleep duration reported by the sleep tracker, which may have exacerbated their insomnia. Given that these devices tend to overestimate sleep, they may have served to reinforce poor sleep habits by encouraging extending time in bed,” the study speculates.
The bottom line: Listen to the word of your doctor, not your sleep trackers.
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