Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Is The World's Best Sleep Tracker a Simple Notepad?

Later this afternoon I'll be appearing on CTV's The Social to talk sleep, and part of our chat will be about sleep tracking technology.

Preparing for the show I was provided with two trackers to test drive. One from Beddit, and one from Fitbit.

The Beddit tracker, a thin strip of high-tech sensors that you adhere to your mattress, chats via Bluetooth with your phone and records heart rate, respiration and sleep time. Below is a typical night of mine's Beddit readout:

While it was definitely cool data, where Beddit struggled was in figuring out when I was tossing and turning. Fitbit, a sleep tracker/accelerometer that I wore on my wrist, did that well as it recorded every my arm moved.

As you can see from the Fitbit readout, I'm quite a restless sleeper, but frankly some nights I feel much more rested than others irrespective how much I tossed and turned.

And that's where both of these sleep trackers are lacking as there's no amount of technology that would be able to tell a tracker how sleep subjectively feels.

And that's where a notepad shines. Instead of concerning yourself with respiration, heart rate, or movement, concern yourself with how your sleep felt, and using a notepad beside your bed (or a notepad app on your smartphone), when you wake up each morning, rate your sleep on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10's are mornings you feel terrifically well rested, and 1's are mornings you feel tired and a mess. Combine those numbers with information such as how much caffeine or alcohol you consumed (and when you consumed it - both interfere with sleep), your room's temperature, darkness and noise levels, whether or not you used a screen (phone, laptop, TV) before bedtime, what time you went to bed, whether or not you exercised, whether you used a sleep aid, etc. and suddenly you'll have a low-cost, low-tech tool that will allow you to somewhat objectively figure out what matters to your sleep. For instance happily I learned that cutting out both coffee and alcohol from my life doesn't in fact improve my perceived quality of sleep (meaning I don't have to cut them out), but that my room's temperature is best on the colder side if I want to feel rested.

Gadgets are great, but sometimes old-school is the best way to go.