Are sleep trackers making us lose sleep?

New research shows that some of us may be taking the sleep monitoring trend too far

girl sleeping in bed by getty images
(Image credit: Getty)

Do you sleep well? If you're reading this very early on Sunday morning, perhaps the answer is 'no'. Or maybe you've been woken up by the baby, the dog or neighbours returning from an all-night party. Bet your life they'll be sleeping like logs all day.

Let's put it another way: do you use a sleep monitoring device to check that you sleep well? Does it reassure you with the data it collects about your sleep – or do you lie awake at night worrying about how well you're sleeping? Do we really need assistance from technology, given how difficult some of us are finding to drift off at night, or is a great mattress enough for most of us to start sleeping better?

While for some of us, sleep tracking devices help us develop healthier bedtime habits, there is now clinical research that demonstrates that for some of us, these devices may be doing more harm than good. 

The results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine discusses the rise of orthosomnia, or the excessive preoccupation with one's sleep. The scientists identify a link between using sleep trackers and instances of this condition, even citing a patient who was less willing to believe medical lab tests that showed her to be a healthy sleeper than the Fitbit that was telling her otherwise.

This is where part of the problem lies: while sleep trackers can be fun, they shouldn't be relied on for absolutely correct figures. Besides, we're all different, and worrying about not getting 'enough' deep sleep may be counterproductive for someone who is naturally a light sleeper, for example. 

The proliferation of confusing terminology around sleep can also be unhelpful, leading people to believe that they are eluding some especially important part of the sleep cycle. 

In short, if you like them and find them helpful, keep using your sleep trackers. But if you find yourself awake at night panicking about sleeping 'correctly' because of what your device is telling you, maybe stop using it. And get yourself a really nice pillow instead.