I was using a sleep app to track and monitor my sleep pattern for over 6 months when iOS 7 launched with health kit. The first few days or rather a few weeks were fun and interesting. I got insights into how my body had rested and I was able understand how my body would react to a stress or a workout(cycling, running, etc) the following day. All that data was interesting to analyse and understand. Sometimes there were odd days, where one would notice that the day goes really well, despite the fact that sleep was hardly 4 hours or so. As weeks and months passed, the initial enthusiasm died and I wasn’t analysing the data anymore. I still tracked my sleep, but didn’t just look into the data in the morning. I did this for over two months, one fine day I realised that the sleep tracking didn’t change anything about how I lived my life for the past two months. That got me thinking and I came up with some questions. Some questions I should have asked before I set out to start tracking my sleep. The questions were
- What is the point of this tracking?
How accurate is this sleep tracking?
If I could spend $2 to know everything about my sleep, then what are those expensive equipments in an actual sleep lab?
Is this sleep tracking really worth the effort?
I started digging around articles and forums on the internet. Its no surprise that the apps are some what beneficial (yes they track the time you spent in bed 😀, the movements yes, but sleep not really 😡) but they aren’t completely reliable and they aren’t accurate at all. Here is what I learned.
Any sleep tracking app does two things well, they tell the duration of the time spent in the bed, and they can record the movements in the bed. Both these aspects deal with the quantitative aspect of sleep. If only these quantitative aspects can give us insights into how our brain works and recovers, we all can be geniuses soon.
Sleep quality defines how the body works and not the time you spent in your bed rolling around, and these apps/motion trackers can hardly measure that.I would say it is just marketing speech for these apps and devices.
Here is an excerpt from a researched, guardian article
“Anything that allows you to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning is what you should be aiming for, which is generally between six and nine hours,” explained Dr Irshaad Ebrahim from the London Sleep Centre. “But it’s not all about time, it’s about the quality of the sleep, whether you complete sleep cycles.”
As to using motion trackers to measure sleep, he said: “They’re not measuring sleep, simply motion – not muscle tone, brain waves, heart rate or eye movement. You cannot infer quality of sleep from motion and tell what is crucial REM [rapid eye movement] sleep and what is not. People can become obsessed about their sleep through these gadgets doing them a disservice, worrying about it and in turn getting less decent sleep and having a negative impact.”
Here is more from a Ph.d candidate in neuroscience. Don’t forget to read the full article.
About every 90 minutes, we slip into REM, which is characterized by EEG waves that resemble wake, whole-body muscle paralysis, and—yes—rapid movement of the eyes. In the end, a pretty little roadmap of one’s night’s sleep, called a hypnogram, can be generated. It looks a little something like the image
…which is exactly what apps like Sleep Cycle and Sleep Time attempt to create for you.
Except that, without precise electrophysiological measures, the apps’ premise is fundamentally flawed.
So I stopped my sleep tracking. What a blissful feeling to not take your phone to your bed every night and not worry about iCloud backups in the morning. Yeah, iCloud doesn’t back up data when the sleep tracking app is running at night and you have to manually start the iCloud backup every morning if you care about iCloud backup like me.
We all had good life even before the onset of activity trackers and sleep apps. Lets not forget that. Humans are predictable and are a creature of habits. Just create a routine of an hour of workout and a regular habit of getting into bed at the same time everyday. In just a couple of weeks you will start feeling the improvements of a good sleep and your body and mind will thank you for the good habits 😀.