Why is Fitbit trying to sell you a sleep tracker?

Wearable fitness tech has become commonplace, but now bands like Fitbit and Jawbone are boasting sleep tracking, too—are we surrendering our natural body instincts to computers a little too much?

Fitbit Flex in black. Fitbit

If sitting is the new smoking, can we dare to dream that sleeping is the new running?

That’s what the makers of FitBit, Microsoft Band, and Jawbone all seem to be telling us. Their devices, which got us moving, adding steps (and steps and steps and steps!) to our day to increase our fit- and wellness, will now track our sleep schedules for the same goal.

Though it’s no shock that American teens and adults do not get enough sleep, we’ve long brushed aside just how damaging a lack of sleep can be to our health. Lack of good sleep has been shown to lead to everything from exhaustion and irritability (obviously) to obesity, from heart disease to diabetes, and from high blood pressure to low sex drive. On the flip side, when we get enough sleep, it’s been shown to boost immunity, lengthen our lives, and just make us nicer to be around.

In fact, sleep is as essential to our mental and physical well-being as exercise is.

Originally, FitBit (and similar products like the Jawbone) were designed to help us grasp how sedentary (or active) a person is, but now they offer to help people understand how sleep-deprived we are—and help us achieve better sleep schedules. And that’s largely been heralded as a good thing, because by including sleep tracking technology in a fitness band, these companies are promoting a more balanced look at overall health (not just one slice, like how many steps you take). That, in turn, will help educate consumers about the crucial, positive effect of a good night’s sleep on our bodies.

For example, FitBit One’s new Sleep Schedule feature helps users get a “more consistent slumber via personalized goals based on your sleep data, customized bedtime, and wake-up targets.” It reminds users to “stay on schedule” and offers a “sleep history to chart progress.” Much in the way you’d want to see the number of steps you’re taking each day increase over time, the idea is to use your sleep info to see deeper and more restful sleep each night over time. Essentially, the fitness bands teach you how to sleep more efficiently, not necessarily for more hours. The goal? To leave you feeling more refreshed and ready to tackle the day every time you wake.

Which fitness and sleep tracker band is right for you?

The Jawbone Up2 has sleep tracking, activity tracking, and a smart coach (with tips on how to better sleep and exercise) all in a sleek fashionable looking package. If you don’t want to notice the fitness tracker on your wrist, this is the one for you. $100–124, Jawbone
Similar to Microsoft’s band, the Gear Fit 2 can monitor your heart rate, your sleep patterns, and your GPS location for better workouts and better rest. These touch-screen do-it-all devices are a little expensive compared to the Fitbit, but come with a lot more tech-savvy, fitness-boosting features. $180, Samsung
Similar to Microsoft’s band, the Gear Fit 2 can monitor your heart rate, your sleep patterns, and your GPS location for better workouts and better rest. These touch-screen do-it-all devices are a little expensive compared to the Fitbit, but come with a lot more tech-savvy, fitness-boosting features. $180, Samsung
The Fitbit One combines a wireless activity tracker with a sleep tracker that helps you set personalized goals and reminders to catch better Z’s. Plus, the Fitbit is pretty affordable as activity tracking bands go. $100, Fitbit

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For those of us who don’t get enough sleep, or toss and turn a lot, sleep app features hold some promise, especially as many of these brands are continuing to work with leading sleep experts with the promise that even more helpful features are yet to come in next generation technologies.

That isn’t to say it’s all Egyptian cotton and down comforters. Because, let’s be honest: many of our sleep issues stem from our addiction to technology. (It’s a little like Homer Simpson and his memorable, satirical toast: “To alcohol! The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems!”) Whether it’s keeping our homes lit long past sundown, checking our phones one last time before bed, or having a thing on our wrist that vibrates whenever a text comes in or we’ve reached a “step goal,” being so deeply tied to technology might be the reason our sleep patterns are so thrown in the first place.

Stylish Jawbone

UP2™ by Jawbone. Jawbone

That said, if we’re mindful not to get too wrapped up in any single technology, these devices are tools that do offer a step (or 5,000, if that’s your daily “step goal”) in the right direction. The point of a fitness band shouldn’t be to rely on it for the rest of our lives, but to help us get a feel for what a healthy amount of movement and sleep looks and feels like—and then try be more active or go to bed on time whether we’re wearing the band or not.

So the sleep tracker isn’t necessary by any means (you can make other life changes to help you get better sleep, like diet and exercise), but it could help people to recognize their sleep issues. And who knows? Maybe learning more about the way we sleep really will make it easier for us to make the healthy decisions that lead to sounder sleep. Maybe those choices and healthy sleep behaviors will be just as fun to track as steps, and become as natural as remembering to take the stairs every now and again.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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