Is Your Sleep Tracker Wrecking Your Slumber? Dig It or Ditch It?

Is Your Sleep Tracker Wrecking Your Slumber? Dig It or Ditch It?

Collecting data about your sleep habits may be a good idea, but experts say take the info with a grain of salt

With sales of fitness trackers still soaring, you’d think that we’d all be sleeping better because of their sleep tracking features. That’s not the case for many.

Keeping a record of snooze time has created a new set of problems, from anxiety to unreliable data. This might be enough to give users pause about whether the technology is smart – or just another way to spend money.

So before you plunge ahead, here’s the good, bad and ugly to consider before you try or buy….

Fitness trackers good in bed says one expert

Dr. Michael Breus, a SleepScore Labs advisory board member, is widely known as The Sleep Doctor. He’s a recent tracker convert now that the technology has improved.

“Historically sleep trackers have had many challenges,” he says. “First was to create an easy way to measure sleep. Second was to help make this data meaningful for users. Finally, was to give users personal actionable protocols to improve their sleep. Without these issues being solved, a person can get anxiety from the collection and misinterpretation of this data.

All of these issues have recently been solved with the introduction of the S+ technology from ResMed and SleepScore Labs. This has a high level of accuracy, with a score that is research driven. The users data is compared to others in the same age range and gender, and finally personal recommendations are generated to help people sleep better, not just give them data.”​

Mixed feelings from a former insomniac

Ethan Green, a former insomniac who started the website, bed-tested many personal sleep trackers with mixed results.

While he praised them for their ability to “provide a fascinating insight into the mysterious third of your life you spend asleep,” he points out that they aren’t 100% accurate and may interpret lying down or not moving much while watching TV as sleep.

Once you’re asleep, Green says that they do a pretty job calculating sleep and non-sleep time you spend in bed.

Not so helpful says another expert

“Sleep trackers are basically motion detectors,” says Dr Robert S Rosenberg, a board-certified sleep medicine physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety.

“Their algorithms assume with motion you are awake and without it you are asleep. They tend to overestimate total sleep time. They are very poor at detecting true awakening during the night. They purport to be able to tell if you are in a light or deep sleep.”

He points to studies using simultaneous electroencephalography that show trackers cannot differentiate between light and deep sleep. Some trackers also claim to be able to detect when the user is in a light sleep phase, which prompts the device wake up him or her at just the right time. Dr. Rosenberg says that has also be found to be false.

“If you understand the limitations of trackers, you can get a reasonable estimate of how long you sleep and when you fell asleep and awoke,” he says. It might help explain to someone why they are always fatigued at work.

“The main issue I see is when my patients come to me with their sleep tracking devices, and they are concerned about how little or how much deep sleep they are getting, or even worse how much REM sleep they are or are not getting,” continue Dr. Rosenberg. “These devices are not at all accurate in detecting sleep stages. Once you understand their limitations, they can have a place in your being able to see if you truly get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Even that can be taken too far. There are many of us who do fine with 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep. My recommendation is that you always keep in mind how you actually feel and do not become a slave to the numbers.”


If you’re buying a fitness or sleep tracker….

After you’ve heard what the experts say about sleep trackers, you might be even more curious to try them for yourself. Keep in mind you basically have two choices in terms of gadgets.

You can go the wearable route and get something you can put on your wrist like a Fitbit or Jawbone. Such gizmos have other health-boosting features to take advantage of, including heart rate monitor, step measurement and calories burned – ideal for getting a broader picture of your fitness and wellbeing level. Some can be synced with your phone so you can get alerts on incoming text and phone calls.

For some sleepers, wearing anything might be a distracting annoyance. There are better options for devices that monitor your sleep. Many of them still require some sort of physical contact to work. One example is the Beddit 3.0 Smart Sleep Monitor uses a thin strip that runs under your sheets to gather information using a smart phone app. There are less obtrusive for those who like to sleep unencumbered.

Go ahead and give sleep trackers a whirl and report back to let us know how it worked or didn’t work for you!

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