Is Your Fitness Tracker Inaccurate Regarding Sleep?

How did you sleep last night? Some people will turn to their Fitbit or device on their wrists almost immediately when you ask them. But just how much can you trust that device?


Sleep disorders are on the rise, and according to the National Sleep Foundation, about a 1/3 of Americans say their sleep quality is poor or fair. Some seek out the device to help them track their sleep better. However, the gold standard for sleep tracking is having a sleep study or polysomnography completed. But this is expensive and time consuming. Unfortunately it remains the best way.


According to two different journals, Sensors (2016) and Sleep(2015), they found that devices such as the Fitbit grossly overestimated or underestimated sleep for those with sleep problems when compared to polysomnography. This includes factors such as total sleep time and sleep efficiency. This was mainly for those with known sleep disorders. If you didn’t have a sleep disorder then the wrist devices were found to be more accurate.


I have heard this from my patients as well. They say they are just lying in bed, but their wrist monitor says they are asleep. Since these devices lack the reliability for people with sleep issues, it’s important to further question how they are doing. After all, it doesn’t really matter what the device says if you still feel tired and fatigued.


So how can you tell if you slept well?


The National Sleep Foundation put together a few simple ways to measure that.

  1. falling asleep in 30 minutes or under
  2. waking up for under 5 minutes once per night
  3. being asleep for 85 percent or more of the total time that you spend in bed
  4. being awake in the night for under 20 minutes

Also, how you feel when you wake up in the morning is an important factor. Waking up groggy, irritable, and unmotivated for your day are more signs your sleep was of poor quality. The feeling of wanting to take a nap, or taking a nap are additional signs your quantity and quality of sleep are poor. Feeling wide awake, alert shortly after waking, and being able to stay that way throughout the day is what you should aim for.


If you find your sleep adequate in quantity and quality for your age, but remain tired, fatigued, irritable, this may show something else is going on. There are many other reasons for being tired such as hypothyroidism and adrenal dysfunction that may need to be assessed by your health care provider.


So the next time someone asks you how well you slept, take a moment and think about how many times you woke up and how quickly you fell asleep. Turning to your wrist device will most likely give you an inaccurate results. Or you can bite their head off, and they may figure it out from your response.


What can you do to improve your sleep?

  • Relaxation Response: In as little as 4 weeks the relaxation response has been shown to improve sleep
  • Minimize or avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, certain medications.
  • Minimize tense and anxious activities such as reading stimulating materials, intense thought provoking conversations, going over finances
  • Set a sleep routine, and stick to that daily to help with your biological rhythm
  • Taking Magnesium can help. Click here to learn more.
  • Avoid blue lights or use the blue light filter on your phone, or better yet avoid your electronics in the evening
  • Have a sleep study performed
  • Additional Supplements such as 5-HTP, L-theanine, Taurine, Melatonin, valerian root, passionflower can help but discuss that with your doctor when taking to dose accordingly.
  • Consider functional medicine testing to look atthyroid function, adrenal function, blood sugar regulation, methylation, inflammation, and organic acids such as neurotransmitter metabolites to find an underlying cause for your sleep disruption

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