Sleep tracking has become increasingly popular, thanks to the growing combination of sleepless nights, stressful days, and increasing awareness of how important sleep is for our immunity system and overall physical and mental health.

Sleep trackers solicit various benefits, such as:

  • Analyzing the amount of time you spend in each sleep stage.
  • Helping you make sure you're obtaining a good amount of sleep every night.
  • Ensuring you're aware of any possible sleep problems like sleep apnea and snoring.

However, do sleep trackers really work? And, what type of technology are sleep tracking devices using that enables them to boast such claims?

What are Sleep Trackers?

Basically, sleep trackers allow you to measure the quality and duration of your sleep. They sync together your "sleep data" to a tablet or smartphone app, which interprets this data, translating it into helpful insights. Many sleep tracking devices will provide personalized suggestions on how to improve your sleep.

What Do Sleep Trackers Track?

Typically, your most basic sleep trackers will track if you're sleeping, and the amount of time you spend sleeping. But, there are also other aspects of your sleep they measure as well, such as:

  • Your sleep quality: They'll analyze any movements you make while you're sleeping to assess whether you are experiencing a restless or restful sleep.
  • How much time you spend sleeping: They'll analyze whether you're awake or sleeping, and chart the time you spend sleeping.
  • The time you spend in each sleep stage: Some track the amount of time you're spending in each sleep stage. Using this data, they'll set an alarm to go off during a time you're likely to be sleeping lightly, which makes it simpler for you to awake.
  • Your sleep environment quality: They might analyze other potential factors that could affect your sleep quality, like the temperature or light in your bedroom.
  • Sleep-related health measurements: A lot of what you do in the daytime, like exercise or your diet, could actually affect your sleep Some sleep trackers might track your heart rate, physical fitness, stress levels, and food consumption throughout the day to analyze how your day-to-day life might be impacting your sleep.

Types of Sleep Trackers

There are a couple broad types of sleep trackers. These are wearable and non-wearable devices. Many individuals aren't sure which ones to choose. So, here is some basic information that may help you decide.

Wearable Sleep Trackers

You'll find several types of wearable trackers to help measure your sleep. Some will provide you with very basic measurements, whereas others will give you extremely valuable data.

  1. Smartwatch

The primary goal of a smartwatch is keeping you connected (just like your smartphone does). Smartwatches might come with a basic built-in sleep monitor for measuring your sleep duration, but you might have to download a separate app in order to gain more sophisticated data on your sleep.

  1. Health Tracking Ring

These rings have recently shown up on the sleep-tracking scene. They can provide you with 24/7 tracking data, and might be a bit more accurate than a wristband for measuring heart-rate.

  1. Fitbit

This is a motion detector and heart-rate monitor combined for monitoring your sleep. It measures how much time you stay in each sleep stage, and even makes suggestions based on your sleeping goal.

  1. Withings Move

A wearable sleep tracker with a decent battery life that can last up to 18 months on just one charge. It tracks your deep and light sleep cycles automatically when you wear it in bed. It provides you with a sleep score that's based on:

  • The amount of time you slept
  • How deep your sleep was
  • If you woke up during your sleep

It can also track your naps.

Non-Wearable Sleep Trackers

While wearable sleep trackers seem to measure better circadian cycle sleep data, some non-wearable ones will request input data on any potential daytime influences (i.e. mood, caffeine intake) to see if they're impacting your sleep.

Some include:

  1. Mattress Sensors

These you place underneath your pillow or mattress. They measure the quality and duration of your sleep.

  1. Bedside Trackers

Bedside trackers look similar to bedside lamps, therefore some individuals prefer them, since they don't seem too clinical. They detect the quality and length of your sleep. Some can even assess your sleep environment (i.e. light, temperature, noise) to see how it's impacting your sleep.

  1. Smartphone Sleep Tracking Apps

These aren't as effective for in-depth data. But, if you have a smartphone, you won't require any other device. Since you check your phone each day, it'll be simple to check for data it offers.

Some examples are:

  • Sleep Cycle: This is an app that uses the accelerometer on your phone to track your movement, so you'd have to put your phone under or next to your pillow. You could also have it "hear" your movements through a microphone, but you'd require a flat surface to place it on next to your bed.
  • Pillow: It uses a speaker and microphone of an iPad or iPhone to record your sleep.
  • SleepScore: Using a speaker and your phone's microphone, it detects your motion during the night.
  1. Emfit

This sleep tracking device uses ballistocardiography (measures the contraction and expansion of your circulatory system). Emfit is similar to a heart monitor in the way it works.

Bottom Line

Collecting sleep data will only be helpful if you use the data you collect. After you track your sleep for several nights, you'll be provided with data on how much light vs deep sleep you're obtaining, sleep cycle times, how often you move, or even how much you snore, in some cases. Unfortunately, not all sleep trackers and apps provide you with a whole lot of advice based on the data on what changes you should make on your sleep habits.

Sensors and apps can give you an understanding of what's going on when you're sleeping, but they're not supposed to replace a doctor. If you're experiencing troubles sleeping, waking up tired, or staying awake in the daytime, you may want to have a doctor check for any underlying problems.

Elizabeth Magill

Elizabeth Magill is a professional freelance writer and editor who holds an MBA. Liz specializes in writing about health news, medical conditions, healthy living, small business, career and work, personal finance, and green-living, including news and trending topics in these specialties. Her clients include Healthline, The Motley Fool, GoBanking Rates, LIVESTRONG.com, Big Interview, HealthNews, Intuit Small Business Blog, Intuit Health, American News Report, Travels.com, IFX Medical, and many others. She’s also a published eBook author and ghost writer for various clients in the health, medical, career, small business, and personal finance niches.