Is Your Sleep Tracker Ruining Your Sleep?

As technology starts to dominate every aspect of our lives, many people have turned to sleep trackers to monitor their quality of sleep each night. If you’ve made it your new year’s resolution to sleep better, you might have invested in a sleep tracker yourself. But what exactly do they measure, and could they be doing more harm than good?

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what sleep trackers measure, how accurate they are, and how you can use their data to get a better night’s sleep.

What are sleep trackers and how do they work?

Usually, sleep trackers are incorporated in smart watches and fitness trackers, but there are some standalone sleep trackers on the market that can be worn on your wrist or finger, or placed under your mattress.

It’s not entirely clear what sleep trackers measure, and the information that’s gathered can differ between devices. However, most commercial trackers monitor your heart rate and body movement. Often, if it detects a low, steady heart rate and no movement, your sleep tracker will log this as time you’re spending asleep. If your heart rate increases or you show a lot of movement, it will be logged as time sent awake.

What’s the problem?

Because sleep trackers base their data on these two main factors, it can lead to some inaccuracies. For example, if you move a lot in your sleep, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a bad quality of sleep, but your sleep tracker can log this as restless sleep or even time spent awake. Alternatively, you might have trouble sleeping so you’re lying in bed very still. You’re still awake, but your lack of movement means your sleep tracker can log this time as a deep sleep. This means you could actually be led to think that your sleep is worse or better than it actually is. And, once you’ve been given your graph or data in the morning, it can be hard to know what you actually need to do with all the information to improve your sleep.

The reality is that, for sleep to be measured accurately, more factors need to be taken into account. In labs, scientists can track sleep by measuring brain waves, eye movement, breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels, which are all aspects that small commercial sleep trackers can’t measure.

The quest for the ideal sleep

It’s also suggested that sleep trackers can actually worsen your quality of sleep. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that those who tracked their sleep seemed to be sleeping worse due to what they called ” a perfectionistic quest for the ideal sleep”. This means that participants in the study were often focussing so much on the data from their sleep trackers, and the ways they can improve their sleep, that it was making them anxious. Some were even displaying unhealthy sleep habits in an attempt to make things better. For example, some participants were spending more time in bed, trying to boost the amount of time they spent asleep. So, it seemed, tracking their sleep was actually making them take up unhealthy habits to improve their sleep data.

Are there any benefits?

That’s not to say that sleep trackers are all bad. Although the data logged by these devices can be inaccurate, they can still provide a brief outline of your sleep, which can make it easier to track your bedtimes and sleep habits. Just be mindful that it’s only a guideline and try to see it as a little insight into your sleep activity instead.

To truly track your sleep, there’s no better way to do it than to listen to your body. If you wake up feeling fresh and awake, then you’ve probably had a good night’s sleep. But, if you wake up feeling tired and groggy and unprepared for the day, then chances are you haven’t slept well — but you probably don’t need a sleep tracker to tell you that!

So, use these methods hand in hand to get a better understanding of your sleep health. If you feel like you’re not getting a good night’s sleep some nights, and your tracker is telling you the same, then think about why that might be. It could be anything from your diet to your activity levels, or even your mattress. But, by using the data gathered by your sleep tracker, you can monitor patterns in your sleep habits and figure out what you can do to help.

We all wonder how we can get a better night’s sleep from time to time. But, if you’ve been fixating only on your sleep tracker, it could actually be making you sleep worse. To find out how you can get a better night’s sleep, make sure you check out the rest of our blog, as well as our advice centre.

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