Sleep-tracking apps could be making your sleep worse, a British sleep expert has warned. Dr Guy Leschziner, a sleep disorder specialist working at Guy’s hospital in London, has said the use of sleep tracking technology can raise anxieties about sleep to the point where users can actually develop insomnia.
The concern is that by monitoring sleep and obsessively pouring over the data about your sleep in an app, you can become more anxious and preoccupied about whether you are sleeping enough. This preoccupation can cause problems through the nocebo effect, the opposite of a placebo, where you feel worse because you expect to feel worse after seeing data that suggests your sleep was poor.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who have developed significant insomnia as a result of either sleep trackers or reading certain things about how devastating sleep deprivation is for you,” Leschziner said at a talk at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the U.K., according to the Guardian.
Leschziner went on to say he doubted the utility of sleep apps. “My view of sleep trackers is fairly cynical. If you wake up feeling tired and you’ve had an unrefreshing night’s sleep then you know you’ve got a problem,” he said. “If you wake up every day and feel refreshed, are awake throughout the day and are ready to sleep at the same time every night then you’re probably getting enough sleep for you and you don’t need an app to tell you that.”
This follows a report in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine from 2017 in which sleep clinicians raised concerns about the use of sleep-tracking apps. The experts said they had patients coming to them with self-diagnosed issues with data from sleep trackers, and that these patients’ “inferred correlation between sleep tracker data and daytime fatigue may become a perfectionistic quest for the ideal sleep in order to optimize daytime function.”
Giving people access to more data about themselves and their habits can certainly be beneficial, and may allow them to see patterns and relationships between their habits and their mood. But the endless quest to optimize every aspect of our lives, even our sleep, may actually be causing distress and backfiring by making sleep worse. This could be one case where the perfect truly is the enemy of the good.