The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Tracking

We know sleep is important. More than that, it’s enjoyable. How many things in life feel better than curling up in a cozy bed and drifting off to dreamland? Yet sleep is often one of the first sacrifices we make to our busy modern lifestyles. Some people even brag about how little sleep they can get by on.

However, sleep disorders and deprivation weigh heavily on society. Costs of sleep deprivation include the human cost of accidents and reduced quality of life, the economic cost of decreased productivity and the health cost of serious diseases that are linked to sleep problems. This has caused the CDC to declare insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

Even if your sleep habits aren’t causing major problems in your life, there’s probably still room for improvement.

The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Tracking

That’s where technology comes in. A professional laboratory used to be the only place to track a person’s sleep, and you would’ve needed a serious condition like sleep apnea to end up there. Now, the personal health market offers many gadgets and apps for tracking your sleep from the comfort of your own bed. This article will help you sort through the products, figure out how to use them and connect the data they generate with concrete improvement in the quality of your sleep. Read on for the ultimate guide to tracking your sleep.

The 3 Methods of Sleep Data Collection

1. Apps

Apps are the most inexpensive way to try out sleep-tracking.

The cream of the crop includes Sleepbot, free for iOS and Android; Sleep Cycle, 99 cents for iOS and Android; and Sleep Genius, $4.99 for iOS and Android.

The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Tracking: Smartphone Sleep Tracking Apps

All sleep-tracking apps use your phone’s accelerometer chip to record your movements as you sleep. Simply turn the app on when you’re ready for bed and place your phone close by on your mattress. Plugging your phone into its charger is recommended, as these apps drain battery life quickly.

Beyond this basic function, sleep-tracking apps have different additional features. Sleepbot records your movements and sounds, and tracks the amount of time you’re asleep each night. You can even make notes on and rate each session. It automatically silences your phone and sets it to airplane mode to eliminate disturbances, and it offers a smart alarm clock to wake you during lighter sleep so you feel refreshed, not groggy.

Like Sleepbot, Sleep Cycle charts how long and how well you sleep, and it promises an intelligent alarm clock to wake you during an optimal light sleep period. There are many other features including sleep aid sounds to help you fall asleep, simulated natural light to help you wake, and the ability to track your heart rate and physical activity over the course of a day. Sleep Cycle can be integrated with the iOS Health app, making it useful for people interested in all aspects of their physical well-being.

Sleep Genius was developed from NASA’s research into helping astronauts sleep. It offers more personalized tracking and help with your sleep, including finding your best bedtime. There’s also a gradual five-minute revive cycle alarm clock that promises to teach your brain a new wake rhythm, so you can eventually rise at the same time each day without an alarm. There is also a before-bed relaxation feature and a power nap feature, both of which use music to stimulate physiological relaxation responses in your body.

All three apps track your sleep over time in easy-to-read graphs and charts. This gives you a big picture look at your sleep to observe patterns in how long and well you sleep. These apps will also connect sounds and movements during the night so that, for example, you can see just how much of a disturbance your neighbor’s loud 3 a.m. homecomings really are. You can also log factors such as exercise and alcohol consumption that could affect your sleep.

The main purpose of collecting your sleep data is to improve your sleep habits and improve the quality of your sleep. These apps won’t solve bigger problems like insomnia or sleep apnea, but they can help you determine your best bedtime and wake time, ideal amount of sleep and how to time activities like eating, exercising and having a glass of wine or coffee so that you minimize disruptions to your sleep.

2. Wearable Devices

Wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smart watches work in conjunction with their own apps. Compared to just using an app, wearables often have greater and more precise capabilities, as well as additional functions like calorie recording and heart-rate monitoring.

The current best wearables are the Basis Peak ($199.99), Jawbone Up $49.99-$179.99), and FitBit Flex ($99.95).

The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Tracking: Wearable Fitness Devices

Much like apps, wearable sleep trackers record your movements and cycles of sleep to provide data that can help you change your sleep habits and the overall quality of your sleep. They are a little simpler to use – just wear them to bed and they often automatically sense when you fall asleep. Most wearables are also fitness trackers, giving you more data about your sleep and health.

Basis Peak is a sleep and fitness tracker that senses when you fall asleep and can detect your REM and deep sleep cycles. It records your heart rate as well as your movements while sleeping to provide a more detailed analysis of a night’s rest. It also highlights averages and trends in your long-term sleep report to help you understand how you’re sleeping and what you can do to sleep better.

Similarly, Jawbone Up is a fitness and sleep tracker. There are three different models at various price ranges. The amount and detail of features corresponds to the price point. All the models will track the quality of your sleep and offer suggestions on how to improve it. The precision of the tracking, such as the detection of different sleep cycles, increases with the price.

The Up can also track your eating and exercise habits. Its Smart Coach provides insights and suggestions about your habits in order to help you meet your goals. Over time the coach gets to know you better, allowing it to further tweak and personalize its suggestions.

The FitBit Flex offers most of these features at a midrange price. It also provides a silent alarm to wake you with vibrations rather than sound.

Wearables collect sleep data and export it to a corresponding app, allowing you to easily browse and save your data over time. Wearables may be more accurate in collecting data, since they are connected to your body and cannot be knocked off the bed. They also offer a more holistic approach to sleep tracking with the ability to see how many of your daily activities contribute to sleep quality. They can also interpret the data for you and offer personalized suggestions such as going to bed a half hour earlier or cutting off your caffeine consumption after lunch.

3. Bed-Based Tools

Bed-based tools allow you to track your sleep without wearing a watch or stashing your phone under your pillow. They are also singular in purpose, so you don’t end up with extra features like fitness tracking that you might not want to pay for. Like wearables, bed-based devices work in conjunction with their own apps.

The two most popular devices for bed-based sleep monitoring are Beddit ($125.00) and Withings Aura ($299.95).

The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Tracking: Bed-Based Gadgets for Tracking Sleep

If you don’t want to sleep with your phone or wear a device around your wrist, bed-based sleep monitoring offers all of the same features in a less intrusive product. You can install the sensors under your bed sheet and leave them there. Like the wearables, Beddit and Aura work in conjunction with an app to store and analyze your data. They will also offer actionable tips based on your data to help you sleep better.

In addition to the mattress sensor, the Aura by Withings comes with a bedside device that uses light and sound to help you fall asleep faster and wake more naturally and refreshed. It also tracks room temperature as an additional factor in sleep quality.

Which Sleep Tracker is Right for You?

The best device for you will depend on your personal goals, preferences and budget. Starting with an app is a great way to begin sleep tracking. Even if the data isn’t as precise as it would be in a wearable or bed-based device, just the act of monitoring your sleep can make you more aware of your habits. For example, it could motivate you to turn off the TV at 10 p.m. instead of watching one more show. Knowing that something is watching what we do often makes us more accountable to stick with our intended habits and goals.

If you find that you really enjoy collecting and analyzing data, or if you want to monitor your health and fitness as well, try a wearable. A bed-based device is perfect for the person who wants to install it and then leave it alone to do its job.

Whatever your lifestyle, there is a device for you. Sleep isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity, and we could all benefit from sleeping a little smarter.

What is your favorite sleep tracking tool? Why? Share in the comments below!

Photo: Bucketlistly

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