The Surprising Reason Your Fitness Tracker Is Hurting Your Sleep
New apps and activity-tracking technology have made us more aware of our sleep habits, but there a cost? Research says it can lead to an unhealthy obsession–here's why.
Fitbits, sleep tracking apps, white noise machines—we have, as a people, become obsessed with getting exactly the ideal night’s sleep. The obsession is intense enough that researchers even came up with a name for it: orthosomnia. But is all this activity-tracking tech actually helping us sleep?
A new article in the New York Times examines the tech contributing to, or spurred by, orthosomnia. These could include wearables, software like apps, and hardware meant to be placed near the bed, to contribute sound or track movements. Most of them do similar things: they track movement, sometimes heart rate, sometimes breathing patterns, and use algorithms to group that data into something like a grade of good sleep.
Researchers say that this tech is uneven at best, in its ability to properly monitor sleep quality and patterns. That data, and the way it’s presented, is wholly up to the whims and efforts of whoever made the tech. Organizations like the FDA do not regulate this stuff at all; it’s considered to be harmless, even if it’s wrong.
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But it's not always harmless; obsession with sleep quality can create or contribute to anxiety (which, ironically, might also result in a poor night’s sleep). Staring at smartphones at night is also linked to worse sleep habits because the screens seem to make us alert.
So what can you do to avoid orthosomnia while still caring about your sleep? For one thing, leave the phone somewhere else. For years research has consistently indicated that looking at your phone is one of the worst things you can do right before you fall asleep. You can also stick to a regular sleep schedule; aim to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. You may not end up with a perfect score on an app, but that should help you finally get that perfect night’s sleep.