Do health apps offer wellness solutions or do they exacerbate our health problems?

In the age of smartphones, we can now manage and even improve our health on our portable devices. Whether you have mental health issues, want to improve your physical health with your exercise regimen, or are looking to get a better night’s sleep, there’s a wide selection of apps to turn to for help. ‘aid.

Apps range from guided meditation to comprehensive running plans, and they can even track your sleep and mood. But do they do more harm than good?

Could sleep apps make our sleep worse?

Some of the most innovative uses of health technology are apps that track our sleep. Whether you’re using your cell phone or a smartwatch, you can track how long you’ve slept, how long you’ve been in deep and REM sleep, and even set an alarm to wake you up in your lightest sleep phase (this which turned out to be the easiest time to wake up).

Many of these apps are designed to help us sleep better by waking us up at the right time and providing information about how we are currently sleeping. But, conversely, they could make our insomnia worse – or even trigger the insomnia in the first place.

Dr. Guy Leschziner, a specialist in sleep disorders, says these apps make us anxious and obsessed with sleep, which negatively impacts our ability to sleep well. If these apps tell us that we had a bad night’s sleep, it acts like a placebo and makes us behave as if we slept badly, even though we didn’t. They also don’t offer much actionable assistance, just offering data on how well we slept the night before.

Fitness apps put too much pressure on people

Similar to sleep trackers, wearable technology has given us insight into our physical performance. We can track our running progress with our improved time and speed, and even see our energy expenditure throughout the day, with prompts to move if we’ve been standing still for too long.

These apps and devices are designed to be motivating, but can make us feel worse about ourselves. The Digital Health Generation survey found that young people felt “anxiety and dread” when using these apps. He also noted that they can lead to unhealthy and obsessive behaviors such as excessive and dangerous calorie restriction.

While these apps can help us track progress, it’s important not to overuse them. They can help us understand if we’re not active enough during the day, but they can cause us to feel guilty and, as a result, obsessively exercise.

Are mental health apps stopping you from seeking real support?

Mental health apps, like Calm and Headspace, are almost as common on our devices as Facebook and Twitter. Research has shown that the 15 most popular mental health apps were downloaded more than a million times between February and May 2020, as the lockdown took a toll on our mental wellbeing.

These apps have been criticized for their lack of scientific evidence, with academics criticizing studies that claim they are effective. Some used a small sample, while others focused on people who weren’t receiving mental health treatment, meaning they couldn’t conclude that these apps helped people manage health issues. mental existing.

Another issue highlighted by psychologist Chris Noone is that these apps can prevent people from seeking professional support for their mental health issues. Although some users may see improvements while using these apps, they are not a substitute for personalized assistance from trained experts.

Are all health apps bad?

While it’s clear that some health apps can aggravate the issues they’re designed to address, they may have a place in our lives. However, these apps should never be used as stand-alone solutions to medical problems.

Apps like sleep monitors and fitness trackers can help us identify a problem, but they alone aren’t the solution. If you feel tired throughout the day, for example, a sleep tracker can help you identify that you are waking up frequently during the night. Likewise, a mental health app can help you track your mood, identify triggers, and offer instant meditation exercises, but formal therapy, with the help of private medical coverage, and medication can be required.

The apps are best used in conjunction with professional medical care. After using them to identify patterns, you can show your GP the information that identifies stress as a cause of sleep deprivation, and they can then provide you with the right treatments. Monitor your use of these apps and be aware that they could trigger or exacerbate obsessive and anxious behaviors and prevent you from talking to your GP.

As technology has become more advanced, we now have access to medical assistance at our fingertips. And while health apps can be helpful in helping us identify patterns or giving us the opportunity to take a mindful break, they’re not the solution to our health problems. Instead, they should be used sparingly to support professional medical diagnosis and treatment.

image credit: tommaso1979/

Jonjo Hancock-Fell works at private health coverage provider, Westfield Health.