Lydia Wheatley realized that shortly after the start of using a sleep tracking app, she began to experience severe insomnia

It was 4.23 am, but Lydia Wheatley was wide awake. As always, anxious thoughts swirled through her mind as she prepared for a new day of exhaustion, dizziness, and stress.


But it wasn't a misery about her marriage or money that left Lydia fraught and unable to take out. It was her smartphone, nestled under her pillow, that followed how well she was – or rather not – sleeping. A few months earlier she had downloaded an app designed to help improve sleep by following the movements of users in bed. It would tell her exactly how long and how deeply she had slept. Handy, Lydia thought. Finally, sleeping well is a pillar of good health – not getting eight hours a night increases the risk of a large number of problems, from heart conditions and strokes to dementia.

But because she had had a pretty good night's sleep beforehand, the app had really caused her insomnia. Staring at the ceiling & night, eyes stinging from fatigue, the irony of it all was temporarily lost on Lydia. But today, the 39-year-old mother of three says: "I know it sounds bizarre, but I only downloaded the app out of curiosity. After just two weeks, I got fixated by the quality of my sleep – so much so that it occurred to me overnight.

Lydia Wheatley realized that shortly after the start of using a sleep tracking app, she began to experience severe insomnia

Lydia Wheatley realized that shortly after the start of using a sleep tracking app, she began to experience severe insomnia

& # 39; I was so scared that I could not drift and finally got about four hours a night. I was hyper aware that my sleep was being followed, so the least that would wake me up. I started to get up at night to check my phone and see if I was entering the right sleep phase.

& # 39; It seems so obvious afterwards. But at the time, ridiculously, I didn't bring two and two together – I didn't know it was a concern to sleep well, that actually kept me awake. & # 39;


And Lydia, it seems, is not the only one. In fact, she suffered from a newly recognized condition that experts call orthosomnia – an obsession with good sleep.

Like the recently recognized eating disorder orthorexia – an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating – it is said that the condition is a product of an obsessive desire to become our healthiest, & # 39; best & # 39; to be yourself.

Some of those at risk for orthosomnia already suffer from mental health problems and sleep disorders. Forbidden by worries about sleep patterns, sufferers end up with extreme anxiety and depression. But researchers say they see more and more patients who, like Lydia, admit that sleep monitoring gadgets claiming to monitor and improve our quality and amount of sleep have caused their problems.


It is known that a life of poor sleep increases the risk of various chronic diseases. In an effort to combat the health risks, ministers are even expected to publish official guidelines stating that getting less than seven hours a night is harmful.

It is therefore no wonder that millions of Britons seek help to improve their sleeping habits. The buzz expression is & # 39; sleeping clean & # 39 ;. This has nothing to do with how freshly washed your bedding is – the term refers to habits that can improve your sleep quality.

There are a few basic principles, such as ensuring that your bedroom is not too hot, cold, noisy or light and that you do nothing in bed except sleeping or making love.


Another important factor is not looking at laptops or smartphones in bed. And yet, tech giants have quickly offered new apps, portable devices, and gadgets that are said to help matters by monitoring our quality and amount of sleep.

With the help of this insight, users can take steps to maximize the amount of time spent asleep, such as making changes to their bedtime routine. According to a recent survey of 5000 Britons, almost a quarter of thirty children use a tracker to provide insight into their sleeping habits.

In an effort to combat the health risks, ministers are even expected to publish official guidelines stating that getting less than seven hours a night is harmful (stock image)

In an effort to combat the health risks, ministers are even expected to publish official guidelines stating that getting less than seven hours a night is harmful (stock image)

In an effort to combat the health risks, ministers are even expected to publish official guidelines stating that getting less than seven hours a night is harmful (stock image)

The industry is expected to be worth more than £ 60 billion by 2022, according to market research firm Persistence. The most popular devices look like a watch or a bracelet and they use sensors to monitor the heart rate, body temperature and breathing speed, all of which can indicate how deeply we sleep. Apps, such as those used by Lydia, use motion sensors in a smartphone that can be pushed under a cushion. An algorithm makes a distinction between movements made during deep sleep and periods of awakening.


Sleep patterns are presented in the app via diagrams that describe the minutes spent in the three sleep stages – light, deep and REM. Alerts are often issued if users do not reach the goal of a certain number of night hours. But experts now warn that all of these gadgets involve significant psychological risks.


A report in last year's Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine identified a growing number of individuals who develop insomnia because it was irrational about their ability to & # 39; good & # 39; to sleep. A tracking device or app was responsible in almost all of these cases. In January Dr. Guy Leschziner, a leading neuroscientist and consultant on sleep disorders, a similar trend among his patients at the Guy & # 39; s Hospital in London.

Excessive thoughts about sleeping habits are harmful (stock image)

Excessive thoughts about sleeping habits are harmful (stock image)

Excessive thoughts about sleeping habits are harmful (stock image)


& # 39; Ten years ago none of these devices were available & # 39 ;, says Dr. Leschziner, who thinks that one in five sleep tracker users will develop orthosomnia. & # 39; Now I see people who obsessively follow their sleep and thereby become convinced that they have sleep disorders. This increases their fear of sleeping even further. & # 39;

Psychologist Dr. Kelly Baron, a sleep researcher at the University of Utah, saw a similar pattern in her sleepless patients. Two years ago she asked concern that trackers cause symptoms that were not initially there. Three patients analyzed in her report showed signs of extreme anxiety, a bad mood and severe sleep deprivation after the start of their use of digital sleep followers.

& # 39; Most patients begin with a low-level problem related to stressful periods in their lives & # 39 ;, says Dr. Baron, director of the University's Sleep Medicine program.

& # 39; But after using sleep followers, they become preoccupied with the number of hours of sleep displayed, further interfering with their pressure to reach a certain number. & # 39;

In her paper, published in 2017, Dr. Baron noted that in the following weeks patients felt not only increasingly tired, but also more irritated and distracted. And despite the followers who warned patients of their critically low levels of deep sleep, researchers did not find this problem. & # 39; All patients we followed with electrodes on the brain did not suffer from deep sleep at all, despite what their investigator told them. & # 39;



Before Lydia began to worry about her nightly routine, sleepless nights were rare.

& # 39; I've always had a good night's sleep, about eight or nine hours a night & # 39 ;, says the magazine publisher from South London.

& # 39; When I started monitoring my sleep, I became worried when bedtime was approaching. By the time I put my head on the pillow, I was wide awake. Within a week my sleep routine was constant in my mind. I would try to write things at work and my eyes would be blurred. It was clearly due to the fact that I didn't sleep as much as I normally did. & # 39;

Excessive thoughts about sleeping habits are known to be harmful. Psychologists in Sweden studied 1,800 people and found that those who regularly worried about a bad night's sleep were at greater risk of long-term sleeplessness and later depression. Poor sleepers who said they did not suffer so much from bad sleep recovered much faster. This phenomenon was suggested by sleep tester Dr. Kenneth Lichstein & # 39; insomnia identity & # 39; called. In his analysis of a dozen sleep studies of two decades, Dr. Lichstein noticed that poor sleep in itself was not the greatest predictor of the associated health problems – depression, anxiety, heart disease and even thoughts of suicide. Instead, thinking of yourself as & # 39; turned out to be an insomnia & # 39; to be the greatest health risk. Fear of sleep led to the release of stress hormones before bedtime – the same hormones that are also associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and mental health problems.

& # 39; Focusing on your symptoms makes people more nervous & # 39 ;, says Dr. Baron. & # 39; Sleep is something that should happen organically. Forcing or thinking about it will only cause problems. & # 39;


Are these devices even measuring what they claim? In a 2011 study, researchers from the University of West Virginia compared the sleep data of the popular portable tracker Fitbit with the gold standard tests used in sleep labs. These use breath monitors and electrodes attached to participants' skulls to track changes in brain waves – a reliable indication of sleep phases that are regularly used in hospitals.

Fitbit was seen as an overestimate of the time that the participants slept an average of 67 minutes a night. Another popular device was supposed to overestimate the time spent asleep by 43 minutes. Meanwhile, other studies have found that Fitbits has underestimated the time spent asleep by nearly two hours.

A Brazilian review from 2015 found enormous variability between the accuracy of seven popular tested devices. It was concluded that no device can be considered accurate.


& # 39; Physiological measurements of breathing and movement are not comparable to electrodes that measure your brain activity & # 39 ;, Dr. Baron explains.

& # 39; Temperature, respiration and heart rate can vary enormously based on different environmental factors and individual characteristics. They will not necessarily change in a uniform way during sleep phases. The sensitivity of the apps to movement is also incorrect. & # 39;

Constant software updates and secret technology make it impossible for scientists to perform extremely important validity tests.

& # 39; Fitbit has updated its technology 21 times in the last nine years, so we cannot validate its products & # 39 ;, says Dr. Baron. & # 39; None of the apps have been clinically tested by experts. & # 39;

According to Dr. Leschziner there is no & # 39; one size fits all & # 39; when it comes to optimal sleep. & # 39; The amount of sleep required varies greatly from person to person, depending on genetics, age and other environmental factors & he says. & # 39; Seven to eight hours is optimal for the average person, but this varies per person. Older people, for example, sleep less. & # 39;


But according to the app from Lydia and many similar devices, everything under eight hours a night was unacceptable. She says: & # 39; I desperately tried not to fall asleep too late to get my eight hours. I wish so badly that I would not reach the target with which I would have difficulty dreaming away. & # 39;


One in five Britons uses a type of device for monitoring health, whether it is for analyzing sleep patterns, cataloging calorie intake or counting steps. The most popular, Fitbit, is supported by more than 25 million people worldwide.

But studies have identified links between the use of health categories and mental health problems. A 2016 survey of female Fitbit users found that around 60 percent were & # 39; audited & # 39; felt through the output of their device. A third of users called it an & # 39; enemy & # 39; and was harassed by harrowing guilt feelings when they did not reach their daily step count.

A recent report from Dr. Glasgow living in Des Spence, published in the British Medical Journal, claimed that all health surveillance devices contributed to a & # 39; unhealthy health-obsessed generation & # 39 ;.


Una Foye, 30, a mental health researcher from Northern Ireland who received a Fitbit for her 28th birthday, is familiar with such stress. & # 39; I was worried every morning when I checked my sleep pattern, & she said.

& # 39; Why was I & # 39; so awake at night? Why didn't I get enough REM sleep? I struggled to fall asleep the next night, afraid something was wrong with me, and this created self-induced insomnia as a result of ruminating my sleep pattern. & # 39;

Fitbit and other technology companies say that their products are harmless to the vast majority of people. Studies indeed show that this is true. For those who are vulnerable to obsessions or are looking for an emotional crutch, they will almost certainly do more harm than good.

A year after removing the app, Lydia is ready for a good night's rest. & # 39; I spent a week doing meditation, hot bathing, and exercise before my sleep returned to normal. Now I get eight hours on most nights. My phone is on the other side of the room, far away from me. & # 39;

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