How to use a sleep tracker

Track your sleep schedule to improve your sleep hygiene (and your life).

Chris Monroe/CNET

Let’s say you fell asleep last night at 11pm and woke at 7am, getting 8 hours of what seems like good rest. So, why are you still tired in the morning?

It’s probably because you aren’t getting sufficient deep sleep to truly restore your body and mind. But instead of guessing how many hours you’re getting or wondering if you tossed and turned all night, you can get hard data by tracking your sleep .

Let’s explore the many ways you can do it.

Use your phone

While it’s a good idea to leave tech out of the bedroom, if you’re like most people, your phone charges on your bedside table as you sleep . It’s likely also replaced your alarm clock.

If you’re already sleeping with your phone, make it work for you by tracking your sleep.

Sleep apps

There are several apps that use your phone’s accelerometer or sonar waves emitted from your phone to detect movement. All you have to do is place your phone on the mattress next to you.

Every morning, you’ll be able to see how long you slept and how much you moved while sleeping, which can indicate that you’re not getting enough restorative deep sleep.

Our favorite sleep-tracking apps are SleepScore (Android and iOS), Sleep Cycle (Android and iOS) and Sleep Time (Android and iOS).

iPhone

The iPhone (and other iOS devices) uses a different approach to measure your sleep.

In the Clock app, the Bedtime feature lets you set your bedtime and wake up time. Once set, your phone will alert you when it’s time to go to bed to get the amount of sleep you desire.

With this feature enabled, your phone pays attention to when you stop using it at night and when you reach for it in the morning to approximate the number of hours you slept. You can see that data in the Sleep Analysis section of the Health app.

Though apps are a great way to get started with sleep-tracking, they’re not a perfect solution. They can be thwarted by mattress movement (if you sleep with a partner), your phone can fall off the bed, and they can also cause your phone to overheat if it’s under sheets and blankets.

Fitness trackers

To get a better idea of how well you sleep — how long you’re in REM cycle sleep or whether you move around a lot while you’re snoozing — you can use a fitness tracker.

Many of these devices already come equipped to track sleep. Several Fitbit models , the Apple Watch , the Motiv Ring and others all track sleep efficiency by measuring your movements throughout the night.

Garmin’s Vivosport and many other fitness trackers can also track your sleep habits.

Keep in mind, though, that because these devices aren’t designed specifically for sleep, it’s a good idea to double-check their accuracy. For example, according to a 2012 study (and a recent lawsuit), Fitbit’s actigraph overestimates sleep by 67 minutes, which is pretty significant.

To make sure your fitness tracker isn’t over- or underestimating how long you were out, use an app to be safe, or the good old-fashioned method of remembering when you went to sleep.

Smart beds and sensors

If you are serious about tracking your sleep, try a smart mattress or dedicated sleep sensor, such as the iFit Sleep HR or Eight Sleep Tracker .

Sensors fit under or over your existing mattress to track movement, plus heart and respiratory rates. They use that data to tell you how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you spent in each cycle of sleep throughout the night.

How to use a sleep tracker

The Eight Sleep Mars+ smart mattress tracks your movement and heart rate as you sleep.

Smart mattresses do the same things, but also often include heating and cooling modes and other premium features.

Rather than having a fitness tracker pull double duty, the main benefit to a dedicated sleep tracker is accuracy. The secondary benefit is not having to wear a wristband in your sleep or worry about it dying throughout the night.

Compile the data

Gathering all of this sleep data is only useful if you actually use it. After several nights of tracking your sleep, you’ll end up with information on how much “deep” vs. “light” sleep you’re getting, how often you move or wake up, time spent in each sleep cycle or — in some cases — how much you snore.

Unfortunately, most sleep apps and fitness trackers don’t give you much advice on how to make changes to your sleep habits based on that data.

Here are some causes of common sleep issues:

If you’re not hitting the number of hours you need: It’s time to adjust your bedtime or wake up call.

If you’re sleeping, but not getting much deep sleep: It could mean your bedroom is too hot or cold, or that you need to cut back on caffeine or alcohol. You might also have underlying sleep conditions, like sleep apnea or insomnia, that you should get checked out by a doctor.

If you wake up a lot at night or toss and turn: It could mean you’re sleeping too hot, that caffeine or alcohol is interfering with your sleep, or you’re dealing with stress.

Apps and sensors can help you understand what’s happening while you’re asleep, but they aren’t stand-ins for going to the doctor. If you’re waking up exhausted all the time or having trouble staying awake during the day, it’s worth getting checked out for any underlying issues.

Now that you know how to track your sleep, here are ways your smart home can help you sleep better .

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

It seems like everyone is struggling to get more and better sleep these days. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2020 Sleep in America Poll found that nearly half of all Americans (44%) feel sleepy 2-4 days a week, and 28% feel sleepy 5-7 days a week. Forty percent of adults say feeling sleepy at least occasionally interferes with their daily activities. Not getting enough sleep also makes you more likely to get a host of illnesses, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and depression and other mental illnesses.

So can a sleep tracking device like the Fitbit, Apple Watch, Withings Sleep, or Biostrap EVO help you find out how much sleep you’re getting, pinpoint where you’re having trouble and what may be interrupting your sleep, and ultimately get a good solid night of ZZZs? The answer seems to be yes: New research in the journal Sleep suggests that these sleep tracking devices perform about as well at tracking cycles of sleeping and waking as more advanced laboratory-based sleep monitors.

Types of Trackers

What kinds of sleep trackers are available, and what do they offer?

There are two main categories of sleep tracking devices: wearables and non-wearables. Wearables can take the form of a watch or bracelet, ring, chest strap, or even a mask or headband design, while non-wearables are typically thin devices that you slide under your sheet or mattress, or place next to your bed. There are even smart mattresses that can monitor your sleep habits.

What Do They Do?

What can a sleep tracker tell you, and what does it do? It depends on the device, but the information you can get from a sleep tracker may include some or all of the following:

  • Your heart rate and variations in it
  • Your breathing patterns
  • Time awake and time sleeping
  • Body temperature
  • Room temperature and humidity
  • Light and noise levels

Most trackers take all this data and put it together into reports that you can view the next morning and monitor over time, to see how your sleep patterns change and what might be affecting them. Some have “sleep coach” functions that give you feedback based on the patterns they detect. Many also have tools that let you establish and work toward goals for your sleep and set smart alarms to wake you when you are in your lightest phase of sleep.

How to Pick the Best Sleep Tracker for You

With so many sleep trackers on the market, how do you choose the best one for you? Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Do you want a device you can wear and check regularly, and perhaps something that integrates with your other health data, like physical activity? Then consider a wearable like a smartwatch or wristband. But if you find something like that intrusive to have on all the time (or even just when you sleep), you might look at a non-wearable.
  • What’s your budget? The prices for most sleep trackers range from about $100 to $300. “Smart mattresses” that track your sleep, as well as offering a variety of “comfort” technologies aimed at improving your sleep, typically start north of $2,000 and can cost $5,000 or more.
  • How much information do you want? Some sleep trackers just monitor your vital signs, like heart rate, respiration, and movement, while others also monitor the environment around you, including things like noise, temperature, and humidity.
  • How can you use the information? If you want to share data with your doctor or another health professional, consider what can be done with the device’s reports. Many of the associated apps can generate printable PDFs to take to a doctor’s appointment, or online charts and graphs you can send via email.

How Not to Use a Sleep Tracker

Sleep trackers are useful and their technology is getting better all the time, but they can’t substitute for the advice of your doctor. If you’re just feeling like you aren’t getting enough sleep and want to figure out what might be interrupting your peaceful night’s rest, a sleep tracker is a great tool to help you do that.

But if you have more significant issues, such as sleep apnea or chronic insomnia, don’t rely on the sleep tracker alone. Instead, take the information you get from the device to your doctor to discuss interventions that might help you. Data from your sleep tracker can’t be used to diagnose a sleep disorder. The devices aren’t approved by the FDA for that purpose. But the information from them can help point your doctor toward next steps in diagnosing what might be keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Show Sources

National Sleep Foundation: “Sleep in America Poll 2020.”

Johns Hopkins Health: “Do Sleep Trackers Really Work?”

CDC: “Are You Getting Enough Sleep?”

Sleep: “Performance of seven consumer sleep-tracking devices compared with polysomnography.”

Matthew Reid does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners

University of Oxford provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

How to use a sleep tracker

An estimated one in three people report regular sleep complaints. So it’s hardly surprising people are more concerned than ever about getting enough sleep. This blossoming interest has seen an explosion of sleep trackers which measure how many hours of sleep you get each night.

As we sleep, we go through cycles of “deep”, “light” and “rapid eye movement” (REM) sleep. The “deep” portion of our sleep is mainly what leaves us feeling refreshed the next day. Most sleep trackers are a watch worn on the wrist, and work by monitoring your body movements as you sleep to determine how much time you probably spent awake versus asleep. Some devices also look at heart rate changes during sleeping to estimate how much time you spent in each sleep cycle.

Despite their popularity, only a few studies have investigated how accurate sleep devices are. So far, research has found that compared to polysomnography tests – which experts use to diagnose sleep disorders – sleep trackers are only accurate 78% of the time when identifying sleep versus wakefulness. This accuracy drops to around 38% when estimating how long it took participants to fall asleep.

Polysomnography tests are the most accurate because they track a person’s brain waves, heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen levels, and body and eye movements during sleep through electrodes attached to the skin and scalp. Analysing brain wave patterns is the only definitive way of knowing whether someone is awake or asleep, and to know what stage of sleep they’re in.

But since sleep trackers are worn on the wrist, they make their estimates of nightly sleep by measuring body movement and sometimes heart rate data. As we move frequently during all stages of sleep, movement provides few clues about what sleep stage we’re in. Many sleep devices also fail to differentiate one stage of sleep from another based on motion alone.

Given many consumer sleep devices haven’t been compared against polysomnography tests, it’s difficult to determine their accuracy rate. Furthermore, the algorithms which companies use to make predictions about sleep are unknown, making it difficult for scientists to identify whether the assumptions made by the sleep devices are valid.

Studies also show sleep devices underperform in people with insomnia. People with insomnia tend to remain very still in bed in an attempt to fall asleep. But as sleep trackers only measure movement, one study found watches were unable to differentiate sleep from wakefulness in people with insomnia.

Watches that incorporate heart rate data tend to be slightly more accurate when measuring sleep duration because heart rate fluctuates during different sleep stages. However, even in devices that do track heart rate, many experts are still uncertain of their accuracy because of the limited research on them, and because of the differences between each device. For example, one study of heart rate sleep trackers showed that two consumer devices tended to underestimate the amount of deep sleep wearers obtained by as much as 46 minutes.

Sleep anxiety

Ultimately, this leads to the question of whether knowing about our sleep is actually beneficial to us. After all, one of the best ways to stay awake is to try really hard to go to sleep. It sounds counterintuitive, but we see this clinically in patients with chronic insomnia, for whom excessive pre-occupation with sleep causes anxiety and low mood over sleep loss – leading to further sleeplessness.

How to use a sleep tracker

A study published by our research group showed this effect can be worsened by sleep watches. Participants were given sleep watches and asked to complete measures of mood, daytime thinking processes and sleepiness at regular periods throughout the day. However, the “sleep score” given by their watches was manipulated to show either an increased or a decreased quality of sleep. The amount and quality of sleep participants in both groups got was the same.

The study found that those who were told they had a poor night’s sleep showed lower mood, difficulties with daytime thinking processes and increased sleepiness. Those who were told they had a great night’s sleep showed the opposite.

This shows us that data from these sleep trackers could change your emotional state and concentration levels during the day – even if the readings are accurate. Given people who experience poor sleep may be more likely to use sleep tracking devices, this could be a concern as it may potentially worsen mental health issues.

While few studies have examined this link so far, one report highlighted more patients are seeking treatment for perceived sleep difficulties as a result of feedback from sleep trackers. Even when such complaints are refuted by a polysomnography test, watches continue to provide a source of sleep-related anxiety. Since studies have shown overuse of wearable devices (such as those used during exercise) increase health anxiety and depression, there’s concerns sleep devices may have a similar effect.

While sleep devices might be useful for those who have generally good sleep but are interested in tracking or establishing a better routine, people who have poor sleep or mental health conditions may want to avoid them. But the best metric for measuring how good your sleep was is to see how you feel each day. If you’re tired and struggling to concentrate, then going to bed a bit earlier each night may help you feel more rested – no device necessary.

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep is the platform on which nutrition, exercise and mindfulness reside. But these pillars for your health aren’t nearly as efficient if your sleep’s not working. Some sleep a lot, like the endearing sloth that clocks in about 15-18 hours per day. But the mighty elephant only logs 2 hours per night. But what does a normal sleep cycle look like for humans? We end up somewhere in between, most of us needing 7 to 9 hours each night to recover and restore.

Sleep Cycle helps you to better health through better sleep. At its heart, it tracks your sleep cycles by listening to your sounds. It analyses those sounds by help of ever-evolving machine learning algorithms, and presents the results to you and helps you understand your sleep with unique data analysis and graphs. The habits that influence it and what you can do to improve your rest and recovery.

Sleep Cycle Stages

We rest through four to six sleep cycles per night. Each sleep cycle has different sleep stages. They all serve their purpose to provide you with quality rest, and each sleep cycle varies in length across the night. Sleep cycles also differ from person to person. Don’t stress out if yours don’t resemble some googled idea of what’s normal or perfect for sleep. We’re all different. If your body says you’re rested, you probably are.

How to use a sleep tracker

Track and analyze sleep patterns

Sleep Cycle tracks your sleep patterns through these sleep cycles. Using the microphone, it listens to and analyses your sounds by help of machine learning. Then, Sleep Cycle presents to you an idea of the quality of your rest and what influences that quality. You really don’t need a tracker to tell you if you slept well or not. But Sleep Cycle is immensely useful in figuring out the cause and what you can change or maintain, to reach or keep better sleep.

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep Cycle is by and large, an autonomous sleep tracking tool. Turn it on before bedtime and put it on the nightstand, and it does the rest. Everything it records and stores, is private and only yours. We don’t share your sleep data with anyone. If you got an Apple Watch, you don’t need the phone to track your sleep patterns. Use Sleep Cycle on the watch instead, and work with the results on your phone at a time that’s convenient for you.

How to use a sleep tracker

Fall asleep more easily

Sleep Cycle offers an extensive sound library with music, meditations and stories. They help reduce anxiety, relax your body, calm your breathing or just provide you with some comfort.

How to use a sleep tracker

Understand your sleep

With its patented sound analysis technology, Sleep Cycle listens to your sounds and provides you with an analysis of your sleep. It correlates its findings with your habits, external factors and daily activities and helps you figure out the good and bad influencers on your sleep.

How to use a sleep tracker

Wake up feeling rested

Sleep Cycle wakes you up when you’re in your lightest sleep phase, and helps you feeling rested and recovered as you rise to face the day.

How to use a sleep tracker

Improve your sleep

The results of the sleep analysis are presented as easy-to-understand insights, graphs and trends, providing tailored guidance on how you can change your routine to improve your sleep.

The latest gadgetry designed to analyze your sleep has limits, experts say. And the tools are meaningless when healthy nighttime habits are ignored.

How to use a sleep tracker

Wearable sleep-tracking technology and smartphone apps are touted for their ability to collect data points throughout the night — and to provide a better picture of what goes on during shut-eye.

But they won’t actually improve your sleep.

The reason: “They’re based on movement,” says Johnathan Barkham, M.D., a clinical instructor of sleep medicine at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System .

“They can’t give you good data on whether you’re actually sleeping.”

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In other words, a wearer who is wide awake but also lying still could get an imprecise sleep summary the next day. The same issue may affect individuals who shift around while snoozing.

Devices that include smartwatches, Bluetooth-enabled bracelets and bedside monitors continue to evolve — some claim to be able to detect when users enter different stages of sleep.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the sleep-tech sector, however.

That means such products are not tested to meet federal standards, and doctors cannot rely on their readings to diagnose possible sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea .

Those concerns were echoed last year by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which issued a position statement citing “ minimal data validating the ability of these devices” to properly monitor sleep.

Still, the trackers can serve a more general purpose.

“There’s a role for this technology in helping bring awareness about sleep hygiene and sleep habits,” says Q. Afifa Shamim-Uzzaman, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Ann Arbor VA and an assistant professor at Michigan Medicine.

“But I would caution people against using these trackers as true reflection of their sleep architecture.”

Limitations of sleep trackers

Most sleep trackers use a motion-sensing technology such as an accelerometer or gyrometer to gauge how often a wearer moves during slumber.

Even though a person’s muscles become more relaxed in deeper sleep — and temporarily paralyzed during REM sleep, the phase in which dreaming occurs — that metric isn’t definitive.

“Movement isn’t a great reflection of sleep, so it’s not the best parameter to use,” Shamim-Uzzaman says.

Some newer sleep trackers incorporate other capacities, such as heart rate monitors, to attempt to better gauge when users progress from drowsiness into deeper states of sleep.

The most accurate way to examine a patient, though, is still via a sleep study (also called a polysomnogram). The comprehensive test monitors brain waves, breathing, heart rhythm, oxygen levels and muscle tone during an overnight stay in a sleep lab.

Small-scale academic studies have found that data analysis produced by consumer wearables — such as the popular Fitbit and Jawbone — don’t necessarily correspond to sleep parameters as identified by a sleep study.

They may also overestimate or underestimate sleep and wake, Shamim-Uzzaman says, and are all typically much less accurate in differentiating between the different stages of sleep.

Electronics giant Philips recently developed a home-based sleep tracker worn as a headband (SmartSleep), but Shamim- Uzzaman notes that it uses fewer electroencephalogram (EEG) signals to detect brain activity than a clinical sleep study, which usually collects data from at least six EEG leads.

The best ways to improve your sleep

Despite their flaws, sleep trackers can provide surface information and incentive, say Barkham and Shamim-Uzzaman, who both work with the Michigan Medicine Sleep Disorders Centers .

The tools might prompt users to be more mindful of making bedtime a priority — or motivate them to see a doctor for sleep-related concerns.

But unless a patient adopts the necessary habits to help ensure a good night’s sleep, they note, there’s no amount of self-gathered data that can make a difference.

Here’s how to start:

Ban technology from the bedroom: Blue light from televisions, tablets and phones suppresses melatonin, the hormone that tells your body when to fall asleep. Barkham advises patients to turn off screens within two hours of their target bedtime. In addition, “avoiding light in the evening using apps on your phone like Night Shift, or f.lux for your PC, or a combination with blue-light-blocking glasses can help reduce but not totally eliminate the effects of device light affecting your sleep pattern,” he says.

Set a consistent bedtime and wake time: Make it a habit to turn in and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. That’s because your body’s circadian rhythm (aka its internal clock) can be thrown off by an erratic schedule and cause your sleep to become mistimed. That means you may be sleepy when you should be awake and awake when you should be sleepy.

Get regular exercise: Physical activity is key to good health and rest. “A sedentary lifestyle can ruin your sleep,” Barkham says. Just be sure to work up a sweat a few hours before bedtime so you have adequate time to wind down. Vigorous exercise prior to bed can actually delay sleep.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine: There’s no question that an evening cup of coffee will keep you up. But popular notions that an alcoholic nightcap can help spur relaxation may be misleading: “Though it may make people sleepy, it also disrupts sleep and aggravates sleep apnea,” Shamim-Uzzaman says.

Use your bed only for sleep and sex: When you check email or binge-watch television under the covers, “your body and mind lose the association that the bed is for sleep,” says Shamim-Uzzaman, who notes that the disconnect can ultimately lead to insomnia.

Even when adhering to those guidelines — and whether or not a sleep-tracking device is involved — patients should listen to their bodies.

“If you feel like you’re getting enough sleep and are still waking up tired or struggling with sleepiness during the daytime, or if you are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, speak to your doctor about it,” Shamim-Uzzaman says.

“If you snore and somebody says they hear you stop breathing while you sleep, definitely discuss this with your doctor.”

A provider can offer more insight, including whether a sleep study is necessary.

If you want to improve your sleep, it’s a good idea to know your starting point. Determining how often you’re waking up at night or if you’re entering the deep sleep stages your body needs, is important information to have in the beginning so you can start making improvements. But…how can you track your sleep while you’re, well, out cold?

Enter sleep trackers. They come in several forms, from wearable smart watches, to headbands that provide biofeedback, rings you slip on a finger, a device you slip under your sheet, or apps that use motion detection and microphones to detect when you’re in the different stages of sleep.

With so many sleep trackers popularized these days, you might be wondering how they track your sleep. Although the technology behind these devices is more complicated than we’ll get into today, there are several ways these devices track your sleep.

Accelerometers

Most sleep trackers measure sleep quantity and quality by using accelerometers, small motion detectors. Accelerometers measure how much movement you’re making while you sleep. This data is then analyzed using an algorithm to estimate sleep time and quality. If you want to get more details about your sleep stages, a sleep tracker that only offers an accelerometer isn’t the best fit, they can’t accurately measure sleep stages because there is little difference in movement between the sleep stages, according to the Sleep Foundation .

Heart Rate and Respiration

Some sleep trackers estimate REM sleep in addition to deep and light sleep stages by measuring heart rate. Although heart rate and respiration rates are known to vary greatly during sleep, they have a close relationship with each sleep stage since the autonomic nervous system significantly affects both. Respiration is considered the most important parameter of physiological data because it clearly indicates sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea according to research published in the journal, Sensors .

Environmental Factors

Some sleep trackers use a microphone – like the one on your phone you’ll place close to your bed – to capture noise from the room or your body. Specifically, if you’re moving frequently and not sleeping well, some trackers will note that. A microphone can measure your respiration, detecting snoring, sleep apnea, and how often you wake up during the night. Some sleep trackers with thermometers can measure the temperature of your room and may show that you wake up frequently when it’s too warm.

Research finds that sleep sensor sensing feedback can help patients determine the effectiveness of a treatment for a particular sleep disorder, such as using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine for sleep apnea.

Now that you know how well (or poorly) you’re sleeping, use that data to look for patterns where you can make improvements. Went to bed late and didn’t sleep well? Set a reminder on your phone to go to bed an hour earlier and relax. Woke up a few times after a couple of alcoholic drinks? Cut back on the alcohol and imbibe closer to dinner so you can metabolize alcohol and rest easy.

You might have to use a trial and error method to see which sleep tracker works best for you. If wearing a wristband bothers you and impacts your ability to fall asleep, consider a smartphone app you can launch and place next to your bed so nothing touches your skin.

Or, look for a sleep tech product you can slip under your sheet. Something else to keep in mind, tracking your sleep doesn’t result in you actually sleeping better. Just like tracking that your eating habits are bad doesn’t automatically make you lose weight. Changing habits based on what you learn is the key.

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep tracking is an intriguing idea: By monitoring your sleep cycles, you can come to better understand what you, personally, require to get a solid night’s rest. Sounds great – who doesn’t want that? But how exactly can an app on your phone or a fitness tracker monitor your sleep? We break it down…

The Different Kinds of Sleep Monitors

Sleep tracking devices — whether an app on your phone, a wearable fitness tracker or a dedicated sleep monitor – look at your sleep-wake cycles to determine the quality of your sleep on a given night. The thinking is that by cross-referencing your sleep data with other factors like your diet, exercise patterns or alcohol and caffeine consumption – as well as just your general mood (asking yourself, “Do I feel rested?” in the morning) – you can notice patterns and optimize how you sleep. There are three main types of sleep monitors: Standalone smartphone apps, wearables (including fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up or a FitBit) and dedicated devices.

Smartphone apps and wearables rely mostly on movement tracking through the device’s accelerometer (an internal component that detects motion) to determine what sleep stage you’re in and for how long. A standalone app will tell you to sleep with the phone on your mattress so it can detect movement when you toss and turn, while a wearable fitness tracker’s app will get the data straight from the device on your body.

Dedicated sleep devices – which include things like bed-side monitors that use sensors aimed at your bed or a thin pad that you lay on top of your mattress – also track motion, as well as other variables like room temperature, brightness, breathing patterns and more. Many of these devices, including smart phone apps, also detect sound levels so you can correlate any wakefulness with noise.

But Does Using Motion to Measure Sleep Work?

If you were to go to a lab to have your sleep monitored, they’d use a method called polysomnography, which tracks several variables including brain function, eye movement, muscle activity and heart rhythm.

Another, less invasive method that can be done at home is called actigraphy. Actigraphy simplifies sleep measurement down to one variable: Movement. Basically, you wear a small device that tracks how you move in your sleep. (Researchers like actigraphic studies because they allows the subjects to remain at home, in their normal sleep setting, therefore possibly giving more organic results).

This is exactly what your smartphone or fitness tracker is doing (though most likely in a much less sophisticated way). These devices then analyze your movement to determine how much light, REM and deep sleep you get in a night.

Can They Be Trusted?

Here’s the thing about sleep trackers: Their value is that they provide visibility into patterns that you might not have noticed before — then it’s up to you to understand how to use this information to help try and get a better night’s sleep. And because many of these apps also incorporate diet and exercise tracking, it can be easier to see these correlations.

For example, most people get less REM sleep and wake up earlier when they’ve been drinking alcohol – sometimes even just a couple glasses of wine. Others might find that a day without exercise means less deep sleep and therefore a struggle to throw off the duvet in the morning. And still others might just notice that it’s not about eight hours of sleep to feel well-rested, but a certain combination of deep and REM sleep.

So Which Ones Work Best?

The internet is full of first-person tests pitting a variety of trackers against each other and testing for accuracy. There are almost always — and not surprisingly — discrepancies. And since most of these devices are based on the same actigraphic methods, what’s “best” often comes down to the controlling app’s interface and additional bells and whistles, such as sound recording, note-taking features or the ability to connect to other apps (like MyFitnessPal for diet tracking or Argus for exercise if you’re not using a fitness tracker for sleep monitoring). Some even offer an alarm function that times your wake-up with your sleep cycle (within a certain time frame, of course) so that you awake at a more natural point. Others might even analyze your data and offer personalized tips (though in most cases, the tips aren’t all that insightful, like “drink less” and “go to bed earlier”).

As for specifics recommendations, Sleepcycle for iOS or Sleepbot for Android are two commonly user-approved smartphone apps, while the Jawbone and the FitBit Flex get high praise in fitness trackers category. If you use a chest-strap heart rate monitor when you work out (such as the Polar H7), check to see if it’s compatible with any sleep monitoring apps (if you’re cool with sleeping with it on). As far as dedicated sleep monitoring devices go, the Withings Aura system (it uses a mattress pad) and ResMed S+ night-stand monitor seem to get a lot of love as well.

A good night’s sleep is essential for your overall health and well-being. Conserving energy, healing the body, consolidating memories, and regulating emotions are some of the key reasons why we sleep. Normally, human adults require anywhere between seven and nine hours of undisturbed sleep during the night, so that the body can get the optimum rest it requires.

However, professional commitments and changing lifestyles are some of the key factors that negatively impact our sleep health. Staying up late to meet deadlines or late-night parties can compromise on the number of hours you get to sleep. This can affect your health and leave you feeling fatigued and sleepy during the next day.

So if you have been experiencing disturbed sleep, or consistently experiencing daytime sleepiness, it is important to understand the reason behind this disturbance. Do not ignore lack of sleep for long as it can lead to more serious health challenges. Monitor your sleep to detect any patterns that you can discuss with your healthcare provider and seek early medical help, if needed.

Sleep Tracker Apps: Pros and Cons

With the availability of numerous sleep tracking devices and apps, it has become easier to understand your sleep patterns and even identify the reasons for disturbed sleep. There are tracking devices that you can wear on your wrists, clip them on your pillow, or rest on the bedside table.

How to use a sleep tracker

These devices and apps use motion sensing to decide whether you are awake or asleep. When there is movement, they register you as awake, and when there is no movement, they presume you are asleep. These gadgets and apps can help you track the total number of hours you sleep, the sleep and wake cycle, and the number of times you woke up during the night.

The common data points tracked include:

Sleep duration: By tracking the time when there is no movement.

Sleep quality: By tracking the interruptions to your night sleep.

Sleep phases: By tracking the phases of your sleep and setting off an alarm when your sleep is light.

Environmental factors: By tracking parameters such as the temperature or the amount of light of the bedroom.

Lifestyle factors: By tracking the information about factors that can potentially disrupt your sleep.

All of these data points can provide your healthcare practitioner with useful insights to judge if there are serious disorders or underlying health challenges in your current sleep patterns.

However, there is a vast difference in the type and depth of data that the tracking app or devices can gather. Also, there is a concern about the accuracy of data captured. A lot of the devices, especially those at the less expensive end of the spectrum, provide guesstimates at best because they cannot differentiate between sleep and just lying in the bed.

Additionally, not all trackers can accurately measure the total sleep/wake time and suggest that there is an underlying problem with the sleep pattern. This is especially true for naps, because naps taken during the day can influence the night sleep. Also, commercial trackers are not truly effective when it comes to tracking the time a person gets a light sleep and during the slow wave and REM (rapid eye movement) stages of sleep.

But that being said, the need for accuracy in sleep trackers is largely dependent on why you are using it. If you are in general good health and wish to use a sleep tracker to simply understand your overall sleep pattern, the available range of trackers with general, big-picture data is helpful. However, if you experience symptoms like headaches, fatigue, daytime sleepiness etc. consistently, and suspect it might be related to your sleep or lack thereof, then you need a more accurate kind of sleep tracker.

Tracking Your Sleep to Identify Sleep Apnea

Snoring, combined with persistent fatigue, headaches, daytime sleepiness and declining productivity can be indicative of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects normal breathing to cause sleep disturbance. A person suffering from sleep apnea may experience difficulty in breathing due to blocked upper airway muscles which can cause choking and wake the person up for want of proper breath. Since breathing is disrupted, the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs—and therefore, to other parts of the body—lowers, which can cause a number of health disorders. Although sleep apnea may look harmless, it can lead to serious medical conditions.

In such cases, the generic sleep trackers are not very useful, because they are not able to pinpoint disrupted sleep until the person physically, consciously wakes up from sleep. However, with obstructive sleep apnea, patients don’t fully wake up, but their body does keep waking up internally, to clear the upper airway obstruction and resume breathing. And you need a sleep tracker that can capture that.

The myNight App

ResMed’s myNight app is a simple way to analyse your sleep and understand if you are at risk of sleep apnea. The app uses your smartphone’s microphones to capture the sounds – breathing and snoring – as you sleep, and compares the data to a set of normal sleep profiles. A close analysis of the difference between your and standard normal sleep profiles reveals your sleep apnea risk.

How to use a sleep tracker

The Home Sleep Test

If your myNight app results indicate medium or high lisk of sleep apnea, you may consider a Home Sleep Test (HST).

HST is an easy, non-invasive but highly accurate way to medically diagnose sleep apnea. The HST simplifies the testing procedure so you don’t have to visit a hospital, but can rather take the test from the comfort of your home. With ResMed, you can book a Home Sleep Test and receive a pre-assembled test device at your doorstep. Simply follow the instructions and the test will occur as you sleep through the night.

The data captured during such an overnight Home Sleep Test includes respiratory effort, airflow, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation while you were asleep and is stored on the device. When you return the device, the sleep experts examine this data to determine the quality of your sleep and whether you have a medical condition. If you are diagnosed with a sleep apnea, you will be advised to seek further medical assistance from a qualified healthcare provider.

So, if you or someone in your family snore and/or experience persistent fatigue during the day, download the myNight app to know you sleep apnea risk. Based on your results, you can also book a Home Sleep Test right here.

Learn how Fitbit’s advanced sleep tools can help you get better rest, boost energy and improve your well-being.

How to use a sleep tracker

Working to fit a sleep lab in a sensor

Our heart rate sensors and motion detectors work behind the scenes to track your sleep. Just wear your tracker or watch to bed, let Fitbit work its magic, then see your sleep stats and insights right in the app.

How to use a sleep tracker

Use your heart to reveal the quality of your ZZZs

Fitbit trackers and watches use your sleeping heart rate, movement and more to measure your time spent in each sleep stage and give you a personalized Sleep Score that shows how well you slept. Plus, view your trends over time in the app, and see how your stats compare to others.*

How to use a sleep tracker

Uncover the power of light, deep & REM sleep

Each night your body cycles through different sleep stages based on your heart rate, and getting enough time in each one is key to feeling refreshed. Light sleep strengthens memory and learning. Deep enables physical recovery. REM helps with strategic thinking and creativity.

See how well you sleep

Track sleep each night and trends over time.

Wake with calm

Ease into your morning with a silent alarm.

Get insights about your night

Understand your sleep with notes on your night.

Create better habits for better rest

Set goals, get bedtime reminders and more.

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep Tracking

Wear your tracker or watch at night to automatically record your sleep.

How to use a sleep tracker

Silent Alarms

Make mornings more peaceful by setting a silent alarm and waking up with a quiet vibration on your wrist.

How to use a sleep tracker

Smart Wake

Wake up feeling more rested by having your silent alarm go off during the optimal stage of sleep.*

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep Stages

Track your time spent in light, deep and REM sleep plus time awake.*

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep Score

Quickly understand how well you slept with a personalized score based on heart rate, restlessness and more.*

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep Schedule

Create a schedule that helps you stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time—the key to better rest.

How to use a sleep tracker

Bedtime Reminders

Stay on track with friendly bedtime reminders that notify you when it’s time to turn in for the night.

How to use a sleep tracker

Sleep Insights

Learn how your sleep is related to activity, mood and more, plus get tips to improve your night.

*Sleep stages, Sleep Score and Smart Wake are available only on trackers and watches with heart rate tracking. Smart Wake is not available on Inspire 2.

Get the inside scoop on all things Fitbit.

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If you want to improve your sleep, it’s a good idea to know your starting point. Determining how often you’re waking up at night or if you’re entering the deep sleep stages your body needs, is important information to have in the beginning so you can start making improvements. But…how can you track your sleep while you’re, well, out cold?

Enter sleep trackers. They come in several forms, from wearable smart watches, to headbands that provide biofeedback, rings you slip on a finger, a device you slip under your sheet, or apps that use motion detection and microphones to detect when you’re in the different stages of sleep.

With so many sleep trackers popularized these days, you might be wondering how they track your sleep. Although the technology behind these devices is more complicated than we’ll get into today, there are several ways these devices track your sleep.

Accelerometers

Most sleep trackers measure sleep quantity and quality by using accelerometers, small motion detectors. Accelerometers measure how much movement you’re making while you sleep. This data is then analyzed using an algorithm to estimate sleep time and quality. If you want to get more details about your sleep stages, a sleep tracker that only offers an accelerometer isn’t the best fit, they can’t accurately measure sleep stages because there is little difference in movement between the sleep stages, according to the Sleep Foundation .

Heart Rate and Respiration

Some sleep trackers estimate REM sleep in addition to deep and light sleep stages by measuring heart rate. Although heart rate and respiration rates are known to vary greatly during sleep, they have a close relationship with each sleep stage since the autonomic nervous system significantly affects both. Respiration is considered the most important parameter of physiological data because it clearly indicates sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea according to research published in the journal, Sensors .

Environmental Factors

Some sleep trackers use a microphone – like the one on your phone you’ll place close to your bed – to capture noise from the room or your body. Specifically, if you’re moving frequently and not sleeping well, some trackers will note that. A microphone can measure your respiration, detecting snoring, sleep apnea, and how often you wake up during the night. Some sleep trackers with thermometers can measure the temperature of your room and may show that you wake up frequently when it’s too warm.

Research finds that sleep sensor sensing feedback can help patients determine the effectiveness of a treatment for a particular sleep disorder, such as using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine for sleep apnea.

Now that you know how well (or poorly) you’re sleeping, use that data to look for patterns where you can make improvements. Went to bed late and didn’t sleep well? Set a reminder on your phone to go to bed an hour earlier and relax. Woke up a few times after a couple of alcoholic drinks? Cut back on the alcohol and imbibe closer to dinner so you can metabolize alcohol and rest easy.

You might have to use a trial and error method to see which sleep tracker works best for you. If wearing a wristband bothers you and impacts your ability to fall asleep, consider a smartphone app you can launch and place next to your bed so nothing touches your skin.

Or, look for a sleep tech product you can slip under your sheet. Something else to keep in mind, tracking your sleep doesn’t result in you actually sleeping better. Just like tracking that your eating habits are bad doesn’t automatically make you lose weight. Changing habits based on what you learn is the key.