Should I Use a Sleep Tracker?Aug 28, 2023
One of the most common questions I am asked by clients is “should I wear a sleep tracker?” As with most questions, my typical response is “it’s up to you”.
Sleep Trackers Are Controversial
So, what do I mean by that and how is this helpful? Sleep trackers are something that most people in the sleep community have a strong opinion on. The biohackers love them and the CBTi crowd hates them. I fall somewhere in the middle.
Personally, I found it very helpful to wear an Oura ring. It was in all honesty probably the most effective thing I tried at turning my sleep around (so I’m a bit biased) and many of my clients have had similar success.
How Can a Sleep Tracker Be Helpful?
Why was wearing a tracker so helpful? Many people who experience insomnia also experience something called hyper aroused or paradoxical sleep.
Have you ever had a night when you would swear you didn’t sleep a wink? You weren’t up and about but you were just lying there with your brain churning around in circles. Or maybe you feel very restless and are unsure if you slept or not, but time keeps skipping ahead.
I enjoyed many many nights like this during my insomnia bout. Nights when I tossed and turned for hours, and I would have sworn on a stack of bibles that I didn’t sleep a wink. Obviously, this was very upsetting and the stress of not sleeping made sleep even harder to achieve. It becomes a vicious cycle.
My Experience With Sleep Trackers
Luckily for me, I decided to try Oura ring (No this isn’t a paid advertisement. Don’t worry. I don’t have enough followers for all that!) Anyway, I didn’t know how tracking my sleep would help but when you are tired you are also desperate and willing to throw money at anything. So, I figured it was worth a try!
What I discovered was transformative (for me). It turned out that all these hours of tossing and turning, which I had assumed was one big, long stretch of wakefulness, was actually many episodes of wakefulness followed by sleep.
I wasn’t lying awake all night like I had assumed. I was yoyoing in and out of sleep every hour or two. The significance of this was that I was actually getting much more sleep than I thought (approximately 5-6 hrs a night vs 2-4). Yes, my sleep was very fragmented and short, but it was way healthier than I had led myself to believe.
Knowing this helped me to relax and feel less stressed about the sleep I was getting and gradually, as I relaxed, my sleep improved.
A Dysregulated System Doesn't Always Know
Many sleep coaches say “you know your body, you don’t need a device to tell you if you have slept” but in my case, this unfortunately was not true. I was so stressed out and disconnected from my body that I needed to be shown so that I could guide myself back into a healthy relationship with sleep. Many of my clients have similar experiences.
There are a lot of sleep devices out there and I don’t have knowledge of most of them (it’s just not how I spend my time) so I encourage everyone to do their own research. I did look into Oura, obviously before investing in my ring and a 2019 study published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that Oura ring was 96% accurate in detecting sleep compared to polysomnography which is what is used in sleep labs. That’s not too shabby!
Now it was not as accurate in detecting sleep stages, but we don’t really have control over those anyway. We can encourage more deep sleep through exercise but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen! (kinda like posting videos here to get clients). You do things to encourage an outcome and hope for the best!
Don't Worry About Sleep Stages
Since we don’t really control sleep stages, and trying to would just stress us out and make insomnia worse) I put this data in nice to know but not vital territory.
The real help is having confirmation that you are in fact sleeping!
Are Sleep Trackers Right For You?
The caveat to this is people who have a tendency to over analyze and stress about the data. We are all different. If you find that seeing your sleep data just makes you more obsessive and stressed, then don’t do it!! It does not matter what works for me. What works for you?
If having the data soothes you then leverage the knowledge. If it doesn’t then walk away and focus on other things that are effective.
In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!
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