Insomnia and Technology: Helpful or Not?

Sleep and insomnia are one of the most posted topics on Moodsurfing!  Just try typing “sleep” onto our search box and see how many posts come up.  Sleep is one of the basic building blocks of health and management of mood swings.  And sleep is problematic for many, many people.

So what is the best way to deal with insomnia?  Moodsurfing recommends Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which is a method of working out specific ways of behaving that enable lasting change.  The disadvantage is that it usually requires working with a therapist, which can be expensive if not covered by insurance.  One helpful option is SHUTi: Sleep Healthy Using the internet, an online program that can be completed individually for much less cost.

Other options for treating insomnia include medications, which work well in the short term, but may have significant side effects and long term problems, such as dependency.  There are also a wide variety of “tips and tricks” such as drinking warm milk before bed, limiting screen time in the evenings, using the bed only for sleep, not for reading or answering emails and texts, and so forth.  Many of these do work well for many people, and can be used without significant investment.

Sleep apps are a rapidly growing sector of the market, and more of them are coming out than we have time or ability to carefully review.  Some cell-phone based and wearable apps work for some people, but results may vary.  In general, keep in mind that these apps may or may not have received any scientific review, and there may be apps on the market that are only there for profit-making.

Recently, therapists and practitioners have begun to warn about the phenomenon of people relying on their sleep apps or wearable devices even in the teeth of scientific evidence or other medical advice.  Therapists have begun seeing people coming in to complain of insomnia as reported by their sleep apps who did not show symptoms of insomnia in other situations or by other measurements.  There seems to be an idea about “proper” sleep that has created a standard that people believe they are not meeting.

In spite of not being able to validate the sleep app data, patients tended to rely on the app and be reluctant to delete it.  Perhaps an app gives a sense of control over otherwise unavailable information, or perhaps people just feel more comfortable with the idea that technology can quantify aspects of their lives that previously were not quantified.

Whatever the explanation, there is reason to be cautious about the use of newly available sleep apps and devices.  Some people find them helpful and find that they sleep better when using a device of this nature, but it is not inevitable that the app will have a positive effect.