The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 is a fine smartwatch. It controls my music, pings me with notifications and shames me for sitting at my desk too long. I don’t like smartwatches, but it did a fairly good job convincing me of its merits. While I was reluctant to use it at first, it definitely helped me learn more about myself.
I’m a fairly private person, and I don’t use my phone often. During work hours, it’ll be within arms reach, but the moment I’m home I barely touch it. I often dream of moving to a farm with no mobile service, where my phone will never ring, and nobody ever tries to contact me. I’d even settle for a bunker, like a mole person.
It’s not that I think new technology is inherently bad, but I do think that the layers of connectivity surrounding us everyday are getting stronger and to our detriment. Every year, we need more devices to be better connected to our social worlds. Smartwatches are another tool to strengthen that connection and bring us all closer together. But do we really need to be connected every minute of our day?
Having the Active2 on me meant that I never missed a phone call, and answered all my messages immediately. But it also meant that I lost focus on my work and found myself embroiled in group chats about eggs during work hours. It meant that I expected others to be just as prompt with their replies when I messaged, too.
While I could have easily switched over to ‘do not disturb’ mode, just being aware of a conversation happening without me was enough to set my ‘FOMO’ buzzing. And there was always the fear of missing out on important messages. I felt compelled to answer because it was so simple and easy. A quick swipe, and all my notifications were ready for attention. When I didn’t answer, it felt like I was neglecting my friends.
With a smartwatch, you can even reply on the go, or when you’re otherwise engaged and away from your phone at a party. But when I did this, it meant I wasn’t paying attention to either conversation I was part of — the one happening in the real world, or the one happening on the watch. A split focus lessened the fun of both conversations, and meant I was easily distracted. At the gathering I was at, I wasn’t the only one constantly checking my watch — and it’s hard to hide the disappointment of watching someone check their messages while you’re chatting.
Smartwatches are not bad, but you have to know what kind of person you are to enjoy and use them well. I like to be informed — it’s part of the reason why I became a journalist — but an obsessive need to be up to date meant that I found myself constantly checking the Active2, even when I hadn’t felt it buzz or ring. I like to be focused at work — but as soon as my smartwatch buzzed, I shifted attention and responded to my latest message.
That’s not to say my time with the Active2 was all bad — it was just extremely revealing of my personal habits. But more than that, it also revealed important things about my health.
The Active2 tracks sleeping patterns, including how long an individual spends in REM sleep and deep sleep. I wake up early for my job, and I generally stay up late. According to the Active2, this means I’m getting, on average, around 6 hours of sleep each night, below the recommended amount of 7-9 hours. I’m also only spending between 29-35 minutes per night in deep sleep, which is quite poor when compared to the recommended average of 1.5-1.8 hours per night. One night, it registered only 7 minutes of deep sleep.
I don’t usually feel tired, but I’ve started feeling hungrier more often, and eat more to make up the energy I’ve lost by not sleeping well overnight. While the science is unclear when it come to the link between lack of sleep and weight gain, multiple studies indicate that the two are related, and I have noticed a change in my appetite since beginning work earlier. Popular studies indicate that sleep-deprivation causes appetite-suppressing hormones to develop slower, meaning that sufferers are hungrier and not metabolising food as they should.
While I’d noticed issues with my hunger lately, I hadn’t considered a lack of sleep as a possible culprit until I tested the Active2’s health features. I was aware that I wasn’t getting enough sleep, but seeing how little deep sleep I actually achieved each night was humbling. While sleep trackers aren’t always 100% accurate, it was enough of a wake-up call that I decided I needed to do something about it.
For most of my adult life, I didn’t really think about sleep: It was just an activity that my body required, for about six-to-eight hours a night, in order to not feel like garbage the next day. Rarely did I pause to consider the quality of my rest or whether my sleep patterns were “normal.” That is, until I was gifted a Fitbit Charge 3.
Reassembling my sleep patterns won’t be an easy task. I’ve instilled a habit of staying up late over several years of late night gaming, but the Active2’s given me the kick up the arse I needed to recognise that I have a problem, and encouraged me to finally start addressing it.
While I don’t see myself using a smartwatch in the long term, taking a brief journey with the Active2 was enough to push me to pay better attention to my habits and lifestyle choices.