A sleep-monitoring headband is even turning our ZZZs into a very strange game.

Gamification has made many a game designer, game-player, and anyone with less than a flair for business recoil in horror in one way or another. Quantifying and measuring degrees of efficiency and success, a natural behavior of governments, bureaucracies, and companies often seems strange to anyone other than a professional athletes or law school applicants. Yet a recent movement known as “self-tracking”, “body hacking” or “self-quantifying” alleges to apply the same metrics to one’s personal life and health. Obviously appealing to the tech-friendly among us, the method basically turns one’s life into a RPG with a strong narrative of transformation and empowerment. Take, for example, the story of David given in the original Economist report:

With his routine of early starts and 11-hour days, he found that he had trouble falling asleep, and worried that this affected his concentration at work. He started using a headband made by Zeo, a start-up based in Newton, Massachusetts. It tracks sleep quantity and quality by measuring brainwave activity to determine how long the wearer spends in light, deep and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.

David recorded his sleep data along with information on his diet, health supplements, exercise and alcohol consumption, uploading it all onto the Zeo website. He also tried interventions such as taking magnesium supplements, cutting out caffeine and changing the lighting conditions in his bedroom. Using the readings from the headband, he could see how each of these things affected his sleep.

He found that drinking too much alcohol undermined his sleep quality, but also determined that taking magnesium supplements helped him sleep more soundly and reach deep sleep more quickly. He now sleeps for an average of seven-and-a-half hours a night, up from six hours before he began his self-tracking experiment. “I feel more relaxed, sharper and more switched on,” he says. “Seeing the facts on your computer screen makes them difficult to ignore.”

Right now the focus of much “self-tracking” behavior is on health, but with the ubiquity of social media and mobile technology in every aspect of our lives, it’s easy to see this expanding into other fields ripe for more “gamification.” In turning ourselves into our own pet projects for self-improvement, it’s hard to deny the gaming allure here. As alienating as the RPG experience might be to the non-Skyrim-playing masses out there, it’s a hell of a lot easier to spend another twenty hours sitting on the couch tweaking your character than getting up and looking for a job. 

Yannick LeJacq

[via The Economist]