How The Apple Watch Tracks Sleep
Apple Watch chief Kevin Lynch explains the company’s sleep approach in a conversation with CNET.
Sleep tracking on WatchOS 7 is overdue, and it’s starting with bedtime guidance.
It’s been almost five years since I first had a sleep study done at home. I put wires all over my face, wore a pulse oximeter on my finger and confirmed I had sleep apnea. I’ve used a CPAP machine ever since, and I’ve been interested in understanding how well I sleep and how to improve my rest. I’ve tried tons of watches, bed sensors and apps. Of all the smartwatches I’ve tried, the Apple Watch was conspicuously the only one that seemed to lack its own onboard sleep tracking.
While sleep tracking was possible using other Apple Watch apps, Apple never entered the space formally, despite purchasing sleep-tech company Beddit in 2017. That’s changed with WatchOS 7, unveiled last week at Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. It adds sleep tracking as an onboard feature, but you might be surprised at what sleep tracking on Apple’s watch does and doesn’t do.
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Apple’s Wind Down feature on the iOS 14 is part of the Apple Watch’s sleep experience, too.
Benefits Of Having Both An Apple Watch & A Fitbit
If you have the capabilities to have both the Apple Watch and a Fitbit, you really will get the best of both worlds. You can use your Apple Watch as an addition to your phone to send and receive text messages, call others and receive calls, etc. and then you can use your Fitbit tracker to track your overall health and wellness.
You will especially get use out of your Fitbit at night when you use it as a sleep tracker. In fact, some successful people wear their Apple Watches exclusively during the day for meetings and regular fitness tracking, but then switch open to the Fitbit at night when their Apple Watch has to charge and they want to track their sleep.
What Characterizes The Rem Sleep
Rapid eye movement sleep, also known as REM sleep, is the third stage in your sleep cycle. Its characterized by small, variable-speed brain waves, rapid eye movements, increased heart rate, and muscle paralysis. The first time your body enters this phase at night, it will stay in REM sleep for 90 to 110 minutes.
Also Check: How Does Vivofit 3 Track Sleep
Think About The Battery
Heres where sleep tracking with the Apple Watch falls down somewhat. The battery needs charging on a daily basis, so there wont be any time for that if youre wearing it all day and night. Of course, you could set aside a different time to charge your Watch, if that works for your schedule. If you dont want to wear your Watch in bed, or if you have an older device, you could use a third-party sleep-tracking app. Bear in mind that some apps may require you to have your iPhone on the bed with you, which is also an undesirable place to charge it.
Sleep tracking using the iPhone is possible, but it comes with many compromises.
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.
Recommended Reading: Causes Of Sleep Apnea In Veterans
Track Your Sleep With Apple Watch
With the Sleep app on Apple Watch, you can create bedtime schedules to help you meet your sleep goals. Wear your watch to bed, and Apple Watch can track your sleep. When you wake up, open the Sleep app to learn how much sleep you got and see your sleep trends over the past 14 days.
If your Apple Watch is charged less than 30 percent before you go to bed, youre prompted to charge it. In the morning, just glance at the greeting to see how much charge remains.
You can create multiple schedulesfor example, one for weekdays and another for weekends. For each schedule, you can set up the following:
A sleep goal
What time you want to go to bed and wake up
An alarm sound to wake you up
When to turn on sleep mode, which limits distractions before you go to bed and protects your sleep after youre in bed
Sleep tracking, which uses your motion to detect sleep when Apple Watch is in sleep mode and worn to bed
Tip: To exit sleep mode, first turn the Digital Crown to unlock. Then swipe up to open Control Center and tap .
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: Rem Sleep And Depression
Set Up Sleep On Apple Watch
Open the Sleep app on your watch . Tap the schedule, then select the Wake Up time if you wish to change it. Turn on an alarm if you need one to wake you up at the right time. Tap the time for Bedtime if you want to change that as well.
Return to the main screen and tap Full Schedule if you wish to turn off your Sleep Schedule for any specific nights or all nights. Here, you can also add a schedule and change your sleep goal or Wind Down time. Then just wear your watch to bed.
Activity And Workout Tracking
Both wearables do a good job of recognizing and tracking different types of physical activity. For example, the last time I walked from the security area of the Atlanta airport to Terminal F , my Apple Watch asked me if Id like to start tracking an indoor walk. Plus, it had already captured every step I had taken since I sped up my pace .
On another occasion, I swam a few laps in our previous homes community pool. The Apple Watch recognized that I was swimming and started tracking a workout while counting my laps.
WHOOP, on the other hand, detected I was doing manual labor when I built our first chicken coop early in 2021. Additionally, WHOOP automatically recognizes many of my functional workouts that last longer than 15 minutes.
The latter is key for both fitness bands to detect and log workouts the workouts have to be long enough and raise your heart rate above a certain threshold in order to be recognized. The exact threshold varies by device and the type of workout youre performing.
For example, WHOOP recognizes physical activity as a workout if your heart rate is elevated for longer than 15 minutes and the activity resulted in a metabolic strain score of 8 or above. .
Heres an overview table that compares the activity and workout tracking features of both devices side-by-side.
So WHOOP can theoretically detect all 87 types of workouts it has in its database.
Fitness Goals: How the Apple Watch and WHOOP Strap Score Workouts
Read Also: Sleeping App For Apple Watch
Sleep Coaching And Tracking
Tracking sleep patterns is arguably one of the most important features of a fitness tracker at least for me. Thats because the quality of my sleep plays a major role in how the rest of my day goes, including how hard I can push myself during a workout.
Case in point: the night before writing this article, I didnt sleep well and decided to skip that days workout .
I dont need a sleep tracker to tell me that I had a poor nights sleep. However, I closely monitor how the choices I make during the day impact my sleep quality.
To quantify this, I need a fitness tracker that can accurately detect sleep patterns , including light, deep and REM sleep. As I mentioned in my article about the best sleep trackers, most devices fall short in accurately detecting deep and REM sleep.
When Apple announced that it had made improvements to the sleep tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 6 and watchOS 7, I got super excited and had high hopes especially in light of their acquisition of Beddit, a sleep tracking technology company. Unfortunately, those hopes were crushed when the company revealed the details of the new Apple Watchs sleep tracking abilities.
In fact, Apple didnt introduce any new sleep tracking features at all it just made the previously-available Bedtime feature slightly less useless.
So heres where we stand with sleep tracking/coaching and the Apple Watch Series 6 + watchOS 7:
- Heart rate sensor
- Skin conductance sensor
- Skin temperature sensor
Data Tracking With Sleep++
Sleep++ analyzes your sleeping pattern, shows you the number of hours you were in bed, and gives you a percentage measuring how restless you were during the night. You can also view your sleep information on the Sleep++ iPhone app and opt to sync the data to the Health app.
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You Could Loop In More Advanced Apple Watch Sleep Tracking Apps
There are, to be clear, more complex third-party sleep apps for Apple Watch. Apple points to these as ones you could use to enhance your analysis. However, I’d prefer Apple just did it and kept it all in the self-contained ecosystem. I’m not wild about adding extra apps with other authorizations when it comes to health tech.
Most Accurate Sleep Tracker I’ve Found
I’ve tested several sleep trackers now and this one has been the most accurate. I love that I dont have to explicitly tell it every night that Im going to bed, it figures it out, and it doesnt record false positives during the day. It also does a good job of accurately reporting data to the Health app. A few of the previous trackers I used really messed up my sleep data.My only gripe is I wish there was a way to schedule daily smart alarms. Currently, I have to go in and set the alarm every night, which kind of ruins the whole automatic aspect of this.
Read Also: Garmin Vs Fitbit Sleep Tracking
How To Measure Rem Sleep With Apple Watch
Open the Sleep app on your Apple Watch. Scroll down to see the amount of sleep you got the night before and your sleep average over the last 14 days.
You asked, how does my watch know Im in REM sleep? Using a process called actigraphy, your tracker translates your wrist movements into sleep patterns. Brainwaves, eye movements, and breathing are also required to determine the difference between deep REM sleep and light sleep.
Beside above, can a watch measure REM sleep? It generally cant accurately measure REM sleep. But sleep-tracking apps for wearable devices like the Apple Watch or Fitbit primarily look at movement and heart rate to determine when you are asleep or awake which are generally not precise enough to measure the different sleep stages, Dr.
Also, how do you measure sleep on Applewatch? In the Watch app on your iPhone, tap the My Watch tab, then tap Sleep. Then tap Track Sleep with Apple Watch to turn on this setting. To get the most accurate results when wearing your watch to sleep: Turn on Charging Reminders.
Native Apple Watch Sleep Tracking
With the release of watchOS 7 last year, Apple Watch now officially supports sleep tracking without needing a third-party application.
We went hands-on with the experience when it was released, explaining that Apple is tying Apple Watch sleep-tracking capabilities in with new iPhone features such as Wind Down and Wake Up for a seamless cross-device experience.
Theres a new Sleep app on the Apple Watch, as well as a Sleep Mode that hides your usual watch face and instead shows the current time, as well as what time your alarm is set for. It also disables features like raise-to-wake, so your watch face isnt lighting up in the middle of the night.
To view the sleep data tracked by your Apple Watch, you can go to the Sleep app on Apple Watch or the Health app on iPhone. The actual data here is limited. Apple simply shows you your time asleep, as well as a range for your heart rate. Thats where third-party applications still prove useful. They can offer much more data than Apples native implementation, and you dont have to wait until the fall to get started.
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Answer From The Community
No, it does not. However, there are a couple of good 3rd-party apps you can inexpensively buy that do. Check out Macworld’s forum to see a review on Pillow and Auto Sleep’s apps . Also note that most people charge their Watch at night, so consider that in tracking sleep .
- Answered by Alice J from Murray
Whoop Vs Apple Watch: Frequently Asked Questions
Should I wear WHOOP and Apple Watch together?
Thats what I do, because there are clear benefits to using the devices in tandem.The WHOOP strap is arguably the most sophisticated fitness, sleep and recovery tracker on the market. And the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch . Combined, theyre a powerful duo that offers you everything youd expect from such wrist-worn devices.
Can WHOOP store activity and sleep data in Apples Health app?
Unfortunately, it cannot. Ive been unsuccessfully asking for this integration since I started wearing WHOOP in early 2019.
What factors impact the reliability of the heart rate readings?
There are several factors that influence the ability of the heart rate sensor to accurately monitor heart rate data. These include skin perfusion , fit, the presence of tattoos, water and motion . If you think your Apple Watch or WHOOP isnt correctly recording heart rate data, make sure the strap is tight enough around your wrist and that the sensor isnt directly above your wrist bone . If adjusting the tightness of the strap and the location of the sensor doesnt work, consider wearing the device on your other wrist or using an arm or bicep strap.
Does Apple offer a bicep strap for the Apple Watch?
Can I export my health data from Apple Watch?
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How To Track Your Sleep On Apple Watch
If youre having trouble sleeping, you may want to monitor your sleep cycle. An Apple Watch makes it easy with its own built-in sleep tracker and support for third-party apps.
Yawwwwn. Waking up feeling tired? Think you’re not getting enough sleep, or even the best kind of sleep? You could turn to your iPhone for help, but it may be better to track your sleep patterns. One way to do that is with a sleep tracker app on your Apple Watch.
In the past, you had to use a third-party app to monitor and record your sleep, but Apple introduced its own integrated sleep tracker with watchOS 7. The built-in tracker gets the job done, but it doesnt have all the bells and whistles needed to fully track and record every aspect of your sleep. For that reason, you might still want to try a third-party sleep-tracking app to get a more complete picture of your sleep patterns.
Worried about battery power? Don’t be. Your Apple Watch won’t run out of battery in the middle of the night if you give it a power boost before bed. Connect it to the charger for an hour or two before sleep, and it should last the entire night.
These apps aren’t always 100 percent accurate. A more comprehensive test would involve your doctor and a full sleep study where you would be hooked up to monitors. However, these sleep trackers at least offer a good place to start.