The best sleep-tracking tech to help you reap the benefits of a good night’s kip.
By Kieran Alger
Sleep is the cornerstone of good health. The quality and length of sleep touches all aspects of our daily lives; from our energy levels, performance at work, athletic potential, decision making, dietary choices, hormone regulation and everything in between. So how do we get better at it?
Affordable consumer technology devices are finally giving us a better understanding of our sleep, with some of the more advanced trackers delivering accuracy close to that you’d find in laboratory sleep studies. However, rather than providing users with endless data points and leaving them to join the dots, many of these devices take an holistic approach to identifying trends in sleep quality and offer actionable coaching tips to help improve sleep behaviours, in much the same way that we’d train to improve fitness.
Companion smartphone apps can read your bedtime routine and advise going to bed earlier, taking naps, adjusting meal times, lessening caffeine intake, upping exercise, or even lowering the temperature in the room. Over time, you’ll spot those trends too.
Devices come in a number of designs to suit your preference. A variety of wrist-worn sports watches and fitness trackers offer increasingly accurate and insightful sleep tracking tools, while those seeking a more minimal approach can simply wear a ring loaded with powerful sensors. For people who don’t want to wear anything, there’s a range of sleep monitoring mats that sit either above or below your mattress. You can even use a smartphone app to track sleep simply by the monitoring sound of breathing and movement in the room.
What are sleep trackers?
All trackers attempt to measure total sleep time and the number of disturbances during the night. However, there’s more to sleep tracking than the time you nod off and the time you wake up. Most of the trackers featured here will monitor the three individual sleep stages that inform overall sleep quality.
∙ Light sleep: helpful for memory and learning.
∙ Deep sleep: necessary for recovery from strain and the immune system.
∙ Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: great for your mental health.
Many trackers measure your resting heart rate and heart rate variability – which are also excellent indicators of overall health and fitness – to monitor quality of sleep. Some of the more advanced devices even offer insight into snoring and breathing interruptions that can symptomise potentially serious health issues like sleep apnea.
Meanwhile, we all know it can be more difficult to enjoy restful sleep when you’re too hot or cold and sleep trackers can help here too. The Beddit 3 monitor measures the temperature and humidity in the room and cross references it with sleep stats, while the Oura Ring 2actively measures your body temperature every minute.
All of the major sleep monitors have smartphone connected applications that harness this data to offer a holistic view of the quality of sleep, spot trends and offer tips to improve sleep.
How do sleep trackers work?
The myriad of devices use different methods for monitoring sleep, mostly via a combination of heart/breathing rate and movement. Skin-contact wearable devices like the Fitbit Versa, Oura Ring and Polar Vantage M devices have dedicated heart-rate trackers. Tracking mats from the likes of Withings and Beddit are able to monitor disturbances and breathing rates through the slightest shifts in your nocturnal movements.
The Emfit sleep monitor goes further by using a technique called Ballistocardiography to monitor minute movements. To use the technical definition – its the ‘graphic representation of the movements of the body imparted by the ballistic forces (recoil and impact) associated with cardiac contraction and ejection of blood and with the deceleration of blood flow through the large blood vessels.’
Other solutions, like the SleepScore app require zero contact with your skin or your bed and sit on your nightstand. They use the sound of your breathing and movements to glean sleep data.
Are sleep trackers accurate?
Dedicated sleep devices tend to offer more accurate data and more useful insights than those offering sleep as an additional feature. However, that’s not always the case. While there’s debate over the accuracy of Fitbit’s calorie and step tracking data, a recent studyclaimed its sleep trackers provide comparable results to sleep monitoring using a electroencephalogram (EEG); which is used to detect electrical activity in the brain in a clinical setting. Even devices that don’t deliver 100 per cent accuracy in terms of stats, report data consistently enough for users to identify trends and gain valuable insights into sleep quality and habits.
The best sleep trackers to buy
From smart mats to watches, here are the best technology buys that will monitor your sleep.
Withings Sleep Tracking Mat
If you’re adverse to wearing anything in bed, there are other ways to monitor your sleep. The Withings sleep tracker sits beneath your mattress, and senses your respiration rate, sleep cycles and even detects snoring. In the morning you’ll get an overall sleep score, comprised of a detailed breakdown including how long you slept, how long it took you to nod off/get up, and how often your sleep was disturbed. Those insights can help you set targets (like going to bed before midnight, and eating earlier) that can lead to overall health improvements. Via the Health Mate app, the sleep mat also alerts you to breathing disturbances that could be a sign of a sleep disorder like apnea.
Polar Vantage M
A lot of the wearables designed for running also feature advanced and accurate heart-rate monitors, making them ideal as sleep tracking tools. The Vantage M running watch from Polar combines an optical heart rate sensor with skin contact measurements to measure your sleep along with its Polar Sleep Plus tool which tracks your movement and wrist position. It can identify patterns in your sleep based on timing, duration and quality, enabling you to identify areas for improvement and make changes. Sleep Plus is also available on the Vantage V, the A370 and M430 devices.
Beddit 3 Smart Sleep Monitor
Sitting between the mattress and the bottom sheet, the third-gen Beddit mat is just 2mm thick, so you probably won’t know it’s there. It promises accurate sleep tracking (HR, breaths per minute, snoring detection), as well as measuring room temperature and humidity, which can have a dramatic effect on sleep quality. The company says sharing your bed with a partner won’t skew the data either. Sleep results, based upon your goals, are delivered each morning, while long-term tracking enables you to identify trends based on the environment. The companion app also features educational tools to help you improve your sleep habits over time.
Emfit QS HRV Sleep Monitor
Another no-contact solution that hides under your mattress. The Emfit QS is favoured by lots of professional sports teams and uses heart rate variability to monitor how the body recovers from strain. The higher the HRV, the more able the athlete is to perform the next day without risking injury. This is a different approach from other trackers that use resting heart rate and movement as the primary identifiers of sleep quality. That being said, it also tracks sleep stages (Light, Deep, Rapid Eye Movement) and breathing rates each night.
For most folks, a smartphone sits next to the bed as an alarm clock, so why not put it to work on improving your sleep, rather than just abruptly ending it? Many sleep tracking apps require the phone to go under the pillow, but SleepScore uses only your phone’s microphone to monitor breathing and movement to rate your shuteye. It rates your duration of sleep, time to fall asleep, sleep stages and wake time. That overall score is broken down into mind and body scores, offering an indication on how prepared you are to tackle the day ahead.
Oura Ring 2
One of the least invasive ways to track your sleep, the Oura Ring 2 activity tracker delivers reams of actionable data in a tiny package. The slim-fitting, always-on ring is loaded with sensors; it monitors your body temperature every minute, with variances informing sleep quality and overall health trends. The infrared sensors also record blood volume pulse, resting heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) data. There’s also an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure amplitude and intensity of movement during sleep. All of this data is actionable through bedtime guidance and recovery stats.
Fitbit Versa Lite
If you’re seeking a smartwatch that also handles sleep tracking, the Apple Watch is of no help because you need to charge it nightly. The Fitbit Versa offers a 4+ day battery life and is loaded with Fitbit’s sleep monitoring nous, reporting duration, sleep stages and resting heart rate. There’s also the holistic Sleep Insights data that takes into account everything you feed the Fitbit app, from your exercise to your diet, and offers actionable tips to help you get better sleep.
For example, it may tell you you sleep better after a run, or perform better during the day when you have a consistent wake-up time. As an added bonus, it has a silent alarm that’ll wake you with a gentle vibration rather than a blaring tone.