You need to sleep — but do you want others monitoring your sleep?

As part of your approach to personal health and fitness, I’d encourage you to read or listen to Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.”

Why We Sleep book coverWalker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California/Berkeley and a leading sleep researcher, explains how sleep impacts our daily lives – from driving safety to performance at work and on exams to personal relationships.

His discussion is based on several decades of research studies, including many studies he conducted. The research finds that the lack of adequate sleep can impact our daily functioning and can lead to serious health conditions, such as diabetes and dementia. Walker encourages adults to get about eight hours of sleep a night and teens to get even more.

In one chapter, Walker discussed how we could improve our health and work performance if employers promoted the value of adequate sleep. That could be done, he said, by businesses not creating a culture that encourages long work hours or celebrates those who go with the least sleep.

He said that businesses could promote employees improving their “sleep hygiene” by having employees wear monitors that would track their sleep and then rewarding those who consistently slept eight hours a night. (He suggested rewarding those employees who had adequate sleep additional vacation days.)

I’d just finished listening to that chapter when  the launch of FitBit Inspire was announced.

News story FitBit InspireFitBit Inspire is one of a series of FitBit wearables, which are activity and sleep trackers. The FitBit has been on the market since 2009 and now has 25 million active users, including me.

The difference with the FitBit Inspire is that you can obtain this FitBit only if your health plan or employer is signed up with FitBit. The FitBit Inspire follows Walker’s concept of employers being able to monitor employees’ sleep and general fitness.

An article in The Washington Post reported on how one business with about 100 employees encourages its employees to wear digital exercise monitors and then rewards those who maintain a certain level of activity. For employees who agreed to wear the monitors, their exercise was tracked, and they could earn up to $1,000 toward their annual health costs, such as prescription medications.

On one hand (or should I say one wrist), I like the concept of businesses motivating employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

But, when I read about the FitBit Inspire, I had a flash to George Orwell’s “1984.” In that dystopia, the government promoted fitness by televising daily exercise sessions that citizens were required to participate in. Protagonist Winston Smith found himself called out through the in-home monitoring system because he wasn’t exercising hard enough.

After listening to “Why We Sleep,” I’m more convinced than ever of the value of getting a good night’s sleep. But I wonder if knowing that our FitBits are reporting our sleep and health data to our bosses and health care providers could make us lose sleep…if the information might (at some point) be against us.

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