Nintendo’s Pokémon Sleep Might Actually Make Health Tracking Fun
The long-awaited Pokémon Sleep will let you attract new monsters depending on how you sleep, just the latest Nintendo experiment tying your health to gameplay.
Pokémon Sleep spent several years in pandemic limbo after it was announced in 2019, but as part of the latest Pokémon Presents, The Pokémon Company finally pulled the covers off the sleep-tracking app — confirming you can, in fact, sleep with Pikachu.
Using your smartphone and an optional Pokémon Go+ Plus accessory, Pokémon Sleep can give you access to basic sleep tracking metrics, not unlike a smartwatch or standalone sleep tracking app can. The real difference is how Pokémon Sleep weaves game mechanics into what amounts to a habit-building exercise and how that’s just the latest example of Nintendo’s long history of tying health to games.
A Sleep Pokedex
Based on the limited information shared so far, you can use the Pokémon Sleep app to set a bedtime and a waketime and receive a breakdown of how you slept just by placing your phone next to your pillow before going to bed.
Like any self-respecting Pokémon game, Pokémon Sleep introduces a new Pokémon Professor (Professor Neroli, a sleep researcher) and a new landmass, in this case, a small island that’s home to a large sleeping Snorlax. As the game sorts your nights of sleep into “one of three sleep styles—dozing, snoozing, or slumbering,” you’ll attract Pokémon associated with that sleep style and find them gathered around the Snorlax when you wake up in the morning. The more you sleep, the more Pokémon you’ll identify, filling out a “sleep style index” as you go.
If you purchase the new Pokémon Go+ Plus accessory — a sequel of sorts to the original Pokémon Go Plus wristband — you can swap your phone for a flat, Poké Ball-shaped puck that can track and record your sleep, sing you a lullaby, act as an alarm, or be used with Pokémon Go to automate basic features like catching pokemon and spinning PokéStops.
Nintendo’s history of gamifying health
It’s worth noting a custom health tracker is not that unusual for a Pokémon game. Outside of the accessories released for Pokémon Go, a bundled step-tracker called the Pokéwalker was included with copies of Pokémon: HeartGold and SoulSilver for the Nintendo DS. The Pokéwalker was inspired by early experiments with step-tracking like the Pokémon Pikachu 2 GS and let you earn extra experience for your in-game creatures by taking them on walks and transferring data between the Pokéwalker and your DS over IR.
Nintendo, one of the co-owners of The Pokémon Company, has regularly tried to create games around getting you off the couch, and in some cases, explicitly designed to improve your health. There’s the obvious example of the Wii, the godfather of the brief motion control craze of the early 2000s, and the Wii Fit Balance Board, an accessory that was essentially a smart scale. Recent examples include Ring Fit Adventure on the Nintendo Switch, whose included ring accessory and leg strap let you navigate an exercise RPG through chains of squats, core exercises, and... ring squeezes.
Odder examples like the Wii Vitality Sensor might have never seen the light of day, but in general, when Nintendo has leaned into health, fitness, and movement tracking, it’s identified novel new ways to play and occasionally viral successes. The appeal of Pokémon Go might have been initially an augmented reality experience of Pokémon, but the fact the game gets you out of the house and walking around has obvious health benefits that seem like an equal draw several years in.
Health data is still health data
Using the cuteness of Pokémon to encourage better sleep habits in people of all ages seems like easy money, but missing from the videos of little creatures napping is any sense of how the data Pokémon Sleep tracks will be used. It’s also not clear what The Pokémon Company is collecting. Apps with similar features frequently track movement and noise — is Pokémon Sleep or the Pokémon Go+ Plus accessory doing the same? Do we have any say if that information is saved?
When Google tried to offer sleep tracking via radar on the Nest Hub, it was rightfully greeted with skepticism. Amazon’s introduction of the Halo Rise included a thorough explanation of how the device tracked you. Is the allure of Pikachu so great that any of that common sense gets thrown out the window? For some people, maybe.
Either way, we should learn more before the year is out. Pokémon Sleep doesn’t have a firm release date but is targeting a Summer 2023 launch. The Pokémon Go+ Plus is expected to be available in July 2023 for a yet-to-be-determined price.