Sleep is something many people struggle with, some of us more than others. Whether it’s sleep apnea or just awful ol insomnia, it appears that we’re getting “worse” at sleeping, the more time passes.
Sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing, as anyone who’s tried functioning normally after a night of poor sleep knows quite well. Whether it’s stress, tiredness and mood in the short term or the heart, inflammation and recovery in the long term, getting sufficient sleep is necessary for everyday functioning and for longevity.
In case you’re considering sleep trackers to help you improve the quality of your sleep, here’s a couple things to be aware of before you get one.
What sleep trackers are
Sleep trackers are devices and tools that monitor sleep patterns, quality and habits that you have during the night. Modern digital sleep trackers mainly fall into two main types:
- Wearable sleep trackers which is any tracker or device that you place upon your body. Most commonly used are smartwatches but also headbands and bracelets can be used.
- Non-wearable sleep trackers which can be placed near the mattress, that is to say beside, underneath or on top.
What do they monitor?
- Sleep duration: The time spent asleep is one of the main features and metrics of a sleep tracker.
- Sleep quality: How you move about in your bed is monitored to assess whether you’re getting restful sleep or not. The environment in which you sleep in, that is to say the temperature, noise levels and lighting, is also measured by some sleep trackers.
- Sleep phases: Different stages of sleep are supposedly measured by sleep trackers, that is to say REM-sleep and the different levels of NON-REM sleep.
- Sleep-related health metrics: Sleep trackers and smartwatches in general can track your everyday habits which may indirectly affect sleep quality during the night.
Wearable sleep trackers monitor these above-mentioned factors mainly through heart rate monitoring, motion sensors i.e. the accelerometer which measures movement and breath rate, thermostat which measures temperature, camera which measures lighting and microphone which measures noise.
The potential benefits of sleep trackers
There are a number of potential benefits related to using a sleep tracker, most notably access to information and understanding concerning sleep and its complexity, and whether you may have any underlying issues like sleep apnea which compromises your sleep quality. Here below are some specific benefits related to sleep trackers:
- How long you sleep, what time you went to bed and when you first start stirring in the morning.
- If and when your sleep is interrupted during the night and how long these interruptions last.
- When you fell asleep and when you woke up, though with a certain margin for error.
- They can measure movement, heart rate and breath rate during the night through the accelerometer and other sensors.
- Information and insights around your sleep habits and patterns is one of the main benefits of sleep trackers.
- Encourages you to take the necessary steps to improving your sleep on a regular basis.
The cons and limitations of sleep trackers
While the benefits are apparent when it comes to using a sleep tracker, the cons can be a bit harder to identify, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.
- The main con of using a sleep tracker is that they can start taking too much of your time and room in your mind. That is to say that sleep trackers can make you overthink and worry too much about improving your sleep which in the end becomes counterproductive.
- Another limitation with sleep trackers is that they may not be as reliable and accurate in their measuring as they claim to be. The accelerometer, microphone, camera and other sensors can only do so much, especially when compared to proper sleep tracking done in medical settings.
- A third limitations is that sleep trackers are limited in their feedback. Why? Mainly because each individual is different, and what may be ideal and optimal for one person according to certain statistics may not be right for you.
Top 3 sleep trackers on the market
Most smartwatches have sufficiently advanced sleep tracking features to make them into viable options when searching for sleep trackers. If you’re sure that the pros outweigh the cons, here below are some of the best trackers available on the market today:
- Fitbit Versa 2: This Fitbit is one of the best smart and sleep trackers out there with its 1.4 OLED touchscreen and its near 1-week of battery time. In the included Fitbit app you’re regularly provided with insights and practical tips, plus you can easily follow your various sleep stages during the night displayed in an easy to follow graph. Being the best on the market makes it a bit pricey though.
- Beautyrest: If you have a hard time with wearables when you sleep, this non-wearable sleep tracker by Beautyrest is a great option. The tracker receives its information through its measuring pad placed underneath the mattress. Although it needs to be connected to your local WIFI, the app for your smartphone can prove to be useful. Beautyrest tracks the different stages of sleep, breath and heart rate, when you fell asleep and when you woke up to name a few factors.
- Sleep Tracking Pad by Withings: Another great non-wearable sleep tracker is the sleep tracking pad by Withings, where sleep cycles, heart rate, snoring and breathing irregularities can be monitored. They claim that the algorithms used in their app to analyze the data received from the sensors have been validated with a team of sleep experts. We don’t know that that means in detail but it sure sounds good. This one is a bit easier on the wallet being half the price of the Fitbit.
The more we move into and accustom ourselves to the digital age and its frantic nature, the more we’re exposed to its innumerable distractions. Surrounded by electronic screens that grab your attention left and right, we’re bombarded with abnormal amounts of impressions daily. One negative side to sleep trackers is that they can add to these distractions, while the positive side is that you can potentially get access to actionable information to help your overall sleep quality.
This conundrum of distractions and impressions by the surrounding world can and does affect how we think and feel, how we view ourselves and others, mentally and physically. To what degree the sleep problems of modern man can be correlated with the nature of today’s society is debatable to say the least, I however, have the peculiar sense that the overstimulation of our senses and minds through digital means has a significant role to play.
That being said, sleep trackers can prove beneficial for certain types of people, especially those that wish to learn more about the details of how they sleep, and for regular overviews of how your nights are spent. On the other hand, these trackers can prove to be redundant and counter-productive for other types of individuals. You probably know or will figure out rather quickly which group you belong to.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet, as he is currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist, Yogic and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.