Sticking To A Sleep Schedule Is A Good Thing, But This Is When You're Taking It Too Far

by Julia Guerra

It’s 2018, and you’ve committed to putting bad sleep habits to rest. Creating a nighttime routine complete with face masks, warm mugs of lavender tea, and aromatherapy, you’ve scheduled everything just right so that you have a few minutes to spare nestled under the covers to read a chapter or two on your Kindle. In theory, you’ve done everything in your power to ensure a good night's rest, so when sleep doesn’t come, you panic. There’s nothing wrong with tracking your sleep, but the obsession could spiral into a case of orthosomnia. What is orthosomnia, you ask? The term literally means “correct sleep,” and it was coined by researchers to describe a kind of condition with obsessive tendencies relating to a person’s focus on their sleep cycle.

Wearable tech that helps you learn more about your health — like sleep trackers — has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it’s fascinating that a simple push of a button can give you access to information about things like how many hours you slept, and even more specific details like sleep quality, and how long your body experiences the different stages of sleep. On the other hand, there is such a thing as too much information, and it’s easy to become overly concerned with your sleeping patterns when the numbers are laid out in front of you every morning.

Sleep trackers can make a natural process feel like a numbers game, and the fixation can become unhealthy.

Am I the only one who’s picked up on the fact that society seems to love to transcribe every part of life in terms of numbers? From how many calories you eat in a day, to how many reps you can bang out at the weight rack, to how much you’re sleeping at night, it’s all become a numbers game.

Listen, the issue isn’t that you’re curious about how much sleep you’re actually getting, and how you can improve your sleep cycle; these are important details in your life that should be taken into consideration. The problem is, there’s no happy medium. People are either overly concerned with tracking their sleep, therefore ruining any chance they have for peace of mind, or they aren’t really phased by what goes on at night, as long as they’re clocking in enough hours to feel decently well-rested the next day.

Those who become overly focused on getting exactly six to eight hours of sleep every single night — with this many cycles of REM sleep, and that many minutes spent trying to fall asleep in the first place — are, as Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, SleepScore Labs advisory board member, explains, “fascinated by the numbers” to the point where they’ll begin to “tweak every little part of their sleep” for optimal results. Doing this, however, inevitably backfires.

“Sleep is a natural occurrence that will have its ups and downs like anything else,” Dr. Breus tells Elite Daily. “If you're paying too close attention to [how long it takes you to fall asleep] then it [might take longer] because you are trying too hard to fall asleep.”

In other words, preparing your body for sleep should be a relaxing time of night when your mind is clear, and you feel at ease. It’s not supposed to be calculating.

Becoming overly concerned with how well and how much you sleep can result in anxiety, and even worse sleep quality.

You shouldn’t be lying under the covers at night crunching numbers in your head, and reviewing sleep statistics that claim if you only sleep a certain amount of hours, you’ll wake up miserable and exhausted. Even though this information is helpful at times, fixating on these types of thoughts can prove to be incredibly toxic, and may even lead to poor sleep quality.

In a 2017 study performed by researchers at Rush University in Chicago, it was found that a lot of people who use sleep trackers heavily rely on the device's data to accurately reflect their sleep quality. According to the study's lead author Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, MPH, this is an issue because these types of tech can't actually “differentiate between light and deep sleep.”

In fact, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, the way most sleep trackers pull data is based on movement. It makes sense, considering you're most likely tracking via a bracelet or a smartphone app, but sleep stages are actually defined "by brain wave activity," as well as body indicators like "eye movements and muscle tension" that wearable trackers can't necessarily pick up on.

So, really, these data shouldn't automatically be recognized as fact. Unfortunately, according to Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo, people can get so wrapped up “in tracking sleep data and following instructions” that their fixation can lead to anxiety — which, he tells Elite Daily, is one of the “most common sources of sleep disruption.”

The best way to use sleep trackers is to not take them too seriously, and instead, focus more on establishing a relaxing bedtime routine.

Among the many golden rules of life, this one’s for sure: Too much of anything is never a good thing. Therefore, when it comes to your sleep tracker, try your best to limit your usage ASAP. Doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, tells Elite Daily the best way to do this is to “establish parameters,” like only looking over data in the morning, and then promptly moving on with the rest of your day.

Once you’ve set some ground rules, you can start to focus more on establishing a relaxing nighttime ritual that will ease, rather than excite, your mind before bed. Martha Cortes, DDS, sleep expert and founder of Sleep Fitness, LLC in New York City, tells Elite Daily that things like taking a warm bath, sipping chamomile tea, listening to soothing music, and wearing the right pair of comfy pajamas are all little details you can implement into your routine to “create a good sleep schedule.”

Granted, tracking your sleep may be a habit that's difficult to break, so remind yourself that it's OK to start slow. Gradually cut down on how many times you check your report until, as per Dr. Forshee's advice, you're only reviewing the numbers once a day. If changes need to be made, Dr. Breus tells Elite Daily, there's no harm in making them, but be sure to take these quick fixes with a grain of salt, and simply move on.