Sleep Trackers Can Make It Harder To Fall Asleep A boom in technology promising to improve sleep has an ironic side effect: orthosomnia. Thanks to sleep trackers, people get so obsessed with perfect sleep that they are losing sleep over it.

Losing Sleep Over The Quest For A Perfect Night's Rest

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/805291279/806886998" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

The recommendation is that we get seven hours of sleep a night. A third of Americans are not doing that, and startups are trying to make some money from our sleep problems. They claim that technology can make a difference. But it turns out that obsessing over how well you are sleeping might be what's keeping you awake. NPR's Shannon Bond has the story.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: This is next level insomnia, where you get so fixated on getting a perfect night's sleep that you lose sleep over it. It's called orthosomnia, and it's an irony of our digital lifestyles, like that sleep tracker you might be wearing on your wrist.

SEEMA KHOSLA: And then you start worrying about it, and you wind up giving yourself insomnia.

BOND: Seema Khosla is a sleep doctor in North Dakota. She says people with orthosomnia get hung up on those increasingly popular sleep trackers. They measure how you breathe, your heart rate, your tossing and turning, and then they give you a sleep score, usually through a smartphone app. For some people, perfecting that score becomes its own goal.

KHOSLA: Because they get really, really stressed out about how - well, you know what? I had a score of 80, and I really wanted to hit 100. And I'll ask them just to put their tracker away for a couple of weeks, and honestly, sometimes you can just see the relief on their faces.

BOND: Kathrin Hamm experienced this problem. When she developed insomnia, she tried a sleep tracker. It just made things worse.

KATHRIN HAMM: But then I actually realized that I'm even more stressed out to see kind of like in writing, in black and white, that I'm not sleeping well. Instead of kind of addressing the root cause, I was more concerned about continue measuring, measuring.

BOND: At the time, getting good sleep was really important to Hamm because she was traveling all around the world as an economist for the World Bank.

HAMM: Basically, if I wasn't on a plane, I was on the road kind of around in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan. And I've never been a good sleeper. But during that time, like, I really had developed insomnia and some serious sleep issues.

BOND: She bought noise machines, expensive pillows and mattresses - none of them worked. Finally, she tried a weighted blanket. These are usually filled with plastic or glass beads and used in therapy to help kids with autism. Fans like Hamm say the weight lifts anxiety so you can relax.

HAMM: And I tried one of these on a Saturday afternoon to nap with it for a short time, and I woke up four hours later.

BOND: The sleep market is worth tens of billions of dollars, from weighted blankets to tech gadgets like trackers and meditation headbands. Not getting enough rest is unhealthy, increasing the risk of depression, heart disease and other conditions. Ironically, it's technology, like those smartphones that keep us constantly stimulated, that doctors blame for our bad sleep habits.

Some new sleep products are trying to help people break away from those distractions. A company called Hatch sells a combination reading light and noise machine. That means you can leave your phone outside your bedroom. It takes you to bed with a guided meditation...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Now close your eyes.

BOND: ...And plays white noise while you're sleeping. Hatch co-founder Ann Credy Weiss explains how it wakes you up.

ANN CREDY WEISS: The light is going to go from completely dark, and it's going to get brighter and brighter and brighter. And at 7:00, you hear this.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

BOND: And remember, Kathrin Hamm, the World Bank economist who couldn't get to sleep? Weighted blankets helped her so much she quit her job and started her own company selling them, Bearaby. There is no technology involved.

Shannon Bond, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIDNITE STRING QUARTET'S "ASLEEP")

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.