Insomnia may be caused by sleep trackers

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People may be losing sleep over the stress of a getting a perfect night’s rest, an expert has said.

Sleep trackers strapped to the wrist use your pulse, movements and even the sounds you make to record when you nod off or wake in the night.

While better understanding our sleeping habits may sound positive in theory, experts worry it is fuelling so-called “orthosomnia”.

First coined in a 2017 edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists from Rush University in Chicago claimed many are on a “perfectionistic quest for the ideal sleep”.

Read more: Why you should never sleep with the heating on

“[It’s] when you just really become fixated on having this perfect sleep via tracker,” Dr Seema Khosla from the North Dakota Center for Sleep told npr.

“Then you start worrying about it and wind up giving yourself insomnia”.

Insomnia is thought to affect just under a third (31%) of adults in the UK.

In the US, around 30% complain of sleep disruption, while 10% have “symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia”.

Insomniacs may be right to worry. A lack of shut eye has been linked to brain fog, low mood and a higher risk of accidents the following day.

Sleep may also play a role in everything from immunity and fertility to sex drive and heart health.

Read more: How to sleep with a blocked nose

Many turn to sleep trackers in an attempt to combat nights spent tossing and turning, with around 10% of Americans owning one and half considering buying the device.

Persistence Market Research estimated the “global sleep aids market” to be worth $58.1bn (£44.7bn) in 2014.

“Most consumers are unaware the claims of these devices often outweigh the science to support them as devices to measure and improve sleep”, the Rush scientists wrote.

They note a spike in patients seeking treatment for insomnia off the back of their sleep tracker data.

A 40-year-old man reportedly only experienced fatigue, irritability and “cognitive difficulties” on days his sleep tracker recorded less than eight hours shut eye.

Many users become ‘obsessed’ with tracking their sleep data. (Getty Images)

By highlighting the importance of shut eye, sleep trackers can be useful for those who stay up late for no reason.

Nevertheless, their accuracy is up for debate.

Doctors assess sleep via polysomnography, which looks at brainwave activity, eye movement, muscle tension, breathing rate and movement – considerably more than your average wrist tracker.

Learning they are getting less than the recommended eight hours a night can make users panic.

“If you have a device that is telling you, rightly or wrongly, that your sleep is really bad then that is going to increase your anxiety and may well drive more chronic insomnia,” consultant neurologist Guy Leschziner previously told The Guardian.

“We’re also seeing people saying: ‘My sleep tracker is telling me I’m awake at night,’ but when you talk to them, they have no recollection of being awake and they sleep well, they wake up feeling refreshed”.

The Rush scientists likened it to orthorexia, an eating disorder driven by an “unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating”.

Read more: How to wake with a spring in your step even when it’s dark outside

When presented with these patients, Dr Khosla tells them to “put their tracker away for a couple of weeks”.

“Honestly, sometimes you can just see the relief on their faces”, she said.

For those struggling to nod off, the NHS recommends sticking to set a bed and wake time, even on weekends.

Unwinding with a warm bath, yoga or relaxing music could also help.

Keep your room quiet by shunning electronic devices. Black-out curtains also keep it dark, aiding sleep.

Mattresses should be comfortable and the temperature at 18°C-to-24°C (64°F-to-75°F).

Keeping a sleep diary may also help uncover lifestyle habits that promote, or inhibit, sleep.


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