Friday, April 30, 2021


A few months ago I responded to a request to take part in market research for a Fitbit - I tend to do a lot of beta testing because quality assurance is not just my job, it is my passion; and while market research is slightly different the big temptation with this particular program was the fact that I got a free Fitbit, yes, I get to keep it, bonus because I would never buy one again.

When the Fitbit first hit the market both my husband and I got one. After a few months we gave up on them, actually they gave up on us and the company who then owned them refused to even respond to our call for help, that is we contacted their customer support and basically they said they could do nothing for us. As a result I was dubious but hoping that over the years they had improved.  It looked exactly the same as the one I had years ago with the exception of the buckle on the strap, but it definitely had a lot more functionality plus the phone app which makes it much easier to set up and interact with.

At first I was really pleased with it. The phone app made it possible to easily view my stats and I have got to admit that I really liked the report on my quality of sleep each night.  Of course I did realize that it was a little bit silly to be so delighted when the app agreed with me that I had woken multiple times during the night - very normal for any post menopausal female. I did wonder why my 4 miles on the treadmill each morning was not registered, yet all other steps taken were, it did measure my heart rate while on the treadmill, just not the steps. I was able to register the time and distance in the app, and then it calculated the number of steps I had taken during my exercise, not exactly high tech I think? The battery was good and only needed to be recharged once a week, fully charging within a couple of hours. I even enjoyed the resulting celebratory vibration when I achieved greater than ten thousand steps. For five weeks I enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction as my Fitbit cheered my achievements, more than ten thousand steps per day, 5 days a week and while it constantly encouraged me to consider going for the premium package I resisted. So glad that I did!

At the end of the 5 weeks, after a particularly bad night with almost no sleep, I consulted the app to get some consolation and discovered that my night must have totally confused it because it reported it as three separate nights  As the market research program lasted only two weeks, at this stage I was on my own.

These are the stages it reports

The image below is a screen shot of my Sunday night report. First of all, the bottom graph is way off. On Sunday night I actually went to bed at 7.20, as the middle graph reports that I fell asleep at 7.22 p.m.  According to the app, it needs more than three hours sleep to reliably report the stages, therefore the middle graph is what it terms 'basic' sleep pattern and so is the top. My assumption was that because I was awake so much during the night, it assumed two separate nights of less than 3 hours sleep and so reported the two upper graphs as basic sleep; I have no idea where it got the bottom graph from and my suspicion was it was secretly tracking my husband though he sleeps in later than 4.48 a.m.! or it pulled it from the previous week as some sort of consolation. And, just in case you are wondering why on earth I get up at 2.13 a.m. Well, there are a number of reasons, after a night of constantly waking it is almost a relief to get up at that hour. I have never set an alarm because I always wake early, I usually get up between 2.15 and 3.15 so that I can workout for an hour, and still be at my desk for 4.30 a.m. my normal start time. You see, part of my team is located in India and I like to be able to overlap with their normal working day so 4.30 works for that. That early rising time also explains the unusually early bed time.

This was what it thought of Sunday night

However, the following night, actually Monday night, it recorded nothing. The app suggested I wear my Fitbit to bed in order to record my sleep patterns. I googled "why did my Fitbit fail to record my sleep" and found this link, a Fitbit Community all experiencing the same issue. Turns out I was lucky to get five full weeks before it gave up on me. Many of the people reported that a reboot of the device fixed the issue. I tried that suggestion and sure enough, on Tuesday night it recorded my sleep again.

Something else I discovered in my google search was that the sleep tracking starts when the wearable no longer detects movement. What that suggests to me is it assumes movement during sleep represents waking? Now, I know that I am a very restless sleeper; I have restless leg syndrome, I have had it for so long that it only wakes me when it is really bad, the rest of the time I actually remain asleep and thrash around a bit to relieve it. If this is how the device figures out waking periods, then perhaps I don't wake up as often as it thinks. This suspicion led me to google again, where I found an interesting page of Fitbit help subjects and according to that, the device uses movement and heart rate to make an educated guess as to what stage of sleep I am in. 

The following night, Wednesday, once again no report at all. I rebooted the device and having read through the help page, discovered that it might fail to record sleep if it is too loose or in a position where it can't track heart rate. Given that it tracked without missing a night for five weeks, and so many other people reported the same issue as I was having, I find it hard to believe that is why my Fitbit is no longer interested in my sleep patterns, but I decided to try one more time. Thursday night I made sure the device was snugly fitted and the requisite distance from my wrist. Next morning I was actually surprised to discover that I got another valid report of my night's sleep:

The jury is still out but for the moment I will continue to wear my Fitbit although I am not really clear as to what value it adds. I do know that I am very glad that I didn't shell out $141 of my own money for it. However, the fact that I didn't pay for it makes me question my dedication to actually figuring out all of the functionality. Perhaps I will make an effort to learn more about what it has to offer and report back at a later date.

This is an interesting read, if slightly out of date.

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