Experts warn sleep trackers may fuel anxiety, decrease sleep quality

Many activity trackers and smartwatches now offer sleep-tracking features designed to monitor one's overall sleep quality, among other things. These devices are arguably useful for getting an overall picture of one's sleep habits, but researchers warn that sleep trackers may make things worse for some users prone to unhealthy obsessions and anxiety.

Sleep trackers, which include devices designed to be placed on or near a bed, as well as devices that sit nearby to monitor for sounds, typically work together to generate a software report available in a companion app. These reports will usually include graphs and numbers revealing how often the user woke up during the night, the duration of deep sleep, and an overall sleep quality score.

Past research has found that many of these devices aren't entirely accurate; they're good for getting an idea of one's sleep, but may not provide a complete look at one's night or may include some incorrect info. That's not a big deal for consumers who use the info to get an overall idea of their sleep patterns and quality, but could be a big issue for users who become obsessed with the numbers, hitting goals, and modifying their behaviors for the sake of the product.

Researchers speaking to the New York Times warn that some sleep tracker users may develop 'orthosomnia,' a desire to achieve optimal sleep to a degree that becomes unhealthy. Unhealthy habits fueled by this obsession can include staying in bed longer than necessary to hit new numbers, which can make insomnia worse.

The experts also caution that sleep tracker data may result in unnecessary tests and treatments, an expensive waste of time that may include taking unnecessary medication in the pursuit of the perfect score. It's important for users to remember that the data they receive from these tracking devices are just estimates, and that less-than-optimal scores may appear even if the user is getting adequate sleep.