Tracking my sleep and more

For the past month or two I’ve been using the Sleep Cycle app. The app monitors your sleep and each morning generates a graph to show you how you slept. You can see many sleep cycles you went through and the app will estimate your “sleep quality”. If you want to, you can also set the app’s alarm to wake you at that point in a certain time interval when the app predicts you’ll be sleeping the lightest, so you wake up less groggy.

I had first tried Sleep Cycle years ago, when the app could measure your sleep using the phone’s gyroscope. That means you had to place your phone beneath your pillow and it would measure your body movement by the tilt of the phone. I wasn’t a fan of keeping my phone beneath my pillow, because the phone would get hot and I was worried I might throw it off the bed in my sleep.

Today Sleep Cycle can still measure your sleep by monitoring your body movement if you want it to. But the default and recommended option is that you allow the app to use your phone’s microphone to measure noise levels. Using the microphone mode, you place your phone on your night stand and Sleep Cycle uses the microphone to measure noise levels, which correlate with your sleep cycles. (When you’re in the REM phase of sleep, you don’t move around much as many of your muscles are paralyzed.) Keeping my phone on my night stand means I’m not worried about throwing it off the bed in my sleep and also means the phone doesn’t get hot.

This new iteration of Sleep Cycle has impressed me. As far as I can tell, it measures my sleep cycles well. I can see those moments in the middle of the night when I woke up because of something or other and I generally (but not always) agree roughly with the “sleep quality” that the app calculated. I wouldn’t say I’ve been sleeping more or better since I’ve started using the app, but I am starting to use it to see how drinking an extra cup of coffee, or having exercised on a given day, affects my sleep quality. That might help me sleep better in the future.

Now, normally I’m wary of using devices to track me in too many ways. I value my privacy. I’m also wary of keeping my phone in my bedroom at night, because it might tempt me to browse Twitter one more time before I head in for the night. But I will continue to use Sleep Cycle, as it is relatively unobtrusive and helps me understand my sleep, which is important because everything is easier when you get enough sleep. I encourage you to try the Sleep Cycle app as well.

In the meantime, because I’ve been so happy with Sleep Cycle, I’ve been thinking about using an app to track something else: just how much time I spend sitting. Like many people, I spend big chunks of time with my butt planted on a chair. I sit when I eat, I sit when I write, I sit when I ride the bus, I sit when I work on a spreadsheet, I sit when I visit family—in short, I spend a lot of time sitting.

And I have read too many articles about how bad too much sitting is for one’s health to ignore it. Of course, after sitting for a long time, my body tells me to get up too, for example when my shoulders get stiff.

It’s not as if I’m a couch potato, by the way: between bouldering several times a week, biking around town, fitness in the swimming pool once a week, and my morning exercise routine, I spend quite a bit of time moving. But I should be standing or walking rather than sitting more often.

That brings me back to technology. The developers of the Sleep Cycle app created a new app called Life Cycle. Where Sleep Cycle aims to track your sleep, Life Cycle aims to track your life. It wants to use your phone’s various sensors to determine what you do and when, and then it wants to record that information. That requires, of course, that you have your phone on you all the time.

That level of tracking is too much for me, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in using an app such as Life Cycle to track exactly how much time I spend sitting.

In the meantime, I will take any tips on how to sit less.

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Posted by Peter

Here, Peter writes about whatever has caught his interest recently. Maybe he'll narrow down this blog's scope someday.

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