Why Tracking Your Sleep Can Backfire

Eric Harrison Riddle was not used to focusing the efforts of his wellness routine on sleep until now: he especially likes to run and go to the gym. However, he eventually understood that to really improve his performance, night recovery was fundamental. He who since his childhood has always had a difficult sleep ended up getting a portable sleep tracker in order to try to remedy it and find out in which phase of sleep (paradoxical, deep or light) he spent the most time. .

“At first it was fun, but if I had a ‘bad’ night’s sleep and saw a low score, it impacted my whole day, he explains. This bad mood set in in the morning, never to leave me throughout the day.

After a while, Eric finally decided that this sleep monitoring device couldn’t have such a hold on him. What Eric felt has a scientific name: the “nocebo effect”. Or the opposite of the placebo effect. With the latter, waiting for good results ends up making them happen. With the nocebo, it is the fear of a bad outcome that ultimately makes the negative forecast come true.

“It can be very frustrating, explains psychologist Samina Ahmed Jauregui. The device is supposed to help you figure out what’s going on. But later it can work against you, potentially reinforcing a faulty belief system. You say to yourself, ‘I didn’t sleep well last night, so I’m going to have a bad day’ – but what if you didn’t know? Would you have the same attitude?”

Dr. Jauregui points out that not all “bad” nights of sleep translate to hours of tossing and turning in bed. When you give the tracker too much credit, instead of trying to establish how you really feel, that’s where things get tricky. “You want to try to sleep better the next day based on what the app is telling you,” she explains, “and so the next day you place too much importance on your attempt to sleep better, so it generates worry and stress.”

Sleep tracking is booming: Apple made nightly data a focal point of a recent redesign of its Watch, wrist-tracking company Whoop is now worth billions, and the global sleep tracker market is expected to grow. forecasts will reach nearly $50 million by 2030, up from $12.8 million in 2020. In other words: a lot of people are looking to monitor their sleep. But this monitoring is not necessarily synonymous with quality sleep.

“There is definitely room for inaccurate data with these wearable devices,” says sleep specialist and psychologist Dr. Michael Breus. “A lot of existing trackers have started to be validated, but their data is still not 100% accurate. So when you see a low score, you shouldn’t panic, just look at your data over the whole week to see more general trends. It is this information that is most relevant.”

Did you drop the trackers without feeling like you were getting quality sleep? According to Dr. Jauregui, this may be the right time to consult a real expert. “You have to separate fact from fiction, find a better night cycle and more broadly the sleep hygiene that suits you. By addressing the cognitive aspect, you will have the opportunity to influence your sleep expectations and the impact it will have on your day the next day.”

Eric says that today, if he still looks at the analyzes of his device from time to time, he has concentrated his efforts on improving his sleep hygiene: no more TV in the room, use of the bed only for sleep or to make love, and better consistency of sleeping and waking hours: he already feels better and for that, he didn’t need data!


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