Dr. Iltifat Husain’s physician take is at the end of this article
What’s keeping you up at night might just be what you thinks helps with your sleep hygiene. Fitness trackers, like Fitbit and Apple Watch, may count steps but–according to a new study released in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine called “Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?” by Kelly Glazer Baron, MD et al — these trackers might not be so useful for quantifying sleep.
Three years ago, Dr. David Ahn wrote on iMedicalApps how this might become an issue when he commented on how much funding sleep trackers were getting while not utilizing evidence based practices.
The predicament is people are using these devices, and medical apps are pursuing a “quantified” version of sleep. This will keep them up with stress and worry about what their numbers will be in the morning leading to a worse night’s sleep and even insomnia. Casual observation of personal sleep metrics isn’t an issue; the problem really starts when tracker users begin to self-diagnose or treat their sleep problems by conducting their own “studies” using data from the trackers or setting a sleep goal like it’s a fitness achievement.
The quest for the perfect sleep has been dubbed “orthosomnia” which means “correct sleep.” Researchers state why they chose this specific word “because the perfectionist quest to achieve perfect sleep is similar to the unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating, termed orthorexia.”
Psychologist and study lead Dr. Baron states:
“It’s great that so many people want to improve their sleep. However, the claims of these devices really outweigh validation of what they have shown to be doing … They don’t do a good job of estimating sleep accurately.”
For example, if you’re sitting in bed reading with the tracker on, it would be logged as sleeping. And even when users are actually asleep there’s no evidence-based way these trackers can differentiate between light and heavy slumber.
While the study doesn’t discount sleep trackers entirely, the authors insist they shouldn’t be used for any type of diagnosis related to sleep.
Dr. Iltifat Husain’s take:
The underlying problem with all of this is the following: for all the sleep wearables on the market — none of them are actually clinically validated to help you improve your sleep.
At least with fitness wearables, there are studies and research being done to see how they can be utilized to improve health, but with sleep wearables these studies are sorely lacking. To compound all of this, the referenced article that Dr. Ahn wrote on iMedicalApps 3 years ago still has truth to it today — sleep wearables continue to ignore evidence based practices to improve sleep hygiene in favor of focusing on slick UIs and form factors.