Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Quantifying Myself: A Month of Self-tracking

How work is killing me and my cat is stealing my sleep.

  • June 16, 2011

Last night, I went to sleep with an electrical sensor wrapped around my forehead, an accelerometer strapped on one wrist, and a sweat sensor around the other. I woke up 11 times (according to the accelerometer), slept for 7 hours and 23 minutes (according to the electrical sensor), and had a strange fit of anxiety or high temperature around 4:45 a.m. (according to the sweat sensor).

A weekly summary of the data collected by my Fitbit.

My highly quantified sleep is a part of a personal experiment in self-tracking, a nascent movement that I have been exploring over the last month in which users monitor various personal metrics in order to make better decisions about their health and behavior.

For my own journey in self-tracking, I tested the Fitbit, a thumb-size device that measures activity; the Zeo sleep monitor; a Wi-Fi scale from Withings; the Q-sensor from Affectiva; a blood pressure tracker from MedHelp; and an online mood-tracking app from Moodscope. I tracked my runs and hikes with the RunKeeper app, which also aggregated the data from the Fitbit, the Zeo, and the Withings scale. My specific discoveries are probably of interest mainly to me, but that’s part of the philosophy of the self-tracking movement: to use these tools to take control of your own health.

On the spectrum of self-tracking, I definitely fall on the lazy end. Case in point: I weigh myself almost every day and have been meaning to write down the numbers for years. But I haven’t. Not once. Then I heard about the Withings scale, which automatically sends your weight to a smart phone or online graph. I do absolutely nothing more than I usually do, but now I get a detailed record of my weight, muscle mass, and BMI (body mass index). Perhaps counterintuitively, the fact that my numbers will be recorded gives me more motivation to step on the scale on days I suspect it will give me bad news. The Withings scale can also be set up to tweet your weight, a feature I did not use. (The prospect sends a chill of fear down my spine.)

Tomorrow: The perils of too much sitting.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

You've read of free articles this month.