Using sleep trackers, whether they're fitness trackers, smartwatches or devices that live under your mattress, could actually be having a negative impact on your sleep time.
That's according to a host of sleep experts who believe obsessing over obtaining perfect sleep scores and inaccurate data served up by these devices could actually encourage disorders like insomnia.
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Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Kelly Baron, medical director of the University of Utah's behavioral sleep medicine program explained that sleep trackers can be useful in identifying patterns in your sleep. But she had also noticed that patients were complaining about their sleep scores and showing concern when they had not had enough deep sleep for instance.
Dr. Seema Khosla, medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep also weighed in on the subject saying that clinicians were struggling to keep track of the devices and apps available that promise to monitor our sleep. While she sees these devices creating greater awareness on the value of a good night's sleep, she was also wary of the inaccurate data and increased worrying they cause.
A case study in 2017 found that patients were spending excessive time in bed just to achieve perfect scores, which actually made insomnia worse. This need to achieve perfect sleep has been referred to as orthosomnia. It also found that wearables that rely on tracking movement (that's most) to record sleep can often overestimate sleep. While adding heart rate data and breathing rate readings into the mix can offer richer bedtime data, that is often based on estimates as well, which may not be all that reliable.
Fitbit is just one of the companies that makes automatic sleep monitoring a staple of pretty much all of its wearable devices. Dr. Conor Heneghan, a research director at Fitbit came out in defence of the feature, saying that it is giving, "people a tool to understand their own sleep health." Heneghan also believes Fitbit's devices can provide reliable estimates and can help users understand factors that can contribute to a bad night's sleep like drinking alcohol and exercise.
Pretty much all of the big names in wearables offer sleep tracking with many exploring how their devices can be utilised to detect signs associated with serious sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Most sleep trackers are not FDA approved as they are considered low risk devices, so they will have to seek the appropriate regulatory approval to offer those serious health monitoring insights.
With sleep increasingly on the wearable agenda, the scrutiny over the reliability of the data and the value its offers is only going to intensify. So it's up to the companies packing that tech into their bedtime-friendly devices to make sure the users have a better understanding of what they're capable of and what they're limitations are too.
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