Ep 29. 5 Hidden Downsides to Sleep Tracking During Insomnia

May 15, 2024

Do sleep trackers really help?

Should I even be using one?

Could I be sabotaging my sleep in a quest to improve it?

After coaching hundreds of people out of insomnia, I have the answer to those questions.

And it’s not what you might think.

In this episode of the Mind. Body. Sleep.™ I share 5 big reasons I don’t use sleep tracking as a tool to overcome insomnia.

Tune in to learn:

  • why sleep tracking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
  • how it can make sleep anxiety worse
  • The #1 reason it doesn’t help for insomnia

If you’re struggling with insomnia, chances are you’ve considered tracking your sleep.

Tune in to gain insight into the relationship between sleep tracking and insomnia.



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About Beth Kendall MA, FNTP:

For decades, Beth struggled with the relentless grip of insomnia. After finally understanding insomnia from a mind-body perspective, she changed her relationship with sleep, and completely recovered. Liberated from the constant worry of not sleeping, she’s on a mission to help others recover as well. Her transformative program Mind. Body. Sleep.™ has been a beacon of light for hundreds of others seeking solace from sleepless nights.


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5 Hidden Downsides to Sleep Tracking for Insomnia

Hello everyone and welcome to the episode. We are talking all about sleep tracking today and whether this is a good idea, or not so good idea.


Expressing Gratitude


But before we get going, I want to give a huge gratitude of thanks to any of my listeners or students who have left a rating or review for the podcast. I hadn’t gone onto my Apple dashboard in a while because I make a point not to get too looped into my numbers for much the same reasons I’m going to talk to you about today with regards to sleep, so this could actually be an interesting analogy to tie in today. But I hadn’t checked my dashboard for a while and then when I did recently, I saw these super sweet reviews from people I may never even get a chance to meet and that really means a lot to me.


Sharing a Personal Mission


My mission with this podcast to bring more awareness to how we are defining insomnia and helping people through it because when I was going through it, it was so hard to find help, in fact, I really couldn’t find any true help, which made it an incredibly lonely thing to experience. And I genuinely believe that with just a few key insights into sleep and how insomnia happens, we can truly transform the landscape in terms of helping and supporting people through insomnia.


And if you want to know more about my approach and my perspective, you can go back to episode 1 where I talk about my 3 core philosophies and also episodes 18 which talks about insomnia and the perceived danger connection.


Is Sleep Tracking the Solution?


Okay, so let’s dive into today’s discussion on sleep tracking because it’s definitely a subject that comes up a lot with my students, and it’s one that I always wondered about as well. I’m going to share a perspective with you today that I wish I would have heard when I was in the place where many of you are right now because it’s not a viewpoint that’s widely held, but it is my hope that it contributes to your recovery in some meaningful way. Top of Form


Sleep tracking is a pretty common practice for people going through insomnia, and this can be for a lot reasons.


Maybe you’re getting help from a cbti therapist, and this was a recommended course of action, or maybe you’re keeping some sort of diary out of concern for your sleep and want a better picture of what’s going on with your sleep patterns. Maybe you’re using a device like an Apple Watch or an aura ring and that’s how you’re monitoring your sleep. The methods for tracking sleep can vary pretty widely, from the traditional pen-and-paper route to the plethora of digital tools we have available today for monitoring our biology.


For the purposes of this conversation, I don’t think it really matters how you might be tracking sleep as much as it does the underlying intention beneath it.


Now, let me start by saying that I have not found sleep tracking to be a helpful approach for insomnia both personally or professionally. And I’m going to outline five big reasons I believe this to be true during our episode today. I am I’m going to touch on a few caveats around this towards the end of the episode, so do stay tuned until the end.


The Pitfalls of Sleep Tracking: 5 Things to Consider


So, let’s talk about the first reason:


1. Lack of Accuracy


The first reason I don’t think that tracking sleep is helpful for people with insomnia is due to a lack of accuracy. Whether you’re manually tracking your sleep or relying on a wearable device, the data that you get may not be particularly accurate. I think the latest study I came across suggested that the most popular wearable trackers are only about 60-70 percent accurate. And there are so many variables that come into play around this, right? What if you're a restless sleeper and you move around a lot? How does alcohol play into the big picture? What is the impact of exercise or how do underlying health conditions factor in? Whatever data is generated by sleep trackers is based on algorithms that don’t yet have the ability to consider the nuanced circumstances of each individual person.



And if you’re manually tracking sleep, this, too, can also be a bit challenging. Because how do you really know when you fell asleep exactly? Or how do you access the quality of your sleep when you’re actually sleeping? This is all going to be pretty subjective based on your own thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of sleep.


So, a lot of it just isn’t super accurate. But this in no way is the most detrimental reason not to track your sleep, so let’s move on to the second reason…


2. Pressure and Performance Anxiety


The second reason I shy away from the use of sleep tracking when you have insomnia is because it creates pressure and performance anxiety, right — two of the very things that can keep us from being able to sleep In fact, the increased amount of focus and attention on sleep can actually lead to insomnia. So even if sleep has always been a relatively passive process in your life, the transition from effortlessness to achievement (which is typically the goal with sleep tracking) can start to put some unconscious pressure on the whole situation. Which ultimately leads to more hyperarousal and subsequent sleeplessness.


An achievement-oriented mindset towards sleep can really throw you because with all of the data provided by sleep trackers and the many deeply ingrained myths we hold around sleep like the 8-hour rule, combined with the near constant mainstream messaging urging us to improve our sleep, the mind can easily start to fixate on a sleep "ideal." And then if we fall short of these perceived ideals, or view ourselves as inadequate in any way, we can find ourselves trapped in the cycle of chasing sleep which later becomes insomnia.

And if this is something that’s happened to you, definitely do not blame yourself because the intention behind all of this is good. There is nothing wrong with wanting be healthy and take good care of yourself, this is something that is super important for me, too. But a lot of the things that we apply to other areas of life just don’t work as well for sleep, so that’s where it gets a little dicey and why education is so important.


Okay, so let us move on to the third reason…


3. The Myth of Perfect Sleep


The third reason I don’t think tracking sleep is helpful for insomnia is because it can feed the obsession that there IS such a thing as perfect sleep. And this sort of ties in with the concept of creating sleep ideals. But a lot of times what I see with insomnia is the tendency to start buying into the idea that there is such a thing as perfect sleep. And then if sleep doesn’t fit into the parameters we have in our mind about what it should look like in order to be considered okay, then this can evolve into a sense of failure, so we feel like we’re failing.


But what’s interesting about this, is sometimes the pursuit of perfect sleep becomes something we never even had before insomnia. So we have an exaggerated idea in our minds about what sleep should look like and what everyone else’s sleep looks like when that might not be the case at all.


I still have a rough night a couple times a month sometimes more than that where sleep isn’t the best and most people I know experience this to some degree, so there really is no such thing as perfect sleep.


Okay, we’re moving on to the fourth reason, and this is an important one that centers on one of my core philosophies which centers on the concept that sleep as a passive process. As long as we remain human, sleep will always will be a passive process. I know I say this a lot but it is what makes sleep, sleep and that’s the great beauty it.


4. Control vs. Surrender


I can only imagine what life would be if this simple biological process was something that needed to be earned or achieved, right? That would be so exhausting.  As it stands, the only requirement needed for sleep is sleep drive which is driven by wakefulness. So as long as you’ve been awake for a period of time, you have everything you need to sleep. It’s so simple.


Whenever I help people get back on course, it’s because their minds have started going back into the fixing orientation. We unintentionally start putting sleep into the hands of all of these external factors. And this is where the hamster wheel gets going again because we start trying to manage all of these outside influences that can affect sleep which is not only exhausting, but also possible because sleep is always going to be an inside job.


5. Disconnection from Self


Okay, so the final reason I’m not sold on sleep tracking for insomnia is because it takes us away from our true selves and robs us of the opportunity to develop an awareness of how we feel outside of a number.


You know, it’s not unlike losing your inner compass due to things like GPS systems. I have literally had the experience of having more faith in my phones GPS system, then I do in my own mind and the building I’m staring at. So, I will bypass my own intelligence in favor of a phone telling me I’m at the wrong destination.


So, you don’t need a number to dictate how you’re going to perceive your life and what you’re going to believe about your sleep because you can decide those things based on how you actually feel.


Going back to the caveats I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, I’ve had a few students say, “But Beth, what if tracking my sleep is actually helping me?” What if its reminding me that my sleep is better or getting better than I think it is, so then becomes a positive reinforcement of recovery?


And you know, I am not a coach that thinks there is a singular right way to recover from insomnia which is why I incorporate so many different methods and approaches into my approach. So if something feels right for you, then definitely follow that.


But I’ll offer that as far as the pendulum swings in one direction, so can it swing in the other. So as good as we feel about the state of our sleep on one end of the spectrum, we can also feel equally on the other end of the spectrum. And when you think about what we’re returning to and what I would consider the true nature of sleep is this state of neutrality or equanimity. Where there are no labels or measurements or grades, it’s just SLEEP.


And another thing I’ll offer here is just having an awareness of your own brain. Like I said earlier, I personally do not go on my podcast dashboard and look at numbers partially (Sharon) and get too looped into numbers because I know my brain and it will probably start assigning all kinds of meaning to these numbers that isn’t even true. So I just trust my own process and my life and that is a much better compass for me than letting numbers dictate my reality.




So let’s do a quick recap on the five reasons I don’t think it’s helpful to track your sleep when you have insomnia:

 1. It’s not super accurate: whether you’re tracking sleep yourself, or using a digital device, data is always going to be filtered through the either the lens of your own perceptions or the algorithm neither of which are completely accurate.


  1. It creates pressure and performance anxiety: while the intention is good, daily monitoring of sleep can create a lot of unconscious pressure even when things are going well.


  1. Leads to unrealistic ideals: it feeds the idea that there is such a thing as perfect sleep. And this can keep us in a state of striving towards something that doesn’t exist.


  1. It contributes to the idea that sleep is a controllable process: this is really important because this is often the shift in our relationship with sleep that leads to insomnia.


  1. It takes us away from who we are: we can literally start to think that a sleep tracker knows more about how we feel than we do ourselves.


I hope that something here was helpful. Thanks for joining me today. I’m Beth Kendall and this is the Mind. Body. Sleep. podcast. Bye for now…

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