Is sleep a blessing or a curse?

Fitness and self tracking: a blessing and a curse

Quantified self has long since arrived in the mainstream. Monitoring your own body using a fitness tracker or computer watch does not cost much and offers a lot of possibilities. The overarching goal is always to improve the physical performance - or at least to maintain the health of the user.

But what does all the tracking do to us? Is it really as helpful as the manufacturers promise? Or does it just make us (even) more nervous, cause more stress, lead to misdiagnosis and can even be harmful, not to mention the data protection issue?

If you don't need it, you need it

The neurologist and sleep disorder specialist Guy Leschziner chatted about his practice at the science festival in Cheltenham, UK. He told the Guardian that as part of his work he had meanwhile dealt with patients for whom the use of sleep trackers had even led to significant sleep disorders. The users always come to him with the determined data and are also not ready to delete corresponding apps from their cell phones, he said. Most programs are not subject to clinical studies and only monitor movements, which is not enough for an analysis of sleep quality anyway.

He has now developed a "cynical attitude" to sleep tracking. Anyone who wakes up tired and not refreshed has a problem. On the other hand, those who get out of bed well rested and stay awake during the day will get enough sleep. "And then you don't need an app to tell you that." Case studies from the USA have even given a name to the syndrome that sleep tracking can cause insomnia: Orthosomnia, i.e. self-induced insomnia.

Sports tracking doesn't always have to be right either. If a device sets unattainable goals in order to achieve the next virtual medal, this can lead to frustration and even mild early depression. In addition, the technology does not always play along. If you suddenly don't get your hard-won number of calories or steps taken into account, you may be inclined to throw your tracker or computer clock on the wall.

Cheating for cheaper insurance

Cheating is also becoming increasingly popular. In many countries there are now insurance tariffs where you should send your activity data to society in order to receive discounts. But as everyone knows, fitness trackers are not infallible. Not simple devices anyway, but even an expensive Apple Watch can be made to record alleged movements by simply waving the hand back and forth. For example, getting up once an hour for one minute (12 times in 24 hours) causes some users to shake their wrist wildly 10 minutes before the next hourly signal.

Videos have become known from China that show automated "fakers" for tracking systems. The device is clamped in a holder, which then moves mechanically to simulate steps. Here, too, it seems to be about tricking the insurance company into believing that the user is moving enough, which is supposed to help maintain health (and thus lower payments).

And Quantified Self has another problem: It remains unproven whether a certain fitness level really ensures a longer life. A recent doctoral thesis has just been submitted at the University of Bergen in Norway, which deals with the question of whether obese people who are still athletic have a lower risk of heart disease. In the relatively small group of test persons (620 people) it was found that obesity apparently plays a greater role in cardiovascular diseases than personal fitness.


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