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NEXT: The Future of Sleep

David Staley David Staley NEXT: The Future of Sleep
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The Seattle Seahawks currently sit at 4-2-1, atop the NFC West standings. I wonder if part of the reason might be because the Seahawks get plenty of sleep.

As a way to gain a competitive advantage, the Seahawks training staff has been tracking the players’ sleep habits, insisting that they get eight to nine hours of sleep. They wear Readibands, developed by a company called Fatigue Science. Readibands are worn on the wrist just like a Fitbit or similar device. Rather than measure your steps, Readibands measure “sleep data,” such as “acute sleep interruptions, cumulative sleep debt, and the consistency of sleep onset and wake times, and circadian disruptions that influence a change in cognitive function.”

The company says that “Based on sleep quantity, quality and timing, Fatigue Science generates a real-time mental effectiveness score, as well as a predictive score that demonstrates mental effectiveness up to 18-hours in advance. If the score is low, an athlete’s reaction time, speed and strength is impaired. Alternatively, if the fatigue score is high, research proves that those well-rested athletes are faster, more accurate and make better decisions.”

I suppose we should not be surprised that we exude data even when we sleep, and that there would be a device at the ready to capture this data. At the moment, Readibands are worn by elite athletes and others whose jobs require alertness and peak performance, such as the military and those who work in heavy industry. But I suspect that many of us will be wearing Readibands or other such devices in the very near future to capture our sleep data.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of sleep to our mental and physical health and well-being. Arianna Huffington has emerged as the evangelist for more and better sleep, having given a TED talk in 2010. She exhorted the audience to get more sleep, for the health and wellness benefits, but also as a way to combat a kind of sleep-deprived machismo that has slipped into corporate life. Working on four hours of sleep is proof of your vigor and productivity: if you are sleeping, you can’t be productive. Not so, says Huffington, and in fact getting enough sleep makes one more productive.

Interestingly, the Seahawks had been wearing these bands before until the players’ union objected to their use. The dispute has since been resolved, but at issue was the union’s concern about the uninvited monitoring of player activity outside of practice. Capturing sleep data was apparently too intrusive for the union’s liking.

The intrusiveness of the sleep band, having been settled by the football players’ union, might remove a potential legal hurdle to making such data collection devices a mandatory condition of employment. Some companies — in the name of monitoring performance and in ensuring worker happiness and well-being — will require that such devices be worn all the time. Insurance companies might also require these be worn as a condition for receiving certain benefits, in the same way they want us to install devices in our cars to monitor our driving habits.

I can see school officials making Readibands required for high school students. There is already an understanding that a good night sleep correlates to better school performance — students are often told the night before a big test to get a good night’s sleep. Given our obsession with student performance on standardized tests, tracking sleep patterns might become as vital to such efforts as tracking attendance. The only way our students can compete, so the logic will go, is if they are sleeping well.

As surely as Fitbit became an obsession to fitness geeks, there will likely be a hungry market for Readibands among not just professional athletes and others who depend upon alertness and peak performance. Consumer-grade Readibands will appeal to those who want an edge in the business world, or among those who have turned to yoga or other such practices as a way to increase well-being. Tracking one’s sleep will become the next fitness fad.

It was recently reported that the Chicago Cubs are Fatigue Science customers. If a good night’s sleep can help overcome a 108-year losing streak, then sleep is sure to be the next big thing.

David Staley is president of Columbus Futurists and a professor of history, design and educational studies at The Ohio State University. He is the host of CreativeMornings Columbus.

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Thursday November 17 at 6:30 PM at the Panera Bread community room (875 Betel Rd.) Our topic for the evening will be “Geoengineering the Planet”.

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