Evidence Based Living – On Trying A Nokia Sleep Tracker
We’re obsessed with fake news. But what if many of our beliefs about our own lives are also fake? Maybe it’s time for evidence-based living.
Like the novelty-chasing, early-adopting, lifestyle crash test dummy that I am, I’ve gone and bought another new thing. Except this time, I’m taking it to bed every night.
The Nokia Sleep is, as the name implies, a sleep-tracking device. You place it under your mattress, pair it with your smartphone, and it monitors your sleep patterns. I’ve been using it for a week, and to be honest it’s raising as many questions as it answers.
You might ask, with a raised eyebrow: Nokia? Well, yes. The once world-dominating mobile phone company is trying to reinvent itself as an internet-of-things innovator, having recently bought out Withings, the maker of several internet-enabled life-tracking devices, including the smart scale I wrote about several months ago.
The first thing the data showed was that I am sleeping less than I thought; about 30-40 minutes less each night. The device seems to be doing a good job of recording the time I fall asleep and wake up, and along with that, measuring how long I’m in bed trying to fall asleep and how long I lie in after waking.
The results reminded me of what happens when you ask people how long their commute to work is. Folks will tend to answer by telling you the time they spend travelling. So, a “half-hour commute” means half an hour in the car, or from station to station. But when you ask follow-up questions, like how long it takes from closing your front door behind you to sitting down at your desk, then the number is quite a bit different.
This gap, between what we perceive and what our experience looks like as hard data, is perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of life in the digital age, when there are so many ways to track our activity, to amass evidence about the way we live.
And the evidence often challenges the way we see the world.
Apart from sleeping less than I thought I was, the data also showed my sleep pattern wasn’t optimal, which was interesting since it didn’t turn out to be a good week for sleep. It seems I was spending more of the night in deep sleep than I needed, and less in REM sleep than is optimal (the app suggests recommends about 25% of the sleep be deep and 20% be REM).
In hindsight, this made sense. I did seem to remember fewer dreams than normal. Had you asked me why I felt less refreshed than normal on those mornings, my intuition would’ve been to blame it on a few restless nights. But the device suggested the opposite; I was having largely interruption-free sleep. The balance between light, deep and REM sleep wasn’t within my reckoning. And now I have to try and figure out how to get more REM sleep.
In our artistic lives we put so much effort into getting in touch with our intuition. It’s vital to the kind of openness and vulnerability we need to be creative and productive. The process involves unravelling a lot of the voices, bad advice, and systemic oppression that put us at a distance from our true selves.
So I’m loath to speak against intuition, against trusting your gut, or what feels right to you on some instinctive level.
Except that the evidence sometimes points in another direction.
The step tracker hints at our exercise patterns maybe being less consistent than we thought. The time-tracker tells a story of many unproductive hours in those long working weeks. And the sleep tracker suggests we perhaps don’t know our patterns of rest as well as we thought.
Taken to the extreme, data could become an obsession, maybe even a religion. Like productivity gluttony, it can overtake us, becoming a priority in itself. This doesn’t interest me.
My interest is whether evidence can be used to simplify life. Can it make choices easier and bring good habit-forming into sharper focus?
Back when I started tracking steps, it was all about taking those 10,000 steps a day. But soon came realisation. Getting out three times a day got me near enough to the mark. It didn’t matter what those trips were: to a cafe, to buy groceries, to a local park or cinema. Three walks was all that mattered. It didn’t take a complicated analysis of my daily life to figure out how to turn this into a simple and sustainable set of habits.
Taken this way, the evidence can liberate us, freeing us from doubt and ambiguity, or worse, from arguing with ourselves over what is true. I’ll need to look into this REM issue. But the most obvious move is to shift the night-time routine forward half an hour, to get to bed a little earlier. It could make a big difference to the rest of every day.