In the past, only doctors and sleep experts had the latest cutting-edge sleep tracking devices and technology that could accurately and efficiently measure the amount and quality of shuteye. Nowadays, every individual can track sleep from the comfort of their home by using sleep apps and wearables. However, can an app on a smartphone or a bunch of motion sensors worn on a wrist really replace standard medical sleep monitoring? Find out what sleep experts have to say about it.
An Increased Demand for Consumer Sleep Monitoring Devices
People have become more and more interested in monitoring their sleep quality. This interest aroused due to many sleepless nights an average American experience every year. Research shows that 1 out of 3 Americans occasionally suffers from insomnia and sleep deprivation. We can assume that a person who regularly has a bad sleep and feels tired and groggy during the day would like to know what is wrong and how to snooze a bit better.
As feeling unrefreshed and tired every day isn’t enough, scientists have found a link between poor sleep and serious medical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer. The mentioned health consequences of poor sleep are widely reported in news media, and people are genuinely concerned. Due to all we have mentioned above, a demand for sleep monitoring devices has significantly increased. The concern of people who want to know if they have a sleep problem has presented a great opportunity for consumer device manufacturers. Suddenly, dozens of sleep apps and other snooze tracking devices appeared. All these products claim not only to monitor but also to improve sleep. Most tech is available to every budget because it costs as little as $20.
Differences between Medical Sleep Monitoring and Consumer Sleep Tracking Devices
Medical sleep monitoring is usually done in a controlled environment such as a laboratory. The patient must spend a full night being monitored by twenty or more sensors that record brain activity, breathing, pulse, and body movement. Typically, a device called polysomnogram is used for sleep evaluation. This device is very different from consumer products. Apart from being accurate and efficient, all recording is supervised by experts who later evaluate the results. A polysomnogram can determine how much time a person spent awake and in different sleep stages. The device also detects breathing abnormalities or abnormal movements.
Consumer sleep tracking devices usually track body movement. However, this is not enough to determine a person’s quality of sleep.
Consumer Sleep Monitors
Sleep apps and most consumer sleep monitors have an actigraphy device inside them that can track body movement. Based only on body movement, these devices evaluate sleep quality. This is based on an idea that people move less when asleep. However, snooze tracking and evaluation are much more complicated than that.
Are Consumer Sleep Tracking Devices Accurate?
Only a few out of a handful of devices have been properly evaluated in studies. In order to establish the validity of these apps and wearables, a lot more research needs to be conducted. It is very important to test consumer sleep monitors not only on healthy individuals but also on people who suffer from a particular sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and similar.
Snooze tracking tech that is based solely on actigraphy cannot accurately estimate sleep time. Some studies show that these apps and devices actually miss approximately two-thirds of awake time. There is no evidence that could support the claim that sleep apps can distinguish different stage of slumber such light and deep sleep or REM and non-REM sleep.
Benefits of Consumer Sleep Monitors
If sleep apps and wearables are that bad, there is no point in using them, right? Well, although they do not provide precise and accurate results, they offer a number of benefits to an individual consumer. For example, they are good for establishing a sleep routine, which is important for alleviating insomnia and its symptoms. Since most apps require keeping a little sleep diary, they are good for identifying the possible causes of a person’s sleep deprivation and insomnia. For example, an individual that has kept track of his sleep via a diary might notice certain activities or foods and drinks disturb his or hers snoozing. So rather than trying to measure the quality of your sleep, you can use these devices to figure out what is causing it in the first place. Of course, don’t expect the device to set the diagnosis.
Apart from the mentioned benefits, sleep apps and wearables also increase awareness of sleep issues among society. Its increased use shows our urgent desire to understand and improve sleep, which is something that the medical community must address. Relying on consumer apps and other snooze monitoring tech to evaluate sleep quality is a bad idea, and it will mostly lead to false results and reassurances. For example, excessive awake time may be evaluated as a disorder where no disorder exists. Many people have benign body movements during slumber or simply sleep less than the recommended 7 hours. Sleep needs and patterns are very unique, and being slightly different from the crowd doesn’t automatically mean you are ill or have to visit a doctor.
However, when you feel the consequences of your particular sleep pattern and routine, it’s time to act and make a change. If there are indications of sleep disruption (such as breathing interruptions, excessive movement or kicking, habitual snoring, etc.), if you feel sleepy during the day or if you are always tired in the morning, you should seek medical advice.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic