We are said to be living through a catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic, created by the pressures of modern life. It’s enough to keep you up at night, isn't it? Sleep is supposed to be a time for us to switch off; for rest and respite. There are many reasons getting to sleep at night might give us performance anxiety, and for this modern problem, society has come up with an equally modern solution: sleep apps.
Sleep apps help you track your sleep. You can find them as standalone sleep tracking smartphone apps, or as one of the features included in your fitness tracker or smartwatch. In their most basic form, sleep trackers tell you two things: how long you’ve slept and the quality of your sleep (i.e. whether you woke up during the night at all). Some sleep trackers also offer listening capabilities, monitoring your sleep for sounds of snoring or sleep apnea, and some claim to tell you how much time you spent in various stages of sleep.
If you’re using a sleep tracking app, you let the phone sleep by you in bed. If the sleep tracking is part of your personal fitness tracker, you simply keep wearing that device as normal when you go to bed. Then, when you wake up in the morning, you take a look at the tracker to see what helpful information it has to reveal. Like we said, sleep apps are a modern day solution to the sleep epidemic and almost seem too good to be true - and that's probably because they are.
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.
A report in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine from 2017 in which sleep clinicians raised concerns about the use of sleep-tracking apps found that patients were also self-diagnosing 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.” These apps do more than simply collect data - they nudge us towards goals (often arbitrary ones at that). Different individuals require different amounts of sleep, and the amount itself varies depending on whatever else is going on our lives - but these apps reduce all this complexity to a number.
Sleep apps do give us more access to more data about ourselves and our habits, and this can certainly be beneficial. It can also allows us to see patterns and relationships between our sleep, our habits and our mood. But the endless quest to digitally 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! A better solution to helping your sleep issues might be to implement a Sleep Ritual - and our tailored Sleep Kits are the perfect place to start.