Whether you sleep, slumber, snooze or snore, a good night’s rest is vital to your health and happiness. The best sleep trackers can help by breaking down sleep data with metrics and tracking features like heart rate variability, letting you take back control for a proper night’s sleep.
The ubiquity of gadgets like wearables means that millions of us already own a sleep tracker, capable of calculating all sorts of metrics, but they’re not all made equal. It’s also worth remembering that not everyone wants to wear tech in bed, so we’ve gathered together the best alternatives that can track your sleep from under the mattress. But first, this is what to look out for…
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What’s the best sleep tracker?
Offering plenty of bang for your buck, the Sense is a superb standalone smartwatch that happens to also pack in a robust set of sleep tracking features. These include heart rate and temperature monitoring, sleep quality measurements and even automatic snoring detection which could be used to pinpoint disturbances throughout the night.
Made from lightweight titanium, the Oura is a cleverly designed smart ring that's capable of measuring your heart rate and sleep quality, in addition to activity and fitness tracking. An ideal choice for people who'd rather not strap obvious bits of tech to their wrist and/or head.
Rather not wear anything at all? Withings' under-mattress tracker is for you. Developed with sleep physicians, it's capable of tracking your sleep cycles to provide a sleep score, along with the ability to detect snoring and sleep apnea.
What features should I look for in a sleep tracker?
Less sophisticated fitness trackers have tended to use wrist movement to monitor sleep—stop sniggering at the back—but now the vast majority use heart rate instead to calculate when you fall asleep, the type of sleep you’re having and how long you stay asleep. It’s the most important sensor in any sleep tracker.
But how long you sleep doesn’t always determine the quality, which is why many factors are used to build an accurate picture of your sleep, including temperature, breathing disturbances, body movement via accelerometers and even ambient noise. Brands like Whoop, Fitbit and Apple are also using blood oxygen data that can help identify sleep disorders including sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition where breathing stops and starts while you're asleep.
How this data is then used makes a big difference, with some apps offering deep-dive analytics as well as a Sleep Score that, like hitting your 10,000 steps, helps to glamify good sleep. We’re also big fans of sleep-based alarms, that wake the wearer up at the optimum time of their sleep cycle, to help you hit the ground running each day.
The best sleep trackers can also offer help if you struggle to fall asleep, with headphones available to block out distractions and relax a chaotic mind. Non-wearable smart mattresses can even adjust your body temperature based on your sleep history to give you the best chance of a good night’s rest and a quality sleep.
What does a good night’s sleep really look like?
Your time asleep can be broken down into a cycle consisting of light, deep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and for you to fully feel rested you should cycle through these stages at least a few times per night. Your sleep tracking app will break these stages down for you and make it easy to identify problem areas for helping you reach a world of better sleep.
During a typical night, you cycle through these stages of sleep…
Stage 1: Hopefully only lasting a few minutes, the first stage of sleep is light and easy to wake from.
Stage 2: Your brain waves, eye movement and heart rate begin to slow.
Stages 3 and 4: You move into deeper sleep that’s harder to wake from. This is the time when your body grows and repairs itself and boosts immune function. For healthy adults, 15-20 per cent of your sleep should be a deep sleep.
REM: The final stage is when dreams occur, as your brain processes and stores long term memories. Our eyes are closed but dart rapidly from side to side, and our limbs can become paralyzed to stop us acting out our dreams. 20-25 per cent of our sleep should be REM sleep.
The sleep cycle repeats every 90 to 110 minutes and as sleep progresses, REM cycles increase in length.
This story was originally published on British GQ with the headline “The Best Sleep Trackers for Some Quality Shut-Eye”.