Person holding a phone and choosing to delete a sleep tracker act.

3 Reasons to Ignore Your Sleep Tracker

Many people with insomnia, myself included, can become obsessed with tracking their sleep or lack thereof.

How many hours did I sleep? How many times did I wake up during the night? Did I get any deep sleep? Was it better or worse than last week? Sleep trackers can seem like attractive tools to help us answer these questions.

3 reasons why sleep trackers do not help insomnia

Health-promoting consumer technology has grown exponentially over the past few years. Whether you prefer wearable technology (like a FitBit or Oura) or smartphone apps (Sleep Cycle or Shut Eye), there are many products available. 

But do they really improve your insomnia? I don’t think so. Here are 3 reasons why I think you should ignore your sleep tracker:

1. They’re inaccurate for people with insomnia

Validation studies are carried out to test how well sleep trackers match up with more established measures of sleep, such as polysomnography (PSG, or what we typically call a “sleep study”). For healthy sleepers, wearable technology tracks sleep pretty well, showing about 82 percent correlation with PSGs. Not bad. But that accuracy plummets to 34 percent for individuals with insomnia. Smartphone-based apps tend to have even lower accuracy rates.1

Unfortunately, the data collected by your sleep tracker can’t be trusted if you suffer with insomnia. Furthermore, accuracy tends to be lower for individuals with darker skin tones and those whose skin is tattooed under their device.2

2. The data is irrelevant

Insomnia is a disorder of dissatisfaction with your sleep, rather than a measurement of how much sleep you get. So even if the data collected by your sleep monitor was completely accurate, it wouldn’t tell you much about your insomnia.

Insomnia diagnosis and treatment is based on how refreshed you feel upon waking and how you rate your satisfaction with your sleep. Your tracker can’t tell you that.

3. It can make you more distressed about your sleep

As we all know, technology can be addicting. Health-promoting technology is no different. Any of us can become hyperfocused on feedback about how many steps we’ve taken or how many calories we’ve consumed.3 People with insomnia already tend to worry a lot about their sleep, and worry perpetuates insomnia, so this can become a recipe for disaster.

I started this post by listing some questions that we might ask once we start using sleep monitors. Unfortunately, focusing on those answers rather than on how you feel can actually make your insomnia worse.

A final tip

If you’re not ready to give up your sleep tracking device or app, try to remember it only provides you one source of data. How you think and feel about your sleep is much more important than what your device tells you...and possibly more accurate, too.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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