Fitbit famously encourages its users to walk 10,000 steps a day. Now it also wants them to put down their phones, turn off Netflix, and get a good night’s sleep.
Almost all of Fitbit’s devices automatically track sleep when worn to bed, but starting Monday, the company is rolling out several app features intended to give people more insight into their sleep patterns. They can set daily sleep goals, look back on their sleep history, get personalized recommended schedules, and set alarms and reminders for going to bed and getting up.
Fitbit says it added these tools because a lot of people apparently aren’t getting enough shut-eye. (Adults are supposed to get seven to nine hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.)
“We talk to users and it’s so common that they want to improve sleep” in terms of quality, quantity, or both, Sumner Paine, director of product management, told BuzzFeed News. While it’s easy to say we should “devote more of our time to being in bed and sleeping, that’s not a choice anybody can make, with so many competing demands with work and family. It feels like an insurmountable challenge to get more sleep.”
Sleep deficiency doesn’t just make you tired — it can also lead to chronic problems like heart disease and high blood pressure, and mistakes on the job or behind the wheel. The importance of rest has bubbled up into mainstream consciousness this year, between Arianna Huffington making it one of her biggest causes and Apple allowing iPhone owners to dim the sleep-destroying blue light of their screens. According to data released by Fitbit, 10 million of its users are awake or restless for 25.5 minutes every night on average.
Fitbit owners can now use the app to remind them when to start winding down if they want a full eight hours' sleep, and to wake them up in the morning by making their wristband vibrate. But the software is also built to give you personalized recommendations for how much sleep you should be getting and when you should be getting up, based on your history, which you can see at a glance.
“There’s quite a bit of data out there showing the more inconsistent your sleep schedule, the more you set yourself up for not just sleep problems but other health problems as well,” said Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona and a consultant to Fitbit. “I like this system because it focuses on regularity and helps people maintain their regularity.”
Fitbit won’t give you a celebratory buzz when you hit your sleep goals (like the one you see when you hit 10,000 steps), and it doesn’t break down your sleep into stages (such as REM, light, and deep) as Jawbone claims to do. The company says it bases its records on your movements throughout the night as captured by your tracker, although it does not release the specific algorithms used.
But independent researchers have found some devices to record sleep inaccurately — so consumers may want to approach Fitbit’s data with some skepticism. Last year, a Florida man sued Fitbit for “consistently” overestimating sleep by 67 minutes a night, citing a 24-adult study published in 2012 as the source.
A Fitbit spokesperson noted that the company “has spent years and performed multiple internal studies” to test its devices’ accuracy.
“For proprietary reasons and because we operate in an extremely competitive environment, we do not disclose our specific validation study methodologies and results,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Furthermore, Fitbit trackers are not intended to be scientific or medical devices, but are designed to provide meaningful data to our users to help them reach their health and fitness goals. We also emphasize that ultimately the success of our products comes from empowering users to see their overall health and fitness trends over time — it’s these trends that matter most in achieving their goals.”
Stephanie M. Lee is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Stephanie M. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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