I don’t think Pokémon Sleep is for people like me. By that, I mean adults with a relatively consistent sleep schedule with things to do as soon as they wake up. Adults who don’t want to be bombarded with numbers and thoughts of collecting Pokémon the moment their eyes open. But I definitely see the appeal for parents who are trying to get their kids to commit to a regular bedtime.
Pokémon Sleep is, at its core, a sleep tracker. But it’s adorned with Pikachu and all his friends to incentivize long, consistent rest. Every night you sleep, you set your phone, tablet, or Pokémon Go Plus + device on your bed, and the app tracks your sleep state throughout the night. It insists you aim for eight and a half hours, and the closer you get to that number, the more rewards and points you earn. Every sleep attracts more Pokémon to your base of operations and gives you new friends whose sleep patterns you document and potentially recruit to help your studies.
It’s all very cute, and every time a new Pokémon shows up, it’s a genuine delight to see the little guy snoozing, especially when there are fun nods to old Pokédex entries like Ditto turning into a rock to protect itself from predators or how only one of Duduo’s two heads sleeps while the other keeps watch. Pokémon Sleep is full of little references like this, and I’m hopeful that as more Pokémon are added, we’ll actually learn more about these characters’ existence in the wild. Sleep patterns are a big part of how we study real-world animals, so it makes sense that it would be the same in the Pokémon world. That world-building side of things is what appeals to me most as an adult Pokémon lover because right now, Sleep seems best suited for children.
Specifically, Sleep feels like it’s best used by parents who need help getting their kids to actually go to and get out of bed on time. If your little one’s rowdy at night or slow to get up in the morning, giving them something that rewards them with adorable Pokémon to collect seems like a no-brainer. But as an adult who has to get up every morning for work and is tuckered out by midnight most evenings, I’m not sure I need it or that it’s any more helpful than a different, likely cheaper sleep-tracking app.
Every morning, I’m greeted with a ton of prompts, numbers, and other Pokémon bells and whistles to track the information Sleep gives me, and every morning that busy work feels more distracting and time-consuming than it does helpful as I wake up and get ready for the day. You don’t have to do all the resource management first thing when you wake up, but by the time I closed the app, I had forgotten about it. Then I would remember only as I was setting up the app again just before bed, and I’ve got Mareep to count. Sure, you can chalk that up to a time management issue, but it just became clear that the only thing useful was the sleep data, which could be found far quicker on a non-Pokémon sleep app that just did the tracking part.
On top of this, the gamified sleep tracking comes with some microtransactions that feel antithetical to the relaxation you should be getting while you’re sleeping. Because Pokémon Sleep is built around points you earn, there are items like food you can feed to a Pokémon to get them to join your research as a buddy instead of a passing visitor, which you unlock gradually by using the app. Somewhere in the mix there are rare, alt-colored Shiny Pokémon to find, and buying a monthly $10 Premium Pass gives you better rewards, all of which feels weird as a way to incentivize spending money for an app they’ll get most functionality out of for free. On top of that, it can add an undercurrent of stress and grind to Pokémon Sleep. Collecting and grinding is a core part of the Pokémon, but for fuck’s sake, let me rest in peace. I am not trying to rise and grind, I’m trying to rest so I can be the very best in some other Pokémon game, probably.
The Pokémon Company released a new peripheral called Pokémon Go Plus + (yes, that’s an unwieldy name, I know), which is compatible both with Pokémon Go and Pokémon Sleep. The device is a small, flat Pokéball that, when connected to Sleep, can track your rest as your phone or tablet would. It also plays an adorable audio of Pikachu singing you a lullaby, which is probably the best thing about it. The trouble I and others ran into using the device is that it is much less reliable than just using your phone or tablet with the app open. In more than one instance, the device disconnected in the middle of the night and didn’t track my sleep at all. It’s also easy to roll over onto the thing and accidentally press the button that ends the entire process. Using the Pokémon Sleep app requires you to keep your phone on and charging overnight, which is one of its biggest drawbacks, but at least you can count on it to actually do the job. I can’t say the same for the Pokémon Go Plus +.
Pokémon is as much a lifestyle brand now as it is a game franchise, an anime, or a trading card game. Sleep isn’t the first time The Pokémon Company has entered lifestyle apps. Pokémon Smile helps kids brush their teeth, Pokémon Go is designed to make you go outside and touch tall grass. You go to the Pokémon Center store site and you’ll find plenty of merchandise meant for adults alongside the plushies you might buy for a kid (or me, with my party of Sitting Cuties saying hello from my desk). But part of engaging with an all-ages franchise is recognizing when something isn’t really for you. It might be for kids who need to be taught good sleeping habits by way of Pikachu tracking their rest. But inevitably, there will be people, even my age, who find Pokémon Sleep’s long-winded way of tracking sleep helpful, soothing, and even fun. I just think the raw utility of a sleep-tracking app is easier to achieve elsewhere.