Why You Should Trust Us
As a senior staff writer at Wirecutter, Joanne Chen has covered a range of sleep topics shes the author of our Five Days to Better Sleep challenge, our guide to sunrise alarm clocks, and our advice on how to choose the right mattress. For this guide, Joanne interviewed product specialists and brand executives in the sleep-tracking field and sleep doctors who have done their own sleep-tracking experiments either formally or informally, as well as a computer scientist who specializes in behavior tracking. Last, but perhaps not least, Joanne is personally familiar with professional-grade sleep tracking. She spent a restless night in a sleep clinic with her then-toddler son when she suspected he had sleep apnea. A few years before that, Joanne had shooed her husband off to the same clinic to have his snoring checked out.
Justin Redman is an associate staff writer on the sleep beat and has contributed to Wirecutters coverage of mattresses and other sleep products. As a below-average-to-poor sleeper for most of his life, hes always looked for tools to help him sleep better, from blackout curtains to nasal strips.
Data Tracking With Autosleep
The next morning, open the app and you can see how long you were in bed and how long you actually slept. As the app records each night’s sleep, it keeps track of the average amount of sleep you get.
On the watch, swipe down on the app’s screen to view more data about your sleep. You will be able to view the amount of total sleep, deep sleep, and overall quality of sleep, how long you were awake during the night, and your average heart rate during the night. You can also see a history of your sleep for as long as you’ve been using the app.
To see even more information, open AutoSleep on your iPhone and swipe down the different screens. Though other sleep apps are free, AutoSleep is worth the price for its wealth of details.
Data Tracking With Pillow
At the end of a sleep session, Pillow will tell you the number of hours you slept. Swipe down the screen to see the quality of sleep, both for the previous night and past nights. Swipe further to see how much time you spent in each cycle of sleep and how long you were in bed versus how long you were asleep.
You can also launch Pillow on your iPhone to run it from there or just see what data it records and how it works with your Apple Watch.
In the settings for Pillow on your iPhone, you can opt to always sync the data with the Health app, or you can manually sync it by tapping the Sync button in the Apple Watch app. After the data has synced, open the Health app and segue to the section for Sleep. By default, the app shows all data from any sleep app for which you’ve given permission.
You May Like: Vivofit 2 Sleep Mode
Apple’s Not Planning To Use Your Sleep Data
Companies like Fitbit have used anonymized user data for years to study demographic sleep patterns and improve observations on sleep, but Apple doesn’t plan to do that. Instead, Apple has been building its machine learning models from data collected through internal studies.
“And that takes a long time. So we’ve been working on this for a while,” Lynch says. “We treat the data that’s being collected on a user’s device with a high level of sensitivity around privacy. Apple is not seeing your sleep data.”
Like other sensitive information collected by Apple devices, stats about your sleep stay on your device. You control where it’s shared, like with third-party apps connected to HealthKit, and Apple doesn’t collect the information.
What Do Sleep Trackers Monitor
A wide variety of sleep trackers have hit the market, with more beingreleased all the time. Many are wearable trackers that you can strap toyour wrist. Others clip on your pillow or sit on your bedside table.
Features of these devices vary, but some common capabilities include:
- Sleep duration: By tracking the time youre inactive, the devices can record when you fall asleep at night and when you stir in the morning.
- Sleep quality: Trackers can detect interrupted sleep, letting you know when youre tossing and turning or waking during the night.
- Sleep phases: Some tracking systems track the phases of your sleep and time your alarm to go off during a period when youre sleeping less deeply. In theory, that makes it easier for you to rouse.
- Environmental factors: Some devices record environmental factors like the amount of light or temperature in your bedroom.
- Lifestyle factors: Some trackers prompt you to enter information about activities that can affect sleep, such as how much caffeine youve had, when youve eaten or whether your stress level is high.
What Does a Typical Sleep Cycle Look Like?
During a typical night, you cycle through various stages of sleep:
This cycle repeats every 90 to 110 minutes. As sleep progresses, REM cyclesincrease in length.
Recommended Reading: Sleep Deprivation Stomach Ache
Check Automatic Sleep Tracking Settings
a. Open Pillow on your iPhone
b. Tap on the Settings icon on the top right corner
c. Select “Setup” wizard
d. In the “Exclude Time” step, make sure you haven’t excluded any time that you don’t want to exclude
c. In the “Sleep session setup” step, make sure the setting “I usually go to be around” is set correctly.
d. In the “Time to sleep detection”, don’t turn on this switch if you usually spend a lot of time awake on the bed or sitting at the couch.
Five More Trackers In Detail
The Apple Watch Series 6 felt in many ways like the opposite of the Oura. Its the largest of the wrist-worn devices and sports a big, colorful display. But instead of the granular detail of the Oura and other devices, the Apple Watch serves up weekly trends that present a big-picture view. If having a mountain of sleep data simply makes you worry more about your sleepas it did for methe Apple Watchs restrained approach might help you stop fretting.
One drawback: The Apple Watch Series 6 delivers only 18 hours of battery life, according to Apple, which meant that if I wore it overnight, I needed to make time during the day to recharge it. Apple has come out with a Series 7 Watch with a bigger display and claims slightly faster charging , but its sleep-tracking functions shouldnt change much. The new model is available at , Apple, Best Buy, Sams Club, Target, and Walmart.
The other devices tend to slot between these two extremes. The Whoop 3.0 is also minimalist: a nylon wrist strap with a prominent buckle that houses the sensors and rechargeable battery, a simple LED battery-level indicator, and no display. The Whoop itself is a little less elegant than the Oura. I found the band a bit scratchy and uncomfortable overnight , and I sometimes found it difficult to attach the Whoop to its charger.
Don’t Miss: Gear S2 Sleep Tracking
Like A Bathroom Scale
People buy these things thinking theyre a weight-loss program, says Grandner of the University of Arizona. But they are usually more of a bathroom scale.
That sage advice reminded me of the purpose of sleep trackers as I evaluated them. After the two weeks, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data I had collected. Upon consulting with my experts I came to realize that I needed to spend a little less time fretting about sleep data and a little more time thinking about the devices themselves.
My first revelation was that the devices that were comfortable during the day could be downright annoying at night. As I noted earlier, I found the Whoop 3.0s strap scratchy, while those on the Fitbit Charge 4 and the Apple Watch seemed either too loose or too tight. The narrow band on the baby blue Garmin Vivosmart 4 irritated my skin, and the Muse S headband flat out kept me awake. The Oura ring? I hardly noticed it.
The other big takeaway: Dont get distracted by the data. At first I looked at the previous nights results right after writing in my sleep diary. That led me to gamify my sleep, going to bed earlier in an attempt to juice my scores. Good idea. But the net result was more time spent in bed but not more actual sleep. Unlike so many other things in the world of wellness, sleep doesnt respond to sheer effort.
No one has ever slept longer or better by trying harder, Grandner, who has consulted with Fitbit, told me, a little too late.
So Is It Still Worth Wearing Your Fitness Tracker To Bed At Night
Most smartwatches and fitness trackers have whats called a tri-axis accelerometer in them. Thats a techy way of saying theres an accelerator in your wearable.
Its a small device made up of axis-based motion sensing and it tracks movement in every direction. Some even come with a gyroscope to measure orientation and rotation.
Using a process called actigraphy, your tracker translates your wrist movements into sleep patterns.
As you can imagine its not always accurate and theres some guesswork involved in that process. Thats because actigraphy just tracks one thing movement. And theres so much more to monitoring sleep than simply tossing and turning.
Brainwaves, eye movements, and breathing are also required to determine the difference between deep REM sleep and light sleep.
Psychologist Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, MPH from the Rush University Medical Center, published a report in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine on the impact of fitness trackers on sleep.
Baron states that part of the problem lies in the technology itself. Citing multiple studies, Barons report states that these increasingly popular devices “are unable to accurately discriminate stages of sleep.” As Baron explains, “They are not able to differentiate between light and deep sleep.” Furthermore, “they might call it sleep when you’re reading in bed.”
Read Also: Sleep App For Gear S2
The Journalist Takes A Deep Dive Into The Intricacies Of Watchos 7s Sleep Tracker Available On Apple Watch Series 3 And Up
Wearables have gone from being a novelty of expensive toys to technologies of the future. Some of what we dont know about how our body works, we can be told in a tiny monitor strapped to our wrist and that breadth of information is continually growing as technology develops.
That said, Apples new watchOS 7 now features sleep tracking, to help users hone data on how well they sleep through the night for how long.
Apple had been working on a sleep tracking feature for years, having started thinking about sleep back when they first started working on health features. Sleep, after all, Like nutrition and physical activity, is a critical determinant of health and well-being, says the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. That said, sleep health education has become a prioirty for many technology companies, not just those in the wearables market. However, it is evident from the diversity of case studies the science of sleep has not been fully explored nor understood.
Best For Extra Features: Pillow
Best results when paired with an Apple Watch
Reviews state there is a recent reduction in the app functionality
Pillow, the sleep app by NeyBox Digital Ltd., has an average rating of 4.3 stars on the App Store and can be used to automatically track sleep. This sleep tracker app is compatible with an Apple Watch, but it can also be used in manual mode. We liked that this app offers the option of enabling audio recordings while you sleep, which is helpful for those who suspect that snoring or talking in their sleep is disrupting their sleep cycle. The sleep analysis includes a sleep cycle diagram and heart rate analysis, and it displays trends over time. Pillow regularly updates sleep tips to help you fall asleep and stay asleep and personalizes your insights over time.
Pillow is only available for iOS and costs $4.99 a month, $12.99 for three months, and $39.99 for a year. A one-week free trial is available. It is only available on iOS, but it syncs with the Apple Health app so you can have all your data in one place. If youre using it without an Apple Watch, you must input what time you fall asleep and what time you wake up, which can lead to inaccurate measurements.
Recommended Reading: Chronic Sleep Impairment Va Rating
The Apple Watch Dims And Becomes Bedtime
I realized, as it was time for bed, that the watch screen was really dim, like the Watch Series 5’s ambient always-on display mode, but all the time. It looks like a basic watch face, shutting down complications and other details. Tapping and turning the crown brought me back to other features if I needed them… but I liked the idea here. Also, a dimmer, more low-key watch can mean saving battery life, which is smart anyway.
How We Picked And Tested
When it comes to sleep-tracking apps, its easy to get caught up in the functional details. But the ultimate goal isnt to track your sleep perfectly its to track trends in your sleep so that you can better understand and improve it. To make that happen, several other features are also crucial in a tracking app. Heres what we looked for in the apps, in order of importance:
It was impossible to test all of the sleep apps on the iTunes store and Google Play, so we started by choosing the most downloaded apps that also had ratings of more than four out of five stars. Then we confirmed that in addition to keeping our data secure, the apps could export that data . We also sent out a few emails to customer support to see how responsive the companies were. In the end, we selected four apps to test: Pillow, Sleep as Android, Sleep Cycle, and SleepScore.
In 2018, Joanne spent eight days testing all four apps at the same time , and tested some of them individually for a few days. She also compared the four apps while wearing fitness bands and a couple of apps on the Apple Watch on the same wrist, to find out if buying a phone app is necessary if you already have a wearable fitness tracker.
The apps presented the results, as you can see here from one typical night, in a variety of ways.
Don’t Miss: Insomnia: A Month After Quitting Smoking
The Science Of Sleep Tracking
So, sleep is important. But what exactly should we track? If we take sleep laboratory tracking as a guide, we should consider the following parameters:
- Breathing Rate
- Sleep Positions
- Brainwave Patterns
If you were to visit a sleep clinic and undergo the gold standard of sleep analysis known as polysomnography, the information above would be gathered together and assessed to determine the possible presence of a sleep disorder. And a fundamental part of this type of sleep study would be the last on this list monitoring of your brainwave patterns. This component would be crucial not only to track the stages of your sleep, but also your sleep cycles. As you will see below, whilst there are a number of possible indicators of the stage of sleep we are in, the only way to be certain is through brainwave measurement.
How Does Garmin Measure Rem Sleep
In this guide, we will talk about how Garmin measures REM sleep, what is Advanced Sleep Monitoring, what type of information is recorded with Advanced Sleep Monitoring, why is REM sleep important and what Garmin Sleep reveals. As we will see, getting a good nights sleep is extremely important and contributes to our overall health since many processes happen while we are asleep even if we are not able to notice them.
Don’t Miss: Fitbit Sleep Tracker Sensitive
Apple Watch Sleep Tracking Data
Most fitness trackers, such as those from Fitbit, Garmin, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, give you highly detailed data about the amount of time youre in REM sleep, light sleep, or are tossing around in bed. I, for one, dont care what stage of sleep Im in, or how much deep sleep I getI just want to know if Ive slept wellbut I respect not everyone feels that way.
The Galaxy Watch 3, and other fitness trackers Ive tested, offer more actionable insight, which someone with consistent sleep troubles might need. For me, going to bed at the same time every night has been enough of an adjustment to regulate my hours of rest. For others, something like Fitbit Premium, which offers personalized guidance on how they can sleep better and have more energy, might be a better choice.
Apples Wind Down Is Better Than Its Sleep Tracking
Though Im not thrilled with the sleep tracking functionality, Apple did a nice job with a related set of watchOS 7 and iOS 14 features called Wind Down. Rather than just telling you how much you slept, Wind Down provides a holistic approach to weaning you off your phone at night, softly encouraging you to settle down before a full Do Not Disturb regime kicks in.
If you prefer to use apps to relax, you can create iOS shortcuts specific to settling down, such as turning on a music playlist or podcast, opening an app for reading or journaling, or accessing apps for yoga and meditation. These shortcuts will appear on the iPhones Lock Screen so youre reminded to use them, and you can also initiate a watchOS Wind Down sleep mode that begins however many minutes you prefer before your scheduled bedtime.
These kinds of features may seem simple to implement, but theyre actually thoughtful, OS-level integrations that show how sleep tracking functionality could become part of a larger sleep management experience for some users. I might want to keep using Wind Down even in the absence of sleep tracking.
Recommended Reading: Betta Fish Sleeping A Lot