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The SMART Watch?

Do you have one of these pieces of technology? Do you like it? What do you like about it? What do you use it for? These are the questions I bombarded my sisters with in the year before I succumbed to buying a smart watch. 


I’d been both attracted and repelled by the apparent ability of them to report back on one’s sleep. Would it help to know more about my sleep? Might it become just another stick to beat myself with? Might I become obsessed with it? In the end, it was something else altogether that prompted me to take the plunge. 


As an infrequent visitor to the doctor’s surgery … I say ‘infrequent’ which is actually an exaggeration, but I’ll leave that there … I haven’t had my blood pressure measured for a very long time. My food choices and my re-trained breathing are likely to be supportive of healthy blood pressure, but could my genetic background interfere with that? The family history of high blood pressure is certainly there and I had absolutely no idea whether this apparent predisposition was affecting me, or not. It was only when I realised that part of me didn’t want to know if I had raised blood pressure that I concluded I needed to have at least a rough idea. And that could be easily achieved with a smart watch which would also supply a few other readouts that might prove interesting.


In the event, having bought a watch that certainly wasn’t top of the range (because I might not like it), it gave me cause for concern. The diastolic reading was entirely acceptable. The systolic was not. In the end, I bought yet another piece of equipment, a blood pressure monitor to find out how inaccurate the watch really was (I had no illusions of spot-on accuracy, they’re not there yet). The diastolic reading was the same as on the watch. The systolic, however, was 20 points less, putting me pretty much in a textbook ‘normal’ range. How unusual! I hardly ever get to use the word ‘normal’ in conjunction with me. It was a relief, I can’t deny it and it’s handy to know that if I want to check on fluctuations, all I need to do is subtract 20 from the upper reading on my watch.


It’s not the only untruth that comes from this watch. It gives a breathing rate at rest that’s more than my bpm (breaths per minute) when I’m walking, and I do mean walking, not just taking a gentle stroll! How it makes a reasonable assessment of my heart rate, but not my breathing is baffling. 


The biggest ‘lie’, however, is the daily report on my sleep, but I rather like this one, not because I’m happy to deceive myself: no app is going to persuade me that I’ve been sleeping when I know full well I’ve been awake. Let me explain. The watch gives just 2 sleep readings, light sleep and deep sleep. The latter gives me something that seems to more or less fit with what I’m experiencing. But the light sleep, much like the systolic BP reading, far exceeds reality. I’ve come to regard this as encouraging. Of course, it may just be incapable of doing better, but the other consideration is that it sees my in-bed-but-awake time as sleep. I decided a while ago to spend any awake time doing what I now refer to as conscious sleeping. I’ve been very encouraged by the research on slow breathing in respect of vagus nerve stimulation, the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the effect of slow breathing on melatonin production as well as the ‘cleaning’ of the brain by cerebrospinal fluid which I previously thought could only happen during sleep*. But there’s more. A study from the School of Anti-aging and Regenerative Medicine tested slow breathing in respect of brain waves on 16 individuals (I know, not the biggest cohort ever, but I’m still interested). Within just 4 - 6 minutes all the participants were showing alpha wave activity. If you’re reading this then you’re (hopefully!) awake enough to be in beta. The move to alpha brain waves indicates calm and relaxation. Lovely. Perhaps more striking though, is that there was also some theta wave activity, which indicates deep relaxation AND there was delta wave activity which corresponds to sleep! So their conclusion:


“The study found that deep breathing induced relaxation and improved mental health as

confirmed by Thai Stress Test. In addition, deep breathing affected to both Theta and Delta

brainwaves during resting state as in eyes-closed trial.”


The link to the full pdf is here. It would be interesting to know why they chose a breathing pattern of 4 seconds inhale, 2 seconds hold, 4 seconds exhale. It leads to 6 breaths per minute so that makes sense. But it’s well known (and easily verifiable by feeling your own pulse) that the exhale corresponds with the parasympathetic nervous system and subsequently slows the heart rate. For this reason, the usual recommendation is to make the exhale longer than the inhale eg 4 seconds inhale, 6 seconds exhale. However, these people were probably slow-breathing novices in this and the ratio they used here is easier and thus achievable .. and was clearly effective! All of this points to a degree of control for those of us for whom insomnia is a feature of life, and that is an absolute gift!


So coming back to the smart watch, am I a fan? I seem to be uncomfortably perched on the proverbial fence. Would I be won over if mine were more accurate (and maybe therefore more expensive)? It’s hard to know for sure, but I don’t think that would be the deal breaker. It’s another piece of technology, technology that emits some radiation, albeit minimally. It’s technology that will improve, but does that mean it will become not just another must-have, but also a must-constantly-upgrade? Do we risk becoming more obsessive about our personal stats or is it a useful guide to help us modify unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours? That is surely down to me and my own level of consciousness around how I use it? I do appreciate that it isn’t singularly dedicated to the man-made construct of time, much as I like my more traditional and more aesthetically beautiful wrist watch. Additionally, I grudgingly appreciate its accuracy in evaluating my sedentary-ness, even if it goes off when I’m standing at my computer. It gets me moving more, which is no bad thing. And if it’s recognising my slow-breathing-conscious-sleep as sleep then I feel there’s a little more validation to add to the conviction I already have that it really does make a difference. I now know I can sleep, both conventionally, or when needed, whilst awake.


~Annette Henry



I would love to help more people to sleep better both consciously and unconsciously by retraining daytime and night-time breathing patterns. Do get in touch if this applies to you. 




*References to other studies are in two previous blog posts both of which can be accessed via this one: When You REALLY Cannot Sleep




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