Minding Your Mental Health| 'You don't have to track your sleep to know you're rested' - Joe O'Brien

Minding Your Mental Health | 'You don't have to track your sleep to know you're rested' - Joe O'Brien

The global pandemic has been a worrying time for us all. The uncertainty and danger surrounding us in our everyday lives has taken its toll on the vast majority, and minding our mental health is as important as ever.

With that in mind, we turned to the expertise of one of our favourite lockdown discoveries in Trainee Health Psychologist Joe O’Brien’s increasingly popular Head First Instagram page (@headfirst0) and Podcast dedicated to promoting evidence based psychology and mental health information.

This week, Joe delves into the topic of smart tech and in particular, sleep tracking.


Using an app/fitness tracker to tell you when your tired is like using MyFitnessPal to tell you when you're hungry. There are a number of reasons I feel sleep tracking isn't helpful, so I'll list some of them here. ⠀

- If we rely on external cues to tell us when we're tired or rested, we fail to pay attention to our own body's signals and needs. Sometimes we need more sleep, sometimes we need less, depending on 101 different factors that our watches don't consider!

- It can prime us to thinking we're tired, even if we're not. "I slept so badly, ugh it's going to be such a long day" - when really, you may have slept fine. This is called the nocebo effect, when your negative expectations have a negative reaction to a harmless stimulus.

If it told you you've slept fine, and you feel tired, it can lead to you not listening to or trusting your body’s signals - "What's wrong with me? It can't be sleep, my sleep was 94% last night". (What does that even mean?!?)⠀

- They aren't accurate. A lab based sleep test would measures brain waves, eye movement, oxygen in the blood, leg movement, breathing and heart rate. Sleep trackers measure noise/movement and/or heart rate, which is a basic educated guess.⠀

- WE CAN TELL IF WE'RE TIRED BY OURSELVES! In sleep studies, scientists in the absence of polysomnography, often use self report. Why? Because it's fairly accurate and closely correlated with real sleep test results! ⠀

- It could leave you obsessed with how to get good sleep, (orthosomnia) and this worry could have a negative impact on your sleep.⠀

- Health apps can't accurately break down the sleep stages. Even if it was accurate, what difference would it make? "I’m going to spend more time in stage 3 tonight"⠀

It doesn't quite work like that. Your body decides what it needs. And if you think you're missing deep sleep, the best way to promote it is good sleep hygiene... Which would have been the same advice, regardless of if you knew this info or not⠀


If you liked this piece or found it helpful, head over to the Head First Instagram page or give the Head First Podcast a listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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