Technology has gifted us some pretty great things (hello, Alexa!), but new research indicates your sleep tracker may be one advancement you can—and should—live without.
For the small study, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers at Rush University looked at three case studies from their sleep lab. Their findings show that data from sleep trackers may not always be accurate and can even create a false perception of one’s quality of sleep, creating unrealistic sleep goals.
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After purchasing a tracker, one 39-year-old man in the study determined that his irritability, tiredness, and absentmindedness at work were a result of not getting eight hours of sleep a night. This notion appeared to induce anxiety prior to falling alseep—the participant worried about whether or not his tracker would display eight hours of sleep the next morning.
“Tracking sleep can become an obsession,” says study author Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., sleep researcher and assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University told Men’s Fitness. “In attempting to reach eight hours every day, people were spending more and more time in bed trying to increase their sleep. The anxiety about not getting enough sleep is enough to keep people up, and by trying to sleep, it’s actually more difficult to relax and fall asleep.”
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Another participant, a 27-year-old woman, also reported feeling “unrefreshed” after she woke up to find data on her tracker indicating a poor night's rest. However, when her sleep was tested in a laboratory setting that measured her brain waves, heart, and other sleep indicators, the results revealed a much higher quality of sleep.
Study authors consider these results to be a warning: tracker data might not always be as accurate as we may think. “They are not able to differentiate between light and deep sleep,” explained Baron in a press release. “They might call it sleep when you’re reading in bed.”
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The study authors do recognize that sleep trackers may have some benefits—estimating the amount of sleep you are getting, for example—when used properly, but caution against using these devices as a tool for medical diagnosis.