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6: Sleep Trackers

Jul 02, 2019

Does that expensive sleep tracker on your wrist work? Probably not. At least, not the way you think it does. Sleep specialist Dr. Kelly Baron shares her professional opinion on sleep devices. Also, what to do if you step on a rusty nail, it’s all downhill at age 27, and a new video game addiction recognized by WHO.

Episode Transcript

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Does Your Sleep Tracker Actually Work?

Do you use some device to track your sleep? Ever wondered about how accurate the graphs and scores are? Dr. Kelly Batron is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in sleep medicine. She has been conducting research into these devices and shares her professional opinions on sleep trackers.

Sleep Gadgets Are Not the Same as a Sleep Study

Dr. Baron likes sleep tech. She likes that it gets people interested in their sleep and actively trying to improve it. But when it comes to the results they produce, she feels they may cause more stress than anything.

Many sleep gadgets will give you a "pretty graph" showing not only how much sleep you had, but the sleep stages as well. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research based evidence to these readings.

In fact, the data these graphs provide often look nothing like those found in medical sleep studies. A sleep study uses electrodes placed on the patients scalp. Doctors will look at the EEG or brain wave readings to determine whether or not a person is in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Sleep doctors will usually see short cycles of REM that slowly increase over the night - a pattern that most sleep gadgets fail to show.

A lot of devices often overestimate or underestimate the different types of sleep. For example, if your device tells you that you are not getting enough deep sleep, that may be normal. Many men as they get older get little to no deep sleep at night, that's normal. Furthermore, if you go to a doctor because you aren't getting enough deep sleep, you may be out of luck. There is no medical intervention to increase deep sleep.

Use Your Gadgets as "Time in Bed Monitors"

According to Dr. Baron, these sleep devices work best as "time in bed monitors." We're all guilty of staying up past our bedtimes. Whether it be watching one more show on Netflix or doing that last bit of work. Those small indulgences are holding you back from a good night's sleep.

20 minutes. 20 minutes more of sleep is all it takes to see real improvements in your health. Getting to bed just a little bit earlier has been linked to reducing blood pressure, improving alertness, and increasing physical performance.

Dr. Baron has been using a sleep tracker for the past four years as a part of her studies. What did she find from all that time of tracking? That if she stayed up past 10:30pm, she'd be tired the next day.

Instead of relying on the specific sleep stages, use your device to track the general amount of time you were asleep and make a goal to get more each night. That will do more for your health than stressing over the minutiae of the unreliable sleep stages.

The Gadgets Can Still Be Good and Are Getting Better

As the technology continues to improve, we may one day have an ideal sleep app. One that uses things like oxygen sensors, thermometers, and heart monitors to make the readings more reliable. As well as new algorithms based on real sleep research. Sleep gadgets in the future may be able to help diagnose sleep apnea and other serious problems. But right now, the tech isn't there.

So your sleep tracker may not actually be as accurate as the device manufacturers claim, but they can still be a great tool to use as you aim to improve your health. Dr. Baron explains that the best way to get a better night's sleep is to improve your mental relationship with sleep. A sleep tracker is a great way to get a person thinking about their sleep and gamifying the habit to make it fun.

Remember, all it takes is getting to bed 20 minutes earlier to see real health benefits.

ER or Not: Stepped on a Rusty Nail

Maybe you were out hiking or doing some construction work on your home, but you have managed to step on a rusty nail. Should you rush to the emergency room? Troy says there's two major things to consider:

First, when was the last time you had your tetanus booster? Tetanus is very serious and it's the top concern for doctors in this situation. If you are even a little unsure if you've had a tetanus booster in the past five years, see a doctor. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Secondly, with any injury that pierces through a shoe, doctor's are concerned about a bacterial infection. There is an especially nasty type of bacteria called pseudomonas that lives in warm moist environments like your shoes. Your physician will probably prescribe a course of antibiotics to prevent an infection from forming.

While the risk for tetanus and infection is serious, stepping on a nail doesn't require immediate treatment. It can be treated at a clinic or instacare within 24 hours of the injury. No need to rush to the ER unless the injury itself is serious.

Study Shows Health Begins to Decline at Age 27. Really.

When does the average person's health really start declining? 50 years old? Maybe 40? Well a new study out by Blue Cross Blue Shield shows that most people begin to see a decline in health starting at age 27. That means the health habits you form now can really have an impact later.

The study looked at insured individuals between the ages of 21-36, looking for any trends in health conditions. They found increases in a few serious conditions starting at age 27:

  • Type 2 Diabetes increased by 22%
  • Heart disease including hypertension and high cholesterol increased 15%
  • Major depression cases increased by 31%

These increases can be caused by weight gain, a lack of activity, and other poor health habits that tend to form during the major changes in life during adulthood. The good news is that most of these conditions are not permanent. Lifestyle changes and seeking professional help can go a long way in improving.

The study also found that 83% of those interviewed actually believed they were in good health. This perception is quite different than the reality. Knowing the reality of your health is vital to your longevity. Much like the "turning point" wake-up calls shared in this show, speak with your doctor, get tests run, and start caring about your health.

Finally, the study found that mental health issues made up around 40% of all the conditions reported. When you're looking at your health, don't neglect your mental wellbeing. Don't be embarrassed to talk about it or seek help, even if it's just an inkling that something feels off. Most insurance plans and some employers provide mental health support. Take advantage of it. Your mental health is worth taking care of.

If you'd like to read the study yourself: Millennial Health - The Decline Starts at 27

Just Going to Leave This Here

On this episode's Just Going to Leave This Here, Scot bemoans how quiet mens' rooms are and Troy shares a new disorder recognized by the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified "Gaming Disorder" as a new condition for diagnosis. This diagnosis describes individuals who are suffering from a long term addiction to video games. Individuals with Gaming Disorder find that their gaming habit interferes with their ability to do daily tasks, impacts their relationships, sleep, and performance in school and work. The WHO requires these addictive tendencies must have lasted over a year to be considered Gaming Disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association has yet formally identify Gaming Disorder or include it in their DSM. However the WHO's report will hopefully get the ball rolling on further investigation into potential treatment.

If you're experiencing any sort of addictive behavior, even video games, it's nothing to laugh about. Seek professional help.

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