What I learned from tracking my sleep for 600 days

People have always been obsessed by how well or badly they are performing in their life. They like to read the distance of their bicycle computer after finishing a local cycle or they check their watch to compare their time after finishing their weekly running tour. This behavior – or for some even obsession – of ‘quantified self’ had been struggling for years with the accurate but basic capturing of their personal data.
With technology enabling an easy capturing of all types of personal data – from daily steps to calories burned; from the food you eat to how well you sleep – a lot of companies, both start-ups and established technology players, jumped on the bandwagon. Most famous tracking devices like Jawbones’ UP24, FitBit’s Flex or the Nike Fuelband can be worn as a bracelet. They give their users a gently reminder about the personal goals they have set too high so they can’t reach them and, maybe even most important, they connect to their smartphone to show them a nicely designed overview of their performance over time.

But keeping track of your life became even easier. Most smartphones are equipped with an army of sensors that can do their thing in the background without you having to think about it. With the introduction of smartwatches – which are expected to be able to measure your hearth rate, oxygen saturation level, blood glucose rate or body temperature in the next years – a lot more opportunities to keep track of yourself are becoming a lot more accessible.
Almost 2 years ago, I decided to start using a sleep tracker, leveraging the built-in sensors of my smartphone. The only thing you need to do to measure your sleep is start up the app the moment you go to bed, put it between your bed sheets and start dreaming. The next day, you’re woken up by the app at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle and you can start your day full of energy.
After tracking my sleep for 600 nights, the app has taught me that an average night of sleep is 7 hours and 20 minutes. I only get my ‘8 hours of sleep’ in the weekend, my sleep quality hasn’t improved in the past 2 years, but I do sleep better after a day when I took more than 10,000 steps. A lot of information, but not showing a lot of value to me. I didn’t need an app to tell me that I sleep more in the weekend. And sleeping better after a sporting day is also rather obvious.
Why can’t the app tell me when to go to bed, rather than to wake me up at the ideal moment, my ‘go to bed’ moment is a lot more flexible compared to the structure in my morning routine. Or why can’t it tell me when it is the ideal moment to have a last drink before going to bed? Or when I had better stop drinking caffeine so I will catch sleep easier that same evening? Or how much sleep I actually need? This app is only telling me how well I’m sleeping, but it is not helping me to sleep any better. Is this the next opportunity for health-focused apps? Guiding me to ‘live a better life’? Is this something apps could take over, or is the knowledge from a (self-thought) expert required to show the insights within this data?
At last, Apple is taking a first important step by bundling all health-related data in the Healthkit application. All data tracked by several apps and devices is now aggregated in one place. It will at least make it a lot easier to get an overview of all your data. Unfortunately, Healthkit isn’t showing any extra value to the users yet as it’s only showing you this information, but not suggesting what to do with it.
I’m waiting for the first app which leverages and interprets these data and helps me sleep better. So I will not be just be staring at my sleep data after 1,000 tracked nights, but I will actually be able to take action based on my data.
Sleep tight!

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