Diet & Nutrition

Sleep apps may leave you sleepless, health experts warn

For many people with sleep disorders sleep apps can leave them so anxious they can't sleep at all

If you just answered 'yes' and you are one of the 1.2 million Australians with a sleep disorder, this app may be causing you more harm than good, health experts at the Sleep Health Foundation today reveal.
These apps, which monitor how many hours of shut-eye a person has each night, can leave those suffering from insomnia or sleep apnea so anxious they won’t sleep at all.
"Pouring over data on your sleep can be fun and may even shed some light on how you sleep, but there can be a downside," says Dr Siobhan Banks, a Senior Researcher at the Sleep Health Foundation.
“These monitors might give you false reassurance or worse still, more anxiety about not getting 'enough' sleep that can lead to yet more troubles with sleeping."
In the past year, sleep apps have risen in popularity astronomically, with Sleep Cycle and Sleep Time+ taking spots in the top 10 paid health and fitness apps in the Apple App Store.
These apps use the in-built accelerometer from Androids and iPhones to measure the movements a person makes once their head hits the pillow to estimate the amount of time and quality of their sleep.
And in an era when many of us fail to get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night - app or no app - experts warn we will pay the price in poorer health, wider waistbands, lower moods and shorter lives unless we find a way to change our habits.
"The evidence in favour of sleep is so clear," Danny Eckert, senior research fellow at Neuroscience Australia and associate professor at the University of NSW tells The Weekly.
Part of this is because while we’re sleeping, neuroscientists have found the brain goes into personal organiser mode, filing away information, making new connections and throwing away rubbish we don't need.
Long term, if we don't get enough sleep, brain cells can become poisoned and die and "rubbish" can accumulate, meaning the brain may essentially age prematurely.
And even in the short term, says Prof Eckert, research has shown sleep deprivation can raise young people’s blood sugar levels to pre-diabetic levels in the space of a week.
It's not only your brain that's busy; your body also switches into caretaker mode, producing growth hormone, repairing muscle, building bone, breaking down sugars and boosting skin elasticity. Your whole body is being scanned, repaired and rebooted.
So if you suffer from a sleep disorder but are trying to get those precious eight hours, proceed to the App Store with caution.
And here are five ways to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Try to put yourself to bed at the same time each night. The body has an internal clock and hormones which control sleepiness and wakefulness, which works best if there is a regular routine.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, exercise, televisions and all Apple devices in the lead-up to bedtime.
  • Set aside a "worry time" during the evening to think over the day and plan the next. Spend the hour before bed winding down.
  • Don't go to bed starving or too full, and eat your dinner at least two hours before bedtime. A small snack just before bed does help some people sleep better.
  • Only use your bed for sleep and intimacy, as you won’t link it with sleep if you laze about watching TV or using the computer on it.

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