Trust Your Feelings: Perception of Sleep Quality Outweighs Tracker Data, New Study Reveals

Young Woman Good Sleep

Recent research indicates that individuals’ perceptions of their sleep quality play a more significant role in their well-being than objective sleep measurements from tracking technology. The study found that when participants believed they slept well, they felt more positive emotions and greater life satisfaction the next day, regardless of the sleep tracker’s data.

New research from the University of Warwick suggests that individuals’ perceptions of their sleep are more influential on their well-being than data from sleep-tracking technology.

Across a two-week period, more than 100 participants, aged between 18 and 22, maintained a daily sleep journal. They noted details from the preceding night such as bedtime, the time they prepared to sleep, the duration it took them to drift off, wake-up time, the moment they got up, and their overall satisfaction with their sleep.

Five times throughout the following day, participants were asked to rate their positive and negative emotions and how satisfied they were with their life. Participants also wore an actigraph on their wrist which measures a person’s movement, for the duration of the study, to estimate their sleep patterns and rest cycles.

Researchers compared the actigraphy data with the participants’ perceptions of their sleep and how they felt throughout the following day. They wanted to find out how fluctuations in people’s usual sleep patterns and quality are related to their mood and life satisfaction the next day.

Lead author Dr. Anita Lenneis, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology, said: “Our results found that how young people evaluated their own sleep was consistently linked with how they felt about their well-being and life satisfaction.

“For example, when participants reported that they slept better than they normally did, they experienced more positive emotions and had a higher sense of life satisfaction the following day. However, the actigraphy-derived measure of sleep quality which is called sleep efficiency was not associated with the next day’s well-being at all.

“This suggests there is a difference between actigraphy-measured sleep efficiency and people’s own perception of their sleep quality in how they link to people’s evaluations of their well-being.”

Professor Anu Realo, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick added: “Our findings are consistent with our previous research that identified people’s self-reported health, and not their actual health conditions, as the main factor associated with their subjective well-being and especially with life satisfaction.

“It’s people’s perception of their sleep quality and not the actigraphy-based sleep efficiency which matters to their well-being.”

Overall, the study suggests that evaluating your sleep positively may contribute to a better mood on the next day.

“Even though a sleep tracking device might say that you slept poorly last night, your own perception of your sleep quality may be quite positive. And if you think that you slept well, it may help better your mood the next day,” Dr Lenneis added.

“On the contrary, if a sleep tracker tells you that you slept well, but you did not experience the night as such, this information may help you to reassess how well you actually slept. A sleep tracker offers information about your sleep which is typically not accessible whilst being asleep. So, it may improve your subjective perception of last night’s sleep and thereby your overall next day’s well-being.”

Reference: “The influence of sleep on subjective well-being: An experience sampling study” by Anita Lenneis, Ahuti Das-Friebel, Nicole K Y Tang, Adam N Sanborn, Sakari Lemola, Henrik Singmann, Dieter Wolke, Adrian von Mühlenen and Anu Realo, 3 August 2023, Emotion.
DOI: 10.1037/emo0001268

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