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Sleep tracking can actually make your insomnia worse

By Cookie Monster - on 17 Jun 2019, 12:00am

Sleep tracking can actually make your insomnia worse

The different sleep cycles. <br>Image source: Fitbit

Many fitness trackers come with sleep tracking features, but some sleep specialists are warning that inaccurate data can cause bedtime anxiety and make insomnia worse for some people.

Dr. Kelly Baron, the director of the University of Utah’s behavioral sleep medicine program,  shared with The New York Times that she noticed a trend of patients complaining about their sleep based on unverified scores.

"People were putting a lot of stock in what it was telling them,” she said. “Like, I’m afraid I’m not getting enough deep sleep. There’s something wrong with me."

Dr. Seema Khosla, medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep, said that many in her profession had struggled to keep up-to-date on all the sleep-tracking devices and apps on the market. While she appreciates how new sleep tech is promoting awareness of proper sleeping habits, she is concerned about inaccurate data and excessive worrying over sleep scores.

"We want to partner with our patients to improve their sleep,” she said. “This means that we need to understand sleep technology — including its limitations — without dismissing this potentially valuable resource.”

In a case study, researchers found that patients spend a lot of time in bed to try to increase their sleep numbers which could have made their insomnia worse. They also found it difficult to convince patients to stop depending on sleep trackers, even if the data provided are wrong.

Researchers claim that some devices track sleep based on movement, which can be inaccurate in some situations such as when the users are lying awake in bed and the trackers think that the users are sleeping. Even devices that track heart rate and breathing are only generating estimates.

Manufactuers of these devices have defended their products. Dr. Conor Heneghan, a research director at Fitbit, claimed that few users experience extreme sleep anxiety. In fact, Fitbit devices can give reliable estimates based on algorithms that are developed using machine learning in sleep labs. A Fitbit-funded study in 2017 comparing data of its devices and mecical-grade monitoring equipment revealed that data matched 70% of the time.

Dr. Eugene Spiritus, CEO of SleepWatch app for the Apple Watch, said the main focus of the app is to get users to pay attention to their behavior and change it. While he did not deny that sleep tracking can cause anxiety, he said there is positive feedback about the app.

"Can some people become obsessed with this and have anxiety?” he said. “Sure. But there are many, many people telling us it helps them.”

No matter which side you are on, the best way to gauge your sleep quality and quantity is based on how your body feels.

Source: The New York Times