We track our food consumption, our workouts and our weight—so it might seem like a natural progression to also track our sleep. After all, the amount and quality of our shuteye is one of the biggest factors contributing to our health and wellness (or lack thereof).|
You may have mornings when you wake up feeling relatively rested, and other mornings when the alarm feels like a cruel and unusual punishment. You might have an idea of when you physically get into bed and when you’re forced out of it—but do you know exactly how much sleep you’re really getting? And just as not all calories are created equal, are different hours of sleep more restorative than others?
In our high-tech age, where all types of information is at our fingertips, we no longer have to rely on guesswork to gauge the amount and quality of our sleep. Many people are using sleep trackers to monitor their sleep habits and identify areas where improvement is needed.
There are several ways to track your sleep. The most common method is to use a wearable device, such as a FitBit or a smartwatch application. There are also sleep tracking pads that fit under the mattress—and some mattresses even come with sleep tracking sensors built into the cover, notes Meg Riley, a certified sleep science coach and editor at Sleep Junkie.
What data does a sleep tracker collect? According to Riley, the devices gather information on your heart rate, respiratory rate and the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Many of them can also tell you the time spent in each stage of sleep.
"Almost all modern devices can track the percentage of light and deep sleep and give you suggestions on how to make your sleep schedule more consistent," says Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and the founder of SleepingOcean.com. "Sleep tracking apps also have a noise recording option, which can make them an efficient tool to track snoring or sleep apnea symptoms."
Riley recommends using sleep-tracking devices only as tools for understanding your sleep habits and creating a better, healthier nighttime routine. "For example, if your sleep tracking device shows that you spent an hour tossing and turning before finally falling asleep, you can try doing relaxation techniques to help you unwind before bed," she notes. "Ultimately, your body will let you know if you’ve had adequate rest, but sleep tracking devices can help to create more awareness of the details."
However, if you think you might suffer from a sleep disorder, Savy says that tracking your sleep with wearables or apps probably isn’t the best course of action. In that case, he recommends seeing a doctor who can administer specific tests that will more precisely track your brain activity during sleep.
And while sleep tracking can be an effective tool to get your schedule back on track, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a long-term endeavor, Savy points out. "Once you have your schedule pattern corrected, all you need to do is continue falling asleep and waking up at nearly the same time each day to maintain it," he says.
In fact, some experts feel that reliance on sleep tracking can have a detrimental effect on the quality of sleep. Annie Miller, a psychotherapist and behavioral sleep medicine provider, believes the practice can lead to negative thinking about sleep, ultimately creating a pattern where someone thinks their sleep is worse than it is and becomes fixated on tracking it.
"Negative thinking around sleep drives insomnia, as does worrying about sleep or thinking you do not get enough of it," she explains. "In my opinion, trackers and wearables are great for counting steps and movement, but they should not be used for sleep."
Instead of tracking, Miller treats insomnia using cognitive behavioral therapy. She recommends creating a schedule where you get into and out of bed at around the same time every morning, regardless of what day it is. To help with this, she suggests using an old-fashioned sleep diary, similar to this example. "The sleep diary can also help track your sleep efficiency, which is the ratio of the amount of time you are spending in bed that you are asleep," Miller notes.
While they might not be a foolproof means of achieving perfect slumber, sleep tracking devices can help get your schedule back on track and provide interesting and informative details about your resting hours.