Are Sleep Tracking Apps Causing People To Obsess Over Their Sleep?

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Have you ever heard of orthosomnia? It’s a new sleep disorder coined by researchers late last year, and people who have it are constantly worried about getting a good night’s sleep.

The condition is linked to sleep trackers. That might sound odd at first: After all, aren’t sleep trackers supposed to help us get better sleep, not interfere with it?

Technically, yes. The issue occurs when people become so obsessed with their sleep trackers that it reaches unhealthy levels. People with orthosomnia regularly track their sleep and may diagnose themselves with sleep disorders based on that data, or they may fixate on every perceived “flaw” in their sleep patterns. This can lead to anxiety around sleep, which (ironically) can make it harder to obtain high-quality rest.


Orthosomnia Research

A case study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in December 2017 followed three patients who struggle with orthosomnia.

“We termed this condition ‘orthosomnia,’ with ‘ortho’ meaning straight or correct, and ‘somnia’ meaning sleep because patients are preoccupied or concerned with improving or perfecting their wearable sleep data,” the researchers wrote. “We chose this term because the perfectionist quest to achieve perfect sleep is similar to the unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating, termed orthorexia.”

One patient in the study felt that her sleep tracker, which told her she wasn’t getting enough sleep, was more accurate than the data gathered in a sleep lab, which suggested she was getting plenty of sleep.

“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,” researcher Kelly Glazer Baron told ScienceDaily. “They don’t do a good job of estimating sleep accurately.”

The study estimates that around 10 percent of American adults use a fitness or sleep tracking device on a regular basis and that 50 percent would consider purchasing one.

The researchers stress that wearable sleep-tracking technology isn’t currently super accurate, so it’s probably not helpful for people to self-diagnose themselves with sleep problems based on the data from their wearable devices. “[These devices] are not able to differentiate between light and deep sleep,” Baron told ScienceDaily. “Furthermore, they might call it sleep when you’re reading in bed.”

Plus, in a vicious cycle, being stressed about your sleep can itself contribute to poor sleep.

If you think you have a sleep problem, the researchers recommend seeking out an expert opinion—and not just diagnosing yourself with an issue based on what your Fitbit or Apple Watch tells you.

RELATED: How Accurate Are Sleep Trackers?

Featured image: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]



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Joe Auer

Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.

He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.

Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.