They are intended to make you sleep better. But sleep tracking apps could in fact be disrupting your shut-eye, according to new research which notes the rise of “orthosomnia”– disrupted sleep resulting from the quest for perfect rest.
A growing number of people are monitoring and obsessing over their sleep tracker data which, in turn, is keeping them wide-eyed and stressed throughout the night, researchers explained in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
So what can you do to reclaim a good night’s kip? Three sleep experts who’ve witnessed an increase in the problem spoke to HuffPost UK.
Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert, argues that while orthosomnia might be a “silly word” (‘ortho’ means correct, while ‘somnia’ means sleep), it describes a very real issue. You can’t drift off if you’re stressed - “so if you’re thinking or are worried about sleep itself, then you’re going to have a problem sleeping,” he says.
Apps and trackers often provide people with some sort of score or rating for the activity they’re measuring – meaning there’s always room for improvement. So it’s unsurprising that people might worry that they need to get more sleep if the score isn’t the best it could be.
“People should trust themselves a lot more rather than technology,” says Dr Stanley. “Apps and wearables are not particularly accurate anyway, so you may be worrying about completely inaccurate data.
“Really it’s all about relying on how you’re feeling: are you sleepy during the day? Yes or no. If yes, you probably have a problem with sleep. If no, then you don’t.”
Lisa Artis, sleep advisor at The Sleep Council, agrees that apps may not be the best indication of how well you are resting. You are better off listening to your body instead, she says. “Look at how you feel the next day, don’t just go by what your sleep tracker says. If you wake up feeling energised and refreshed, then chances are you’re sleeping just fine. But if you wake feeling tired and lethargic and you are under the impression you’re waking several times a night, then visit a doctor.”
While seven to eight hours sleep is the norm for most people, others need more and some a little less - so there’s no point fretting about getting seven hours sleep if you feel refreshed each day.
Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at private healthcare provider Priory Hospital, Roehampton, advises anyone who’s struggling with sleep to address simple sleep hygiene measures.
These can include: trying to get to sleep and waking at around the same time every day; keeping your bedroom comfortable and used solely for sleep (and sex); not working in bed; not exercising too close to bedtime; not going to bed hungry, but also not eating a heavy meal just before bedtime.
“If the person has significant issues around anxiety, then I usually refer them to my psychotherapist colleagues, who can advise on appropriate anxiety management strategies,” she says.
“I would advise anyone who has significant concerns about their sleep to first consult with their doctor, who will be able to assess possible contributory factors and advise on suitable management of the problem.”