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Reuters / Kim Kyung Hoon
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RISE AND SQUEAK

Pokémon Go got people walking: now Pikachu is settling for getting them out of bed

By Corinne Purtill

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After reintroducing millions of people to the experience of going outside and walking around, the Pokémon Company has set its giant, doe-like eyes upon a new target: sleep.

A new app called Pokémon Sleep will debut next year, CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara announced May 29 at a press conference in Tokyo. He offered few details, but suggested it would gamify sleep just as Pokémon Go incentivized leaving the house.

With the original 2016 hit mobile game, “we were able to take the simple human act of walking and turn it into entertainment for many people around the world,” Ishihara said. “Everyone spends a large part of their life sleeping, and turning that into entertainment is our next challenge at Pokémon.”

“The concept of this game is for players to look forward to waking up every morning,” he added.

Pokémon Sleep will join a host of apps claiming to improve the quality and length of users’ sleep, from meditation and white noise apps that help users drift off, to sleep trackers that compile data on sleep patterns and habits for users to review in their waking hours.

Unless Pokémon Sleep comes with the kind of electroencephalogram monitor used in sleep-study centers and tiny Pikachu-shaped electrodes, it will probably share the same limitations as most at-home sleep trackers in that it likely won’t be able to actually track sleep. Without access to users’ brain waves, most mass-market sleep apps monitor related but imperfect proxy signals like movement, sound, and heart rate to approximate when users are sleeping.

If Pokémon Sleep has any health benefits, they’re more likely to come from changing users’ relationship with their beds rather than from altering sleep itself.

In 2009, Quartz reporter Akshat Rathi conducted a yearlong experiment of radically altering his sleeping habits, limiting his nightly sleep into 3.5 hours and supplementing it with naps throughout the day. To help him cut through the groggy haze of an early wake-up, he developed a habit of outlining the next day’s plans before he went to bed. Knowing just what to do when he woke up each morning motivated him to get out of bed, and he’s kept the habit long after returning to a more orthodox sleep schedule.

Like with Pokémon Go, Pokémon Sleep’s value as a wellness app may be most apparent in its alternative. Wandering the streets with a screen in front of one’s face isn’t an ideal form of exercise, but is healthier than never going outside at all. If the Pokémon Company has identified a market who struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed, chasing Charizard is better than none, as dystopian as that may seem.