Say you're one of those people who just doesn't seem to be a good sleeper. You're not hallucinating from insomnia or anything, but you toss and turn before falling asleep, wake up frequently in the night, or find yourself strangely alert and ready to start the day at 4 a.m. What's the solution?
Thanks to tech, these days you have an option beyond traditional sleep advice like skipping that evening coffee and shutting off your screens well before bed. You could try a sleep tracker. These gizmos promise to keep a careful record of your sleep, helping you improve your habits and better understand how to get a full night of shut-eye.
Sounds tempting, but there's only one problem. For some people that little wristband or nightstand gadget turns into an obsession that actually worsens your sleep, new science shows.
Believe your body, not your gadget.
In a new article in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists describe a new sleep disorder they've named "orthosomnia," or an obsession with "correct" sleep. The researchers describe a series of cases where people with minor sleep problems purchased a sleep tracker, only to become unhealthily obsessed with what their trackers told them. This anxiety actually ended up worsening their sleep.
This anxiety also probably annoyed their doctors to no end, as patients like these are also showing up at doctors' offices with their sleep tracker data, convinced they're suffering some dread sleep condition based on nothing more than the readout from their new gizmo. In short, they believe their trackers over their bodies, which despite their purported "low sleep efficiency" or "light sleep" feel just fine come morning.
While it sounds a little crazy to get obsessed with your Fitbit, the idea that how you feel about your night's sleep can affect how tired you are the next day has scientific backing. Other studies have shown that having a positive attitude about a poor night's rest and telling yourself you're not that tired actually positively impacts how well you function.
Sleep trackers seem to have the opposite, negative effect for some. The data looks bad so they convince themselves they feel terrible, even though more thorough scientific tests find they're functioning perfectly fine.
What's the takeaway here? Not that everyone should shy away from sleep trackers. For plenty of folks they're a fun and useful way to keep an eye on your sleep schedule. But this study does suggest you should probably take their readings with a grain of salt, and when the data from your device contradicts the actual feelings in your brain and body, believe your body. Otherwise, you run the risk of orthosomnia.