It seems everyone these days is wearing something on their body to collect data about their health. There are numerous types and brands of devices on the market today, and it can be overwhelming to pick the one that will best meet your needs. Here are a few pros and cons to consider when making the leap into wearable wanderlust.
Pro: They can help you to meet your health related goals
If you are motivated by data, wearable technology can provide great feedback about how much progress (or lack thereof) you are making. This can be helpful information to provide at your next doctor’s visit. Dr. Julia Chen, Primary Care Physician at Michigan Medicine, agrees. She has seen an uptick in patients wearing these devices. In her practice, she finds these devices are “helpful in setting a concrete goal, such as number of steps per day or hours of sleep. Patients also enjoy looking at their information over time to see if they are making progress.”
Pro: The technology to track sleep is getting better
Many people choose to purchase a wearable because they want more information about how they sleep. The ability of wearables to measure sleep accurately has historically been fraught with inaccuracies. The number of studies comparing commercial grade wearable devices to medical grade accelerometers (e.g. actigraphy) and to the gold standard polysomnography (PSG) (a sleep study) has skyrocketed over the past few years, but there is still room for improvement. Fortunately, Zansors is leading the way in this area and will likely take wearable sleep technology to the next level.
Con: Be careful of interpreting your data if you have sleep disturbance or depression
If you are a good sleeper, wearables can be accurate for some measures, but may not be so accurate if you have insomnia or major depression. Some devices are a bit misleading when informing the user about how much “light” or “deep sleep” they get, and sleep scientists say that there’s normal motor activity that occurs during the night users are unaware of. Because of this, it’s important to remember that the wearable devices on the market today might underestimate how much sleep you actually get.
Con: Now what? Finding help to interpret your health data
Nicole Stout, DPT, CLT-LANA, Vice President Medical Affairs from Zansors, tells us that health is what happens between our doctor’s visits. Wearables can definitely provide data about our health that can be important to communicate with our doctor. But who should help guide us between visits?
Unfortunately, doctors are strapped for time. Primary care physicians are busier than ever these days and in some cases are only able to spend a few minutes with each patient. It may be difficult to fit in your questions about the data from your wearable, when you also have to discuss other health issues like medications or a new pain you’ve discovered in your side for example. In this situation, finding a support from a health coach or other allied health provider might be helpful. A health coach might be someone to provide support, perspective on your wearable data, or help you maintain your health related goals between doctor’s visits.
In summary, there are a number of wearables on the market today that are providing individuals with important health data that may improve quality of life. However, technology is evolving. It is important to keep perspective on this data. Focusing on how you feel each day might be the best barometer. Dr. Chen says, “I try to remind patients to focus on how they feel, because the information from wearables is not perfect. The device may show some restless sleep, but if they feel recharged, then that is what counts.”
Deirdre A. Conroy, PhD, Integrative Nutrition and Sleep Medicine, is a sleep psychologist board certified by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. She works as a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, MI. She also provides integrative nutrition health coaching at Happy Healthy Rested, PLLC. You can follow her on Twitter @hhrhealthcoach.