Best Sleep Trackers Buyer's Guide
If you’ve spent any time outdoors in the past few years, chances are you’ve encountered a person wearing a fitness tracker. Fitness trackers are everywhere these days, smart wristbands that help people meet their fitness goals, eat better, and improve their overall health.
But devices like these aren’t just helpful during your waking hours. Sleep tracking functionality often goes overlooked among fitness trackers, and yet sleep is a critical part of your overall health. Without sufficient sleep, you’ll be less motivated to meet your fitness goals, have cravings for junk foods and sugar, and increase your risk of illness.
Sleep trackers, both standalone bed systems and as part of wearable fitness trackers, are powerful tools for tracking your fitness needs – both during the day and at night.
The good news is there are dozens of sleep trackers today. That’s also the bad news. With so many sleep trackers available, it can be overwhelming to weed through your options to find the best sleep tracker for your needs.
We’ve written this guide to help you. We’ll review how sleep trackers work, common design features, and important shopping tips to consider. Then, we’ll share our top picks for the best sleep trackers of 2018.
Types of Sleep Trackers
While sleep trackers come with a wide variety of designs and features, they can typically be classified into one of two categories: wearable and non-wearable. We dive into the different varieties of wearable and non-wearable sleep trackers below:
Wearable Sleep Trackers
As noted above, wearable devices typically also serve as fitness trackers. Wearable devices are most commonly worn around the wrist as wristwatches or wristbands, but may also be worn as rings and other accessories on the body.
- Watches. To determine sleep quality, many smartwatches and wrist trackers monitor movement and heart rate throughout the night through the use of sensors. These trackers often connect to mobile apps to present graphs or visual displays of collected nighttime data, so you can review disturbances and get actionable advice for improving sleep the next morning.
- Rings. Less obtrusive than your average fitness watch, sleep tracker rings typically slip around the finger to sense body temperature, pulse, and movement as you sleep. As with watches, rings often double as fitness trackers by monitoring things like calories, movement, and heart rate during the day. And like wearable watches, rings may connect to an app to provide you with graphic visual displays of sleep metrics and personalized tips based on your patterns
- Other Wearables. As sleep technology continues to evolve, so do wearable sleep trackers. On today’s market, you can find smart eye-masks equipped with sensors that analyze and track your brainwave activity and sleep patterns while eliminating light leakage and playing soothing audio. Similarly, there are sleep headbands that monitor brain activity and use advanced algorithms to detect sleep patterns and boost periods of deep, restorative sleep in real time by playing special tones. Like other wearables, sleep eye-masks and headbands typically connect to apps to provide insight into your sleep and tips on how to improve it.
Non Wearable Sleep Trackers
Also called “no-contact” sleep trackers, non-wearable trackers are placed under mattresses, on bedding, or built into the actual mattress itself rather than worn on the body. You may prefer a non-wearable sleep tracker if you tend to find wearable technology obtrusive.
- Under Mattress. These sleep trackers are typically thin enough to slip directly under your mattress without notice, where they use sensors to track data like heart rate, respiration, snoring, body movement, and sleep stage cycles. Under-mattress sensors often beam sleep data onto compatible mobile apps to provide you with a visual representation of your sleep patterns and advice on how to improve your habits for a more restful sleep.
- Bedding and smart mattresses. You can also find sleep trackers in the form of smart pillows, mattress covers or attachable sensors—all of which may connect with apps to provide a visual representation of your sleep habits. Beyond bedding, entire “smart” mattresses have been made into sleep trackers. These smart beds may monitor key biometrics like heart rate and breathing while auto-adjusting mattress features like firmness and temperature to enhance restorative sleep during the night.
How Do Sleep Trackers Work?
There are two main kinds of sleep trackers: wearable devices that double as fitness trackers (like smartwatches or wristbands), and standalone no-contact systems that are designed to stay with your bed (typically via a thin fabric strip you place under the mattress or a cover that lies under your sheets on top of the mattress). Sleep trackers are also available as smartphone apps, but you’ll find the more advanced technology in the physical products.
At a minimum, sleep trackers track when you fall asleep, when you wake up, and how much time you spend asleep. How are they able to do this?
In the case of wearable sleep trackers, they monitor your sleep using actigraphy. Actigraphy monitors movement through the accelerometer in the wearable device. Just like the accelerometer in your smartphone, it’s able to sense when you’re moving and calculate how many steps you take. If you’re lying still for an extended period of time, as one does when you’re asleep, the accelerometer notes that lack of movement, and translates it into total sleep time.
Since contact-free sleep trackers are tied to your bed, they can’t sense when you start walking around. Instead, these devices rely on infrared technology and movement sensors in the fabric strip to determine when you wake up. They also use ballistocardiography to measure changes in your heart rate.
Many wearable sleep trackers also include heart rate tracking capability. While its primary purpose with those devices is to assess your cardio fitness level, your heart rate does lower as you sleep and changes during the different stages of sleep.
Advanced sleep trackers asses your sleep quality by revealing the amount of time you spend in each stage of sleep. Each night, we cycle through four stages of sleep, from light to deep to REM, before repeating the cycle again. Based on your total sleep time and changes in your heart rate, sleep trackers will estimate how much time you spent in each stage of sleep.
Whether sleep trackers are effective is still somewhat up for debate within the scientific community. Generally, scientists agree that sleep trackers are reasonably accurate at detecting whether you are asleep or not. However, they’re less bullish on their ability to determine the time spent in individual stages of sleep. Either way, if you want help sticking to a regular sleep schedule and ensuring you get enough sleep each night, monitoring your sleep with a sleep tracker can be a smart way to do it.
To use your sleep tracker, you simply keep wearing the device as normal when you go to bed, or, in the case of no-contact sleep tracking systems, hop into bed.