do I need a sleep tracker

Do I Need: A Sleep Tracker?

do-i-need-a-sleep-tracker

The other day I noticed an advert on Facebook, advertising sleep trackers.  I thought, do I need a sleep tracker?  Does anyone need a sleep tracker?

I read a bit more, to find out what the sleep tracker was all about to see if I had missed the point of it, or if there was some useful and practical function I had overlooked.

The sleep tracker in question claimed to let me know when I fell asleep, when I woke up, and when I tossed and turned in the night.  It also claimed to correlate external factors such as temperature, humidity, and the impact of external noises on my sleep, such as a car alarm going off, with my sleep pattern and quality.  I don’t know about you, but this started to ring some alarm bells with me.

I am fairly technologically savvy.  I have my laptop, my smart phone and my digital camera, which I love and hate in equal measures.  Certain things elude me like WhatsApp and Snapchat, and don’t even ask me how to work our TV box.  What I am saying is I am no Luddite, but I’m definitely of the opinion that technology should probably have peaked some time ago, certainly before we got to the point where companies are trying to sell us sleep trackers.

My distrust of sleep trackers stems from three and a half decades of trying to get the most sleep as possible, or trying to function on as little sleep as possible.  I’m pretty sure this qualifies me as some kind of sleep expert.

Here are the things I know about sleep:

  • If a car alarm goes off, it will wake me and I will curse loudly and wish a plague on whoever’s house the car belongs to.
  • If the neighbourhood cats and/or dogs start fighting, it will wake me and there will be profanities.
  • If my partner starts snoring or talking in his sleep, it will wake me and I will elbow him in the ribs until he stops.
  • If the phone goes in the night, even if it’s the wrong number, I will assume the worst, and then not be able to sleep for the rest of the night for worrying about everyone I’ve ever loved.
  • If it’s too warm, I will not sleep.  I will be a grumpy sweaty mess and toss and turn all night, for there is nothing worse than being too warm in bed.
  • If it’s too cold, I will add layers and layers of blankets and dressing gowns until it looks like there’s been a party at my house and I’ve fallen asleep under all of the coats.
  • If one/both of my children wake me I will attend to whatever middle of the night emergency it might be.  Then I shall mentally make a record so that when they are teenagers I can wake them up ridiculously early and tell them it was payback for that time in 2016 when they said there was a rabbit bouncing in their bedroom, even though there is no pet rabbit.
  • If I’ve had a few drinks I know I will wake up at 4 am all bushy tailed and be unable to get back to sleep, and immediately regret this come 7 am.
  • If I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep my mind will run through every single embarrassing or cringe worthy situation I’ve ever been in, or any situation I could have handled better.  3 am knows all my secrets.
  • If I have my recurring anxiety dream that I have an essay due that I have not written, or an exam that I have not studied for, then I will wake up in a panic, and spend the next day feeling like I’ve forgotten to do something terribly important.
  • If I cannot get to sleep at night I will toss and turn, generally with this song stuck in my head (damn those Backstreet Boys).
  • If I have a good night’s sleep I will wake up with the opening lines of this song running through my head, feeling like I can take on the world.

The point I’m making is that in answer to the question ‘do I need a sleep tracker?‘, no, I don’t need a sleep tracker, because I know the precise outcome of every single variable that could possibly affect my sleep.

I also know that most of these things are outwith my control.  A tracker is not going to stop external factors interfering with my sleep.  Although I would pay good money for something that promised to stop the neighbourhood cats from fighting,  stop my partner snoring, and stop my kids from waking in the night.

I also question the usefulness of knowing that last night you slept for 6.3 hours, and the night before 7.1 hours, for example.  I go to bed every night hoping for the best.  I know I may not fall asleep straight away, and I know I may wake in the night and I accept that.  Feeling pressure to have precisely 8 hours sleep at night would probably give me some kind of performance anxiety.  That if I don’t fall asleep straight away then that’s my sleep for the night ruined.  I have enough things in my life to worry about, without having to worry if I’m getting the optimal amount of sleep.

I am also uneasy with the idea of commoditising something so basic as sleep, and distrustful of companies who try to break sleep down into something technical, to be monitored, rather than an innate biological function that we either do or don’t do depending on our predisposition to insomnia.

I am not immune to consumerism, but I am trying to be.  Questioning items like this is a good way to avoid falling into the marketers hands.  Also this article from Damien Hirst is pretty good if you are into the idea of reading rants about consumerism.  Although don’t click if you’re sensitive to bad language because there is a lot of the ‘c’ word in there.  A lot of it.  If my grandmother was still alive I would not be sending this article to her, let’s put it that way, even though she’d probably enjoy it.

If I’ve completely missed the point about sleep trackers then do let me know – clearly I am no expert on sleep trackers.  Perhaps you have one and genuinely find it useful.  I’d love to know!

8 comments

  1. Although I don’t own a sleep tracker myself I do have a friend who does. To give a bit of background my friend suffers from ME/CFS (I can’t remember their exact diagnosis right now) and is pretty much bed bound with the condition. For them the sleep.tracker has been really useful in establishing the amount and quality of their sleep as well as factors that affect this, not just car alarms but internal factors like if their breathing changes or their pulse drops too low.

    I know this is a really specific situation and that not everyone * needs * a sleep tracker, I guess I’m just trying to say that they can be useful in certain situations.

    Reply
  2. Excellent post. I also think technology should have peaked a while ago.
    I have no need for sleep tracker, but I have heard of alarms that monitor your REM cycles, and wake you up at your lightest sleep stage within a set perimeter of your wake-up alarm time, so you wake up easier. To me, this seems useful. I’m often scared awake by alarms, and that’s a never a good way to start your day.

    Reply
  3. I have a sleep tracker built in to my FitBit. I love my FitBit, using it to try and up my activity and I like the sleep function. However, even though I use it I would be 100% honest and say I don’t need it. I could write a list similar to yours which would give me all the information I need. I am aiming to sleep more but not sure this piece of tech helps. Having said all of that I adore data and goal setting and I like certain recent technology such as the occulus rift but it doesn’t need to be in every area of life. Maybe tonight I won’t put the tracker on ☺ Great post as ever.

    Reply
  4. “If I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep my mind will run through every single embarrassing or cringe worthy situation I’ve ever been in, or any situation I could have handled better. 3 am knows all my secrets.” Too true!!! LOL! :)

    Reply
  5. I have not slept well for years (menopause) and even though the hot flushes are almost gone I wake often and hear noises which others don’t. To minimise the effects of noise I have tried, and usually succeed, to divide noise into two categories – happy noise and not so happy noise. Happy noises are children playing, music, birds singing, neighbour home safe on his motorbike, taxi dropping off a fare, wind whistling, rain pattering on a window and even husband’s snoring (I hate sleeping alone). It doesn’t mean I don’t hear these noises but I go straight back to sleep with a smile in my head. Not so happy noise seems to be less intrusive these days and I know I get enough sleep by my energy levels through the day. Like you, technology wouldn’t benefit me though I do like an audio book for the 3am gremlins!?

    Reply
  6. I confess that the main reason I originally bought my Fitbit was because of my sleep – and someone did say to me ‘you bought a device to tell you to sleep more when you were tired? I could have told you that’ ha. However, at the time, I wanted to know exactly why I was so tired and it turns out that even though I don’t wake up, I am really fidgety when I’m asleep which averaged in 45 mins poor sleep a night. I don’t wear it for sleep anymore now I know but it was nice to know I wasn’t going crazy with feeling tired all the time even after sleeping for at least 7 hours.

    I can understand being frustrated about sleep trackers if you don’t need it and you don’t feel like you’re having any issues with sleep (other than frustrating external issues like you’ve mentioned) but I’ve found my Fitbit has been really helpful with my self care as it holds me accountable to doing all the things I know I should do, like exercise more and get enough sleep.

    Reply
  7. I’ve been thinking about the commodification of basic human functions, too! I keep getting a targeted ad for one of those multi-use trackers that tracks steps and miles and sleep and everything else. I keep thinking I need it until I remind myself that it would make make go crazy. Why in the world would I need all that data? Maybe I would feel really responsible for a few days, but then I could see myself getting obsessive. It’s a needless distraction to fill whatever void we’re collectively feeling. I might write a post about this, too. Thanks for bringing it up!

    Reply
  8. I too have a Fitbit, which has been great in encouraging exercise. I wasn’t bothered about the sleep tracker, interesting, but I don’t need it as you say. Interestingly though, a few weeks ago before an event, I had what I thought were a couple of terrible nights sleep. Wrong! My Fitbit put me right in that yes I had had periods of being awake, but nothing like as bad as it felt. I think tiredness can be in your mind (to a degree), i.e. Think we have a bad night = tired and grumpy, whereas finding out otherwise can make you feel a whole lot better!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *