The Future Of Tracking: More Meaning, Less Metrics
Pew Internet‘s recent study, Tracking For Health, revealed that 21% of people use some type of technology device to track their health data. In the New York Times article More Using Electronics To Track Their Health, Matthew Holt, co-chairman of Health 2.0 is cited as saying that there are close to 13,000 health and fitness apps available for consumers today.
Clearly, patients and health care provides have more data than ever before, data that shows pieces of a patient’s health journey and story that used to be difficult to uncover. However, it’s not enough just to have this data. What matters is what we do with it. It’s not enough simply to put this data on a screen or in a report. Products and services that will lead the future of personal tracking in health and other industries (finance, energy, productivity, etc) must take the data that’s captured by the devices and give people suggestions of what they can do with that data, how they can change their behavior to improve that data.
Last year, I had a goal to improve my sleep. To do this, I decided to track my sleep using the Zeo Sleep Manager. If you’re not familiar with the Zeo, it works like this. Each night, you wear a little headband with a sensor on it. The sensor tracks electrical signals that the brain produces naturally. These signals collate to various cycles of sleep. In the morning, the Zeo iPhone app let’s you know how you slept through a series of datapoints, the most important being the Zeo Sleep Score which is a score out of 100. When I first started using the Zeo Sleep Manager, I was averaging scores of 50 – 60 out of 100. Not very good. I learned that I was only sleeping between four and a half to six hours a night, and that I had many periods of being awake throughout the night (awake times are show in red on the image below). I decided that I really needed to change this!
So I decided to try and put to practice some common sleep tips that I had just never implemented. Some things I did included:
- Installing an extra curtain to make it darker at night. It was just a dark curtain, Ididn’t splurge on an expensive blackout blind because honestly, I didn’t want to deal with trying to install it!!
- Wore a sleep mask at night ensure extra darkness. I realized that even with the darker blind, there was still ambient light from electronics, such as the time from my cable box, and icons on my air purifier and humidifier.
- Made a “no laptop in bedroom” rule. That was hard because I would always do a lot of email and reading at night. But after reading so many studies about the bad effects this has on sleep, I decided to stop. I did allow myself to bring my iPhone though which really just forced me to do less email and reading!
- Started a bedtime ritual. A lot of studies say that you need to keep a strict bedtime routine so that as you do certain things, your body gets itself ready for sleep. My ritual included things like getting the coffee maker ready for and organizing any things I needed for the morning such as workout clothes or my to-do list.
After doing this for about three weeks, I noticed improvements because my score went from 50 – 60 out of 100 to the 70 – 80 range. A big improvement!! I was really conscious of sticking to this for about three weeks. By early fall, my scores were consistently in the 80 – 90 range! I felt a lot more rested and altert in the morning and know that it was largely due to my sleep habits as I hadn’t made any other major changes to my diet or exercise.
One extra bonus was that I found it much easier to wake up in the morning. Previously, I would snooze for a while. But with the Zeo Sleep Manager, you set a time when you’d like to wake up by. Then, the alarm on the iPhone app goes off within a 30 minute window, but no later than your alarm time (I think it’s 30 minutes, I could be wrong!) The idea is that by waking you up during the best part of your sleep cycle, you’ll feel more alert and won’t be woken up in the middle of a deep sleep cycle, when normally you’d wake up feeling awful and just hit the snooze.
That’s what the Zeo did for me. But, if I were to re-design the experience, here’s what I wish it really did.
I love the Zeo. But honestly, I really don’t need all the data it provides me. I wish it could have coached me to make behavior changes to help me sleep better. I had to come up with all the changes I listed above. But seems to me, that the app could have really done a better job at these things. For example, after a week of using the app, the app should have:
- Noticed that I was only averaging less than 6 hours of sleep a night. As a result of this, it should have said to me “Hey, looks like you’re only sleeping 6 hours a night. You need to get 2 more hours to improve your sleep. Do you want to set up a bedtime reminder?”
- If it had asked me this, I would have been amazed. Of course, I would have opted to have these bedtime reminders!
- Presumably, around 9:30 every evening, the app would have sent me a notification that I should really start getting ready for bed. We have alarm clocks, but maybe a key to better sleep is having alarms that remind us to go to bed!
There’s definitely enough data available for the application to have functionality built in like this. But right now, it just doesn’t exist. It only tracks and displays the data. I want the application to really coach me and suggest steps I can take to improve my lifestyle.
I really believe that the future of the best tracking devices lies in the ability of these devices to not only show me the metrics, but really show me the meaning, and then provide concrete action steps. As people begin to track more and more aspects of their lives, they are going to become overwhelmed with metrics. They won’t have time to really analyze the metrics and then identify things they should do. As a result, we need to create products and services that take the metrics layer and inject a new layer of meaning for people.
Please note: To the credit of Zeo, they do have an “Advice” section on their application where you can get tips on how to improve facets of your sleep such as Total Sleep, REM Sleep, Deep Sleep, etc. But, the advice is just content and bullet lists that tell you to make your room dark or start going to bed 15 minutes earlier a night. I realize Zeo can’t make integrate every tip as a piece of functionality, but a reminder to go to bed earlier would be pretty easy!