Are sleep trackers really helping you to get more shut eye?


Marianna Kilburn
@MariannaKilburn


25 July 2018

What is Orthosomnia?

Sleep experts are now starting to make some noise about a new sleep disorder they’ve dubbed, ‘Orthosomnia.’ Combining the word ‘ortho’ meaning correct with the word ‘somnia’ meaning sleep, this may actually give you a good idea what this disorder is all about. According to research published in the Journal of General Sleep Medicine, based on three individual case studies, our obsession with getting enough sleep is starting to develop into a sleep problem all of its own.1  

The problem is that, thanks to the rise of smartphone apps and fitbits, it’s never been easier to track your own sleep habits. This has arguably created a ticking time bomb, with people becoming increasingly more preoccupied with the stats on their devices and becoming more stressed when it appears they aren’t meeting their required ‘eight hours a night.’

The problem with sleep trackers

The problem with relying on technology is, not only does it cultivate obsessive behaviours; you also have to accept that it isn’t infalliable. Below I go into a little bit more depth about the issues concerning sleep trackers and why they could potentially be less of an aid for sleep and more of a hindrance. 

Obsessive behaviours

Fitbits and other health apps are a great idea - they make it easier to monitor your health and track your progress. However, in some, this idea of checking your fitbit can grow into an obsession, particularly if you feel you’re falling short of your goals. As soon as you realise you’re not getting the required eight hours a night, you may find yourself worrying increasingly about your sleep and, as I explore in my blog ‘How to overcome stress for a better night’s rest’, stress can be extremely damaging for your sleep patterns!

Accuracy

Technology is far from infalliable and sometimes these apps don’t always give an accurate reading of your true sleep habits. Yet people can still become hung up on what their fitbit is saying - referring to one case study highlighted in the research published in the Journal of General Sleep Medicine,  one woman was concerned as her sleep tracker was displaying that her sleep efficacy was only 60%. 

Upon further examining using a polysomnogram though, it turned out that she was managing to sleep deeply but she still couldn’t let go of the result showing on her fitbit! You also have to take into consideration that they don’t always reflect YOUR individual sleep needs. The whole idea of getting your ‘eight hours a night’ is becoming out-dated – in reality, your sleep needs tend to range from anywhere between 7-9 hours. 

Blue light

If you’re actively tracking your sleep using your fitbit, you probably think nothing of checking the device if you happen to wake up during the night. However, as I’ve recently discussing my blog, ‘The colour of insomnia’ the blue light waves emitted from devices such as fitbits and smartphones can actually stimulate the release of steroid hormones such as cortisol, making you feel more alert and awake. This may then make it more difficult for you to fall back asleep or affect your quality of sleep during the night, only adding to your sleep issues!

How to avoid stressing about your sleep! 

If you are trying to keep an eye on your sleep patterns or you suspect that you may be suffering from a sleep problem, it’s important to avoid becoming too preoccupied with these issues. There’s nothing worse than tossing and turning in bed at night, finding that the more you try to go to sleep, the more it seems you just can’t. That’s why I’m going to go over a few good tips to get you into a good sleep routine without having to rely on your fitbit.  

1 – Avoid your devices (including your fitbits!)

I’m not saying that fitbits don’t have their uses, they certainly do! However, if you’re religiously checking them throughout the night or obsessing over their stats, then this will definitely do more harm than good for your sleep quality. That’s why I’d recommend not only avoiding not only your fitbit, but also any devices such as your smartphone or tablets both in hours leading up to your usual bedtime and during the night. This should help you to avoid the impact of blue light and help you to cultivate healthier behaviours when it comes to using such devices.

2 – Go to bed around the same time (even on weekends!)

If your bedtime is irregular it can cause problems with your sleep pattern. We are all creatures of habit and our body’s like routine too– if you start going to bed consistently, it can lull your body into a routine, making it easier for you to fall asleep and allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed. If you’re persistently changing your bedtime or assuming you can catch up on sleep during the weekend, then you’re more likely to experience problems, which you can read more about in my blog, ‘Are your weekend lie-ins really helping you to catch up on sleep?’ 

3 – Confront any sources of stress

Stress can manifest in many ways – if you find yourself suddenly becoming more and more preoccupied with getting the ‘perfect’ night of sleep, it could be a sign that an underlying worry or anxiety is fuelling this obsession. As I mentioned earlier, it also doesn’t help that sleep problems themselves can cause stress and, if you’re lying awake at night becoming more and more frustrated that you’re not able to get to sleep, this can only add fuel to the fire. 

That’s why it’s important to try and tackle any underlying sources of stress in your life. Not only will this improve your general outlook, you may find it also helps if you are suffering from sleep problems. If you feel that anxiety is keeping you awake at night, you could try our gentle sleep remedy Dormeasan, which is particularly good for stress-induced sleep problems!

4 – Don’t force it

If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep at night, it’s important not to force it. The more and more you think ‘why am I not asleep yet?’ the less likely it is that you will nod off. Rather than making your sleeping environment a place of stress, I would get up and move into a different room. Try to keep the light sources dimmed and whatever you do, don’t reach for your smartphone! Instead, try to sit quietly for a few minutes – you could even try practicing deep breathing techniques to help yourself relax. Once you start to feel sleepier, then move back to the bedroom - you really don’t want to spend the night on the couch!

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