Do you get enough good quality sleep at night? The reality is, you may think you know the answer to this question, but there’s a good chance that you’re wrong.
Lack of sleep can so distort both our cognitive and motor skills, that sleep specialists often liken it to imbibing alcohol. After a few drinks, you may believe you’re still as sharp as ever, but in reality, your reflexes are slower, your reasoning is off, and your judgment may be impaired, even if you’re not actually drunk. The same is true for sleep deprivation. Even if you acknowledge that you feel tired, you may still think that you’re functioning at normal levels, but in fact, be suffering serious deficits that could be life threatening. Next time you’re exhausted but reach for the car keys, keep in mind that some 100,000 car accidents each year are caused by someone falling asleep at the wheel, resulting in 1,500 fatalities.
Poor sleep can impact all aspects of your life, from your physical health, to your ability to learn and retain information, to the quality of your relationships. An at home sleep “check-up” can help you determine whether you’re getting enough high quality sleep for a high quality life.
What can you learn about yourself from a sleep study? Perhaps the biggest revelation will be quantifying the difference between the time spent lying in bed awake compared to actual sleep time. Joseph Kvedar, MD, who is director of the Center for Connected Health, explains, “Eight hours in bed does not equal eight hours of sleep. A lot of that time could have been spent in a wakeful state, trying to fall asleep or fall back to sleep.”
The vast majority of sleep trackers — whether they are wearable devices, or devices placed near the bed, or in the bed — work by monitoring activity. The basic assumption is, the more you move around, the less likely it is that you’re sleeping. Conversely, little or no movement suggests that you are in a state of “deep sleep.” And some movement suggests that you are in one of the earlier or lighter stages of sleep.
Dr. Kvedar notes that a tracker is not only useful to measure the quantity of sleep, but is essential for assessing the quality of sleep, “A tracker can show you how much deep sleep versus light sleep you get on a given night, which is critical information. Sleep cycles vary from one individual to another, but we all require a good deal of deep sleep, and if we’re not getting enough, we need to know why.”
Even if you are already aware that you sleep poorly, the right tracker may help you figure out the cause of your problem:
- Sleep Cycle, an app that tracks sleep, provides an easy to use sleep diary that helps you detect lifestyle or environmental factors that could be interfering with your sleep.
- Sleepbot, an app for your smartphone, not only tracks your sleep patterns, but records ambient sound during the night. This information enables you to see if a sleep disturbance is caused by outside noise (like a car alarm) or a partner who snores.
- Activity trackers that do double duty as sleep trackers, like Fitbit and Up by Jawbone, provide one dashboard that enables users to correlate other data, like activity levels, weight or calorie consumption, with sleep quality.
Although commercial sleep monitors can’t diagnose the cause of sleep disturbances, Dr. Kvedar says their real value may be in alerting you to a problem which can help you take the appropriate action, “If you have a normal sleep cycle but just aren’t sleeping long enough, you know what’s needed — more sleep! If, on the other hand, your sleep cycle is off, it might be a good idea to consult a physician.”