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Games Before Bed Will Help Kids Sleep Better

Zeds makes sleep fun for youngsters with a quantified self-style mobile game.

John Pugh, BI
John Pugh, BI on May 12, 2013. @johnpugh

Bedtime is a battle that is waged in households the world over, with children always doing their best to squeeze a few more precious moments out of their respective days before closing their eyes. Despite a mix of empty threats and gentle cajoling, parents are generally at a loss about how to explain the importance of a good night’s sleep. Would a game constructed around this very idea with actual personal data to back it up help ease that burden?

Zeds is a free app by the British broadcaster Channel 4 Education which endeavors to do just that. Developed in partnership with an Oxford University neuroscientist, the game is designed to be a fun and entertaining method of helping kids get more sleep. The app records and analyses users’ sleep patterns and builds a game around them, which is intended to demonstrate how a lack of sleep can dull creativity, reduce energy levels and negatively impact young peoples’ social lives.

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Players are directed to place their iPhone on the corner of their bed, allowing the app to record their sleep patterns and display the results in a graph the following morning. The recording is then translated into a platform game with levels of difficulty determined by a child’s actual sleep data; a restless night’s sleep ups the degree of difficulty while deep sleep patterns are rewarded with easier challenges, containing more power-ups. Each sleep recording creates a different “track” in the game, along which the game’s characters, the Zeds, run. In periods of restless sleep, the running environment becomes more volatile and fraught with danger.

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Developer Chunk commissioned the Bafta-award winning animation team The Brothers McLeod to design the game, and collaborated with Professor Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University, who provides an in-game explanation of different sleep patterns. As professor Foster says:

Anything that increases the awareness of the importance of good sleep practices, especially for this age group is very important, and I’m very supportive of it…If you don’t sleep properly your ability to think creatively, to solve problems, your sense of humour – everything that makes us special human organisms – is lost. Sleep needs to be at the centre of our world.

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The overall belief is that the smartphone, the source of sleeplessness for many teens, is the perfect vehicle for an educational game and can be used to discourage late-night gadget use and promote a full night’s rest. We have recently seen a few successful applications which turn to games in order to help users manage their health, such as the mySugr app designed to help diabetes patients stay on top of their treatment. As the gamification of tasks begins to play an increasingly large role in our everyday lives, developers may begin to tackle larger life objectives through the subject of gaming. Importantly, these applications also successfully transform the technology which we carry with us every day into fully functional and personalized health devices.

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