Sleeping With Garmin Made Me Feel Worse

For the last two nights I didn’t sleep with my Garmin smartwatch on my wrist. I feel better.

For over fifty years I slept every night without anything monitoring my sleep and I did perfectly fine. Somehow I convinced myself that because I have long COVID, I need to track my sleep more closely. In particular, I saw that the Visible app measures heart rate variability (HRV) and resting heart rate (RHR) and it uses those to determine if you are over-exerting yourself. I also read accounts online of a Garmin watch being able to detect COVID and measure long COVID recovery via HRV.

So I used my foggy brain to comb through the Garmin product line, which is no easy feat, and picked a Garmin vivoactive 5 smartwatch because it was one of the least expensive watches that report overnight HRV values. Once the watch arrived, I was excited to stop messing with the Visible app every morning.

The first day with the watch, I was resting on the couch, which is what helped me get better the most, and the watch buzzed and told me to get up and start moving. I understand it’s a “fitness,” not an “illness” watch, but still. I turned that off.

Over time it gave me some reasonable suggestions:

  • get sunshine during the day
  • don’t do stressful things before bed
  • don’t take too many or too long naps
  • get some exercise (although long COVID patients have to be very careful)

Before bed I did the tranquility breathwork activity and fell asleep immediately. I was impressed. The watch was helping me sleep!

(Later I learned what Garmin calls “tranquility” breathwork is a technique called 4-7-8 breathing. The watch provided a warm up with 3-6-6 for a few minutes, then 4-6-7, and finally to 4-7-8. You definitely don’t need a watch to help you do this, but the buzzes on my wrist felt kind of nice.)

Each morning the watch would give me a report on my sleep. Using some of the strategies the watch recommended, my sleep score improved! Then the tide started to turn.

The watch kept detecting naps when I wasn’t actually sleeping. There’s no way to tell it I wasn’t sleeping, but later it would reprimand me for sleeping too much during the day.

Then I noticed that I would sleep perfectly fine, but the watch would say I slept poorly. I shook it off, but then that kept happening again and again and I started to be concerned it was right. If I woke up in the night, I started thinking about what the watch thought of that. In the morning, when I first woke up, rather than waking up slowly, I was always curious what my watch thought about my sleep that night.

After wearing the watch for 3 weeks, it started telling me if my overnight HRV was “balanced” or not. As soon as it started reporting that, it said I was unstable and that I should rest more. Then one morning I looked at the graph and my HRV had fallen (which is “bad”) for four days in row. Furthermore, my RHR, which it also measures during sleep, had risen for the last three days. Both of these are supposed to be signs that my body is out of balance and that I should rest more. Fortunately I was able to just pay attention to my body, ignoring the watch, and I realized that I slept well and felt good. I continued feeling good for more than a week. Clearly those were not numbers I needed to be concerned about.

I asked some other folks with long COVID about this and they suggested taking the watch off at night. Then I did some searching and found othrosomnia, a condition where you deny you slept well because your watch told you so.

The first night with the watch off, I noticed that when I woke in the night, my attention immediately went to my left wrist. Anything that grabs my attention during sleep can’t be good. The second night I slept great.

So no more watch at night. I know it has only been two nights so far, but I did sleep for over 18,000 nights before this without a watch and seemed to do fine.

I am still debating whether the watch stays on during the day…