MIT’s Technology Review explores the rise of self-tracking technology allowing people to constantly monitor everything about their body, brain and health, and the people who are constantly monitoring. It’s not just a weird, geeky thing to do, either:
Perhaps the most interesting consequences of the self-tracking movement will come when its adherents merge their findings into databases. The Zeo, for example, gives its users the option of making anonymized data available for research; the result is a database orders of magnitude larger than any other repository of information on sleep stages. Given that the vast majority of our knowledge about sleep—including the idea that eight hours is optimal—comes from highly controlled studies, this type of database could help to redefine healthy sleep behavior. Sleep patterns may be much more variable than is currently thought. Zeo researchers have already found that women get less REM sleep than men and are now analyzing whether the effect of aging on sleep differs by sex. The database is obviously biased, given that it is limited to people who bought the Zeo; those people are mostly men, with ample income and presumably some sleep-related concerns. But the sample is still probably at least as diverse as the population of the typical sleep study. Bianchi, who studies a number of sleep disorders and is developing his own home sleep-tracking tool, says an individualized approach to the study of sleep may help shed light on its complexities. “I have become skeptical of sleep science and clinical trials, so I am very interested in what individuals have to say,” he says.