3 Ways to Use a Sleep Tracker
The impact of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders is real – they both can negatively impact the heart, the brain, and even our weight. Sleep is as important as diet and exercise. So if we can improve sleep health through wrist-worn feedback, I am in favor. But be cautious about putting too much emphasis on data that is not scientifically proven, especially if it can cause harm. Fretting about sleep scores and precise sleep stages without understanding the accuracy or science behind the numbers isn’t useful. It’s classic fake news, even if there is a version of the truth in there somewhere.
The truth is, we don’t have much control over our specific sleep stages. Focusing on the intricate details of whether we’re getting enough of one stage or another can be counterproductive. For example, “light sleep” is necessary and normal and does not suggest poor sleep quality.
A sleep tracker collects large amounts of data each night and generally uses movement and heart rate to determine sleep stages using formulas that aren’t available to the public. This makes it impossible to confirm the accuracy of data or verify if conclusions are based on the best science.
For example, if you have a disorder like sleep apnea, your tracker may underestimate your sleep time due to body jerks or overestimate sleep time because it doesn’t pick up associated brief awakenings that occur when breathing stops.
So how can sleep trackers be helpful?
Here are 3 ways:
- Help you get more sleep. Prioritizing sleep can be difficult. A sleep tracker can help you stay focused on your goal. Besides just looking at a single night's sleep time, I recommend focusing on your weekly average, and try to keep it in the 7-8 hour range.
- Help you keep a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at approximately the same time every day contributes to better sleep. By monitoring bedtimes and wake times, your tracker can help you stick to a routine schedule. Try to keep your bedtime and waketime within a 30-minute window, 7 nights per week.
- And the third way I believe a sleep tracker can be helpful is getting feedback on your general sleep quality in different situations. It’s helpful to learn how your body sleeps after a night of heavy drinking, or better yet, meditating. While the data on specific sleep stages is difficult to trust as 100% accurate, it can be helpful to look at trends. For example, I find that if I am exercising regularly, my “deep sleep” percentages tend to increase. I also think it is fun to see how increased stress affects my overall sleep score.
Sleep tracking is a widely available and relatively inexpensive way to help people learn about sleep and monitor trends in sleep time, just be cautious not to let your phone’s algorithm determine how you truly feel.
Thanks for being here, I’ll see you next week.