Having swept the world of augmented reality with Pokémon Go, Pikachu et al are about to augment the reality of our pillows with the Pokémon Company’s new game. Due to launch next year, Pokémon Sleep will make use of a Fitbit-style sleep-tracking device on a wrist strap that communicates with your phone via Bluetooth. The game promises to “turn sleeping into entertainment”, rewarding players for maintaining “good sleep habits as part of a healthy lifestyle”.
The finer points of gameplay are not yet known, but it will connect with Pokémon Go, which is to say that those baffling obsessives who have kept up with the game since it launched in 2016, crashing into trees, buildings, cop cars and foreign borders in tens of thousands of recorded accidents, will now even be playing in their dreams.
With increasing awareness of tech’s negative impact on sleep, the game seems unlikely to foster “good habits”. Specialist Katie Fischer of Circadian Sleep Coaching is apprehensive. “Being aware of something happening while we’re sleeping doesn’t necessarily enable us to switch off,” she says. If toddlers – whose basic MO is to play – struggle to wind down at the day’s end, how will compulsive teens and burned-out adults given an all-consuming, night-time game fare any better?
Maryanne Taylor of the Sleep Works lauds the attempt to focus people’s minds on rest, but worries about gamifying it, as if sleep were something to achieve or be rewarded for. Tracking the hours you kip could have the opposite effect by feeding into that undying machismo of succeeding on very little sleep. Besides, she cautions, basic sleep trackers are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between light sleep, a normal part of the natural cycle, and an awake state: Pokémon Sleep, too, might not give an accurate tally.
Either way, Taylor says, trackers only serve to heighten awareness of what you’re doing in bed, when actually the best sleepers are the most blissfully unaware: they can’t tell you how they do it. They just sleep.
In the way that junk-food outlets sponsoring the Olympics might, the concept of Pokémon Sleep makes Fischer uneasy: “It’s almost as if they’re trying to get around this idea that gaming is bad for sleep.” Or, as one particularly cynical person put it on Twitter: “I will be downing three Benadryls every night once Pokémon Sleep drops, so I can join in on the fun”.