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Sleep trackers might be ruining your sleep

Fitbit Ionic couple in bed
Image Credit: Fitbit
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Looking to improve your sleep quality with a sleep tracker? You may be doing more harm than good.

A number of sleep scientists, speaking to the New York Times (opens in new tab) (via Engadget (opens in new tab)), have warned against the reliability of commercial sleep trackers, saying that imperfect data and obsessive tracking may not be what we need for better sleep.

Dr Kelly Baron at the University of Utah spoke of the disconnect between the sleep that tracker users experienced and what their trackers were telling them, often causing them to seek medical help for nonexistent sleep conditions. 

Dr Baron also co-authored a 2017 paper (opens in new tab) that coined the term "orthosomnia", meaning an "perfectionist quest to achieve perfect sleep" – but one that might ruin your sleep hygiene in the process.

Meanwhile, a research study by fitness tracker brand Fitbit showed that wearable sleep trackers were as accurate as "medical-grade monitoring equipment" 70% of the time, compared to 90% with human analysts.

Late-night track

With the rise of wearable fitness trackers and growth of the health tech industry, sleep has increasingly become the target of commercial interests. Most recently, the Pokémon Company announced an incoming smartphone app called Pokémon Sleep to help make sleep tracking more fun, we guess?

But turning your own sleep into another data-stream that you keep track of every day might just increase symptoms of anxiety and insomnia – while being glued to your phone before and after a night's rest might be what's keeping you awake.

That's not to say sleep trackers can't do you good; if you struggle to sleep at regular hours, or are struggling to figure out why your sleep is so restless, getting outside help with a smartphone app or wrist tracker might be a smart idea.

Dr Seem Khosla, who holds the position of medical director at the North Dakota Center for Sleep, says that "we need to understand sleep technology – including its limitations – without dismissing this potentially valuable resource.”

Henry is a freelance technology journalist. Before going freelance, he spent more than three years at TechRadar reporting on TVs, projectors and smart speakers as the website's Home Cinema Editor – and has been interviewed live on both BBC World News and Channel News Asia, discussing the future of transport and 4K resolution televisions respectively. As a graduate of English Literature and persistent theatre enthusiast, he'll usually be found forcing Shakespeare puns into his technology articles, which he thinks is what the Bard would have wanted. Bylines also include Edge, T3, and Little White Lies.