Feeling exhausted, forlorn and a little exasperated but certain you’re getting a solid eight hours of sleep a night? It will come as no surprise that the problem is likely to be your phone. When it comes to drifting off to sleep, it’s safe to say we’ve all become a little over reliant on our phones. Whether it’s insisting that Stephen Fry reads us a bedtime story via calming e-books or leaning on the likes of ASMR to put us into a sleepy trance, engaging with our phones right up to our final point of consciousness is nothing less than normal. And, while we all know the perils of blue light, experts are warning we have a much bigger issue on our hands.
Unfortunately, for a large percentage of us, our phones are no longer simply turned off and place on our bedside tables before we drift off. For many, the last thing we do before we switch off the light is gear up our devices for a night of sleep tracking. Whether you use FitBit, Sleep Tracker, Sleep Score or one of the other hundreds of sleep tracking apps out there, apps that monitor sleep levels are becoming an increasingly popular way to analyse just how well we’re sleeping. And it turns out that while the idea of knowing how well you’re sleeping might seem interesting, knowing such details can open up a whole can of sleepless worms in the form of orthosomnia.
Relating to an obsessional monitoring of sleep typically using modern technology, orthosomnia occurs when a reliance upon technology to inform us whether we are sleeping well enough develops, rather than listening to our own bodies. Dr Julius Bourke, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health explains: “Getting a solid eight hours of sleep without difficulty and waking feeling refreshed in the morning is a reasonable sign that you have slept well. However, when an all-singing-all-dancing, and let’s not forget expensive piece of kit tells you that you are wrong, who are you to disagree? A cycle of competing with the technology may then arise: increasing the amount of sleep or changing the way in which one sleeps in an effort to obtain the ‘perfect’ night.”
But surely adjusting your habits to better your sleep can only be good? Wrong again. “[Trying to get the perfect night’s sleep] is self-perpetuating, difficult to break and, potentially anxiety provoking or, at the very least, stressful: consequences that are likely to disrupt sleep further as a matter of course. Those with insomnia may be vulnerable to such a situation but so too are those without obvious insomnia that are worried about the quality of their sleep and find themselves monitoring it on a more obsessional basis,” says Dr Bourke.
If these symptoms sound all too familiar, it’s time to hit uninstall and take some time to figure out what’s really causing your lack of sleep. Has your sleep only become disturbed since you’ve been tracking? If so, your obsessive symptoms should improve once you stop using your tracker. However, if you had trouble sleeping prior to tracking, but symptoms have failed to improve (or indeed worsened), it may be time to take a trip to your GP. Dr Bourke reveals: “There are a variety of very simple and conservative measures that might be taken to improve sleep without too much difficulty. Your doctor will also be able to arrange for very effective treatments, such as CBT, in the instance that more is required.”
So, if you’re suffering with insomnia or disturbed sleep, no matter what you read on social media, we highly suggest you stay away from a sleep tracker because, the chances are, it won’t rectify the problem. In fact, it might just make it worse.