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OPINION: So About These Sleep Apps...

March 24, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

My friendly, too-helpful-at-times smartphone just alerted me that I met my sleep goals on three of the last four days. That's great, but I still feel tired, so I'm not sure the goals are accurate or even worth the data that generated the notification. But it is another example of technology trying to solve our problems.

As a child, sleep was something to be avoided. I didn't want to take naps. Didn't want to go to bed. I would wake up at night certain there were people or monsters walking around my bedroom, looking for the opportune time to do me in. Sure, parents would provide rational explanations for my experiences, but what 6-year-old is rational? Conspiracy theories are contrived even at a young age.

These days, I would love to take naps. Maybe I can make up for all the naps I should have taken as a child. The downside is that naps during the day interfere with normal sleep during the night. The wife will find me dozing in the TV room, wake me up and tell me I need to go to bed. I was sleeping just fine, even without a bed. After going through the night time routine and settling into bed, I find myself staring at the ceiling 'til 2 a.m. The wife, of course, is sleeping peacefully.

We both got smartwatches last Christmas, which happened to have apps built in to monitor our sleep cycles, heart rates, activity (or lack of), texts, phone calls and alarms. The watches even tell time! Now we can monitor our sleep patterns and determine the quality of our sleep. We wear the watches, which are paired to our smartphones, and leave the phones next to our respective sides of the bed for the night. In the morning, it tells how long we were asleep, how quickly we fell asleep, and how much of our sleep was "deep" sleep.

Now the experts tell us that these watches aren't really monitoring your sleep, which would require being hooked up to a device that measures brain waves. The watch is actually gauging inactivity. It also records noises, under the guise of detecting snoring. But it records everything else: Conversation, house noises, coyote howling, cat meowing, gunshots. You get the picture.

At first, it was a source of amusement. In the morning, we would compare each other's snores to see who was louder or more obnoxious. Our little granddaughter thought it was hilarious, especially when the occasional "toot" got recorded. You can find many postings on social media of funny, scary, or just plain weird incidents recorded on these apps during sleep. As if people don't already reveal everything else about their lives to the world, now we get cussing, unknown languages spoken, or strange voices recorded during one's sleep.

The wife and I are not prone to conversing very much in bed. She can fall asleep two minutes after her head hits the pillow. But occasionally we do talk about worries, problems, or other things that we deal with during the day. So, they get recorded. I sometimes have night terrors, I'm told. I'll scream or cry out loud, often sitting straight up in bed, breathing hard in shallow gulps. This naturally wakes the wife who then asks: "What's wrong?!" My infuriating reply is supposedly, "Nothing" then I lay back down and go right to sleep. My wife stays awake for a couple of hours, wondering if I'm possessed or she can get away with homicide. I never remember the incident, and I doubt it really happens, which makes her even more agitated. In my defense, my watch has never recorded such an event. I think she is just having a nightmare of her own.

But my wife talks in her sleep. Well, not so much talking as mumbling, and she will also laugh, groan, or whimper. Sometimes, my phone records those events. This is also a source of contention, as we will argue over who is actually making the noises.

Lately, I've turned off the sleep monitoring app. I'm dubious as to whether it is really "helping." I woke up at midnight last week and didn't get back to sleep for another two hours. The app indicated I was sleeping just fine at the time. More than likely, it mistook my not moving as sleep. If I had waked up the wife, the recording of her response might have included the sound of punches to my ribs.

Now the "smart" watch says I need to get up and move around. Maybe I'll move to the couch and take a nap.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to devin. [email protected] . The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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