Why your FitBit is making your sleep worse

Annie Miller TherapyBlog

Wearable sleep tracking devices are ubiquitous these days. As a therapist who focuses on sleep, I often have clients show me their FitBit data and how much “deep sleep” and REM they are getting. This is something that will bring clients to my office in the first place. One of the first recommendations I make is to stop wearing the device for sleep. Letting go of these devices can be difficult for many and I want to look at why wearable devices aren’t helpful when it comes to sleep tracking.  

Sleep Trackers Don’t Measure Sleep Very Well

So, do FitBits, Apple Watches and Oura Rings track sleep with accuracy? The answer is, not really. Particularly when it comes to sleep stages. These wearables measure movement very well and are great when used for tracking steps and exercise. But when it comes to sleep, movement and heart rate are not always so helpful in determining sleep. If we are reading in bed quietly for a long period of time, for instance, your device may think you’re asleep. 

And when it comes to measuring sleep stages, your wearable device is ineffective. In order to accurately measure sleep stages, you would need to have a sleep study in a lab where your brain waves are monitored. Your device may be helpful in giving you an estimate of your general sleep patterns, but are otherwise limited in their effectiveness. Your FitBit has no way of measuring brain waves and typically the sleep stages are just an estimate. 

Spending More Time in Bed Won’t Help

Another reason that your wearable may be impacting your sleep negatively is because when consumers start to monitor their sleep more closely, they start to spend more time in bed trying to sleep. Many people will look at the report that your device generates and feel that they are not getting enough sleep. 

Behavioral sleep experts know that spending more time in bed is not the answer. Spending more time in bed while not sleeping conditions the bed for sleeplessness and helps reinforce insomnia.

A study done in 2017 uncovered that because patients spent more time in bed to improve their sleep reports, their insomnia got worse. And in fact there is a newly named condition to describe this phenomena- orthosomnia. Orthosomnia occurs when patients are preoccupied with achieving perfect sleep, most often due to a wearable device’s data.   

Obsessing About Sleep Makes Sleep Worse

It’s important to remember that there was life before wearable devices and if your sleep seems to have gotten worse since you started wearing it, it is a good idea to take a break. One of the biggest contributors to insomnia is anxiety about sleep. And your FitBit can cause you to pay too much attention to sleep and some people may start to become obsessed with getting enough sleep. 

The truth is we are all different and have varying sleep needs. While one person may feel really good after 6.5 hours of sleep, the next person may need 9 hours. Becoming focused on what your device says is not a healthy place to be for many of us. And starting to focus more on how your body feels and what helps you the most, is important. Practice letting go of that quest for a perfect report or trying to achieve what others say is the right amount of sleep.

A Sleep Diary Can Help 

If you are really interested in tracking your sleep, try keeping an old fashioned sleep diary. This is how behavioral sleep experts monitor sleep, based on the patient’s subjective experience. 

You can find a sleep diary here.

Or you can try to download an app that contains a sleep diary, like CBT-i coach. 

Contact a Professional

My advice is to stick with using your wearable device during the day. Use it to count your steps and track your movement. At night, take it off for sleep and don’t look at the sleep data. 

If you are struggling with your sleep or trying to make changes to your sleep, it is important not to do this on your own. Get in touch with a professional who practices CBT-i and is trained in behavioral sleep medicine. It can make a world of difference.