Medicine or Malarkey: Do Sleep Tracking Apps Actually Help You Get a Better Night's Rest?

Sleep tracking apps are trendy. Their goal is to help you sleep better by detecting your sleep cycle, giving you the information you need to change your habits. It can be fun to merge new technology and science with our daily routines... but do these sleep apps live up to their claims of accuracy?

USA: A Sleep-Deprived Country

According to the National Center on Sleep Disorders, about 70 million people across the United States complain of problems related to sleep. (So if that sounds all too familiar to you, you aren’t alone!) About 60 percent of those who experience sleep issues could have a chronic disorder. When you couple those statistics with the fact that almost two-thirds of the country's population uses smartphones, it's easy to see how sleep tracking devices and apps are so popular! However, could smartphones be hurting your sleep more than helping it?

Activity Tracking and Your Sleep Cycles

Whether you use a smartphone app or a wearable device, you can use their information to gain insight into your sleep cycles, and the amount of time you move around each night. But for some individuals, all that extra information can actually cause sleep anxiety and lead to false conclusions about having a sleep disorder. It’s a tough dilemma: you want a better night’s rest, but is it worth all this work? Some argue you’d be better off channeling that energy into just relaxing before bed -- without electronic devices (and their bright screens) competing for your attention.

Limitations of Sleep Tracking Devices

While it can be easy to think that you might have a sleep disorder if your deep state sleep and REM sleep cycles aren't within “standard” ranges predicted, it's important to note that these devices don't measure the activity in your brain. Your brain activity is the only true measure of your sleep health: it changes accordingly as you're experiencing deep state sleep, or slow-wave sleep. Qualified medical professionals are ultimately the best source for assessing and diagnosing your current sleep health.

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

It's better to think of a sleep tracking app as a tool to help you change your sleep habits, not a method to diagnose sleep disorders. That kind of medical diagnosis is best left to healthcare professionals with proper training to interpret your readings of light sleep and delta sleep. While knowing your sleep cycles and how much your body moved during those cycles is good information, your smartphone's better use may be for bedtime alerts -- that is, alerts that tell you it's time to start winding down and getting into bed at a regular time each night. Also, a REM sleep alarm can help ensure that you are in the lightest sleep stage possible upon waking. This can help prevent grogginess and improve your overall sleep health!

If you suspect that your sleep cycles are contributing negatively to your health, consult with a healthcare professional. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether further analysis is needed to make sure you're getting get the most restful sleep possible. Here's to more bright-eyed mornings!

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