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Gaming or Snoozing? Expert says “gamifying”sleep isn’t as healthy as you think

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Credits: Anton

According to a 2023 survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, more than a third of Americans downloaded sleep-tracking apps to their phones within the past year and more than two-thirds of the individuals with sleep apps stated that they’ve changed their sleeping habits based on the info provided through the apps.

With the recent increase in usage, is it possible to gamify sleep? Do sleep-tracking apps like Pokemon Sleep actually work? Lastly, should we rely on the data shown by these apps? 

Dr.  Daniel Gartenberg, PhD, sleep health advisor at CPAP.com isn’t sold on the idea.

“Sleep tracking technology has been around for years, and companies such as SelectButton, the developers of PokemonGo, have continued to create innovative ways to track sleep. With their new app, Pokemon Sleep, the makers of Pokemon have taken a new approach to counteracting phone addiction and encouraging people to focus more on their sleeping habits. 

By incentivizing healthy sleep with exciting new Pokemon, the app helps users prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. In other words, the more you sleep, the more new Pokemon you collect in the morning. Meanwhile, the app tracks your sleep when you place your phone under your pillow at night.

What are the cons that these sleep-tracking apps and devices present?

“There are some concerns regarding how the app works, which may prevent it being beneficial for some people.

For good sleep hygiene, it is recommended not to have your phone under your pillow within arm’s reach. Having it so close to you makes it more likely to disrupt your sleep, especially when notifications come in and cause the blue light of the device to turn on and/or the device to vibrate.

Furthermore, having it in your bed can cause your mind to associate your bed with your phone, which is an object that not only activates your brain but also triggers stress. Additionally, phones have something called an Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF), which could be a concern. The science is still out on the effects of EMF, but it’s probably best to keep these types of objects away from your head as much as possible.

Ultimately, it’s best to keep your phone out of arm’s reach. So instead of putting it under your pillow, like many people do, it’s better to place it on a nightstand or a different location away from the bed. It’s even better if you can keep it out of sight.

It’s also important to keep in mind that these sleep trackers don’t measure sleep directly. Instead, they estimate a person’s sleep state by using the device’s accelerometer to detect body movement. Unfortunately, the only sure way to accurately detect sleep stages is by measuring brain waves. So devices and apps, like Pokemon Sleep, that estimate sleep via body movements and/or heart rate can sometimes be inaccurate.

Another factor to consider is how helpful the sleep information actually is. Oftentimes sleep tracking apps like this help you learn a bit about your sleep patterns, but they don’t actually provide any beneficial feedback or solutions. This can leave you stressed about improving your sleep, but with no real tools or tips to do so, which can actually make sleeping harder.

Inaccurate or unhelpful data can be particularly problematic for individuals who may become hyper-focused on getting the ideal amount of sleep when analyzing the data presented. This new obsession with sleep data was recently coined ‘orthosomnia’ and it can lead to to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and even insomnia. So if you have a tendency to obsess over issues like this, then it’s probably best to avoid using sleep apps and instead focus on creating simple, but healthy habits that boost your sleep health.”

Can sleep-tracking apps and devices be beneficial to an individual?

“Overall, apps like Pokemon Sleep can potentially be beneficial in encouraging better sleeping habits, but it all depends on the user. People who are using these apps as more of a guide to improve their sleeping habits can potentially benefit from them, especially those who are highly anxious about their sleep health or have a hard time putting the phone down and going to bed.

Of course, sleep-tracking apps and devices can be helpful to some people when used in the right way. Apps like SleepSpace, Sleepio, and Biostrap track sleep in less invasive ways and focus on providing personalized insights and feedback to users. These technologies allow you to place your phone in your nightstand or attached to your bed, charging and out of sight, and instead measure your sleep using other methods like sound-tracking or through wearable devices such as the Apple Watch. 

The best sleep apps also take into account your own perceptions regarding your sleep habits and health, such as when you went to bed and woke up, whether you slept well or poorly, how often you woke up, etc. This especially important for people who struggle with “feeling” like they are getting the rest they need, and can be helpful for individuals with sleep conditions like insomnia,” states Gartenberg.

  • The CPAP Team

    CPAP.com is a family-owned and operated business dedicated to providing affordable sleep apnea equipment to those who need sleep therapy. The CPAP team strives to provide insightful and meaningful information to its audience, keeping you in the know on the latest happenings in the sleep health and respiratory world.

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