Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
The use of wearable technology capable of collecting data about one’s sleep and monitoring health biometrics, like heart rate and physical activity, may have unintended consequences.
Typically, wearable sleep trackers assist you in monitoring your healthy behaviors, including the amount and quality of sleep you get.
Studies indicate that some people have trouble sleeping because of the continued use of wearable sleep-tracking devices to achieve optimum sleep, a relatively new sleep condition dubbed “orthosomnia” by sleep experts.
What is Orthosomnia?
Succinctly, orthosomnia is an unhealthy preoccupation with obtaining the correct amount of sleep.
Sleep experts led by Dr. Sabra Abbott (a neurologist at Northwestern University) came up with the term in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
They did this after seeing a rise in the number of people seeking treatment for insomnia because their sleep tracking devices showed that they weren’t getting enough sleep.
People living with the condition typically report anger and cognitive troubles on days when their trackers recorded less than eight hours of sleep.
According to the study’s findings, the participants had less sleep even though they had every intention of bettering their health by tracking how much sleep they got each night.
It suggests that one can experience a “reinforcement of sleep-related anxiety or perfectionism” by using sleep-tracking devices.
Furthermore, anxiety associated with not getting enough sleep can promote or worsen insomnia.
What are the Symptoms of Orthosomnia?
The symptoms of orthosomnia are similar to insomnia; however, these symptoms are associated with sleep-tracker devices and an obsession with getting proper sleep.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible:
- Having difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble remaining asleep
- Inability to fall asleep again after waking early morning awakenings
- Lack of restful sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Poor concentration
- Short-term memory difficulties
- Increased risk for road traffic accidents
Are Sleep Monitoring Devices Accurate?
It’s estimated that 10 percent of U.S. adults regularly use a wearable sleep monitoring device.
However, despite growing consumer interest, sleep experts are hesitant to incorporate these devices into standardized treatment for sleep conditions.
Typically, most sleep experts question whether sleep-monitoring devices can be utilized to measure sleep reliably.
Studies show that wearable sleep-tracking devices do not distinguish between sleeping time and time spent in bed.
So, you could be actively looking through Facebook on your phone while in bed, and your wearable sleep tracker may record such activity as light sleep because you aren’t actively moving as you would if you can’t sleep.
Are Wearable Sleep Trackers Bad For You?
While studies indicate that anxiety resulting from sleep trackers can hurt your sleep, wearable sleep devices are not without benefits.
Sleep trackers may occasionally shed light on undetected sleep problems. For instance, sleep trackers could help you track when you wake up at night. It could also suggest how many hours you spend in bed and sleep abnormalities, like sleep apnea.
Additionally, they may be beneficial in illustrating how your sleep pattern has changed over time. However, sleep experts believe that you shouldn’t obsess over the data provided by these devices as these devices may not provide an accurate picture of your sleep.
It’s also essential that you do not allow sleep-tracking data from your wearable devices to interfere with your doctor’s recommended treatment.
Experts suggest that individuals must determine whether tracking their sleep is detrimental or beneficial. If you feel these devices are helpful to you and don’t notice any adverse effects on your sleep, it’s okay to use a sleep tracker.
Conversely, suppose you believe your sleep monitoring devices make you anxious about your sleep or worsen your insomnia. It might be best to do without them when you sleep and see if your sleep improves.
Altering Your Sleep Pattern Can Harm Your Sleep
To meet the optimum sleep suggested by your sleep-tracker device, you could inadvertently harm your sleep by changing your routine sleep behavior. Let’s look at how an obsession with achieving proper sleep could worsen your sleep:
- Typically, people with orthosomnia may attempt to maximize their total sleep time by spending more time in bed, squeezing a small amount of extra sleep even when awake and alert. As the length of time spent in bed exceeds your sleep requirement, your sleep may become lighter and more fragmented. This reaction may eventually predispose you to insomnia or make your symptoms worse.
- As your anxiety about getting the correct amount of sleep increases, your ability to sleep may deteriorate. This reaction results from the arousal of the sympathetic nervous system — the part of the nervous system responsible for wakefulness and alertness.
Your doctor may suspect that you have orthosomnia if you use a sleep monitoring device and complain of not meeting up to your required sleep targets. Your sleep doctor may advise you to do without the sleep trackers to confirm the diagnosis.
Typically, your doctor would recommend that you adopt a healthy sleep habit to improve your sleep. These habits include:
- Maintain a constant sleep-wake cycle, including on weekends.
- Get the amount of sleep you need to meet your daily sleep requirement (typically seven to nine hours), but don’t stay in bed too long.
- To make the transition to sleep easier, go to bed only when you feel tired and sleepy. Furthermore, spend the hour before your expected bedtime doing relaxing activities.
- Boost your sleep environment by reserving the bedroom as a sleeping place and maintaining a calm, dark, relaxed, and pleasant sleeping environment.
If your sleep troubles persist, your doctor may ask you to try cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia to ease your symptoms.
- Baron, Kelly Glazer, et al. “Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 15 Feb. 2017, https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.6472.
- Baron, Kelly Glazer. “CBT-I for Patients with Orthosomnia.” Adapting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, Academic Press, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128228722000025.
- Meltzer LJ;Hiruma LS;Avis K;Montgomery-Downs H;Valentin J; “Comparison of a Commercial Accelerometer with Polysomnography and Actigraphy in Children and Adolescents.” Sleep, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26118555/.
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