Sleep trackers: everything you need to know about them

Ever wonder what you get up to when you’re asleep? Are you a secret snorer? Do you toss and turn?

Words by Kay Field

Sleep trackers are a growing trend, offering up a contemporary alternative to sleep clinics, and allowing you to personally monitor your nocturnal habits from home. What’s more they’ve been claimed to help optimise your sleep and advance your everyday life. Here’s everything you need to know about sleep trackers, the science behind them and why they could prove to be good for your health.

What are sleep trackers?

Sleep trackers are small devices that analyse your sleep during the night, providing you with the data the following morning. They examine various aspects of your sleep: how many hours you sleep for every night, if you are a deep or restless sleeper, how long you spend in different stages of your sleep cycle (deep, light sleep, REM) and how long it takes you to fall asleep.

Why track sleep?

Whilst a good night’s sleep has always been the foundation of good health, the importance of at least 7 hours of quality sleep for the average person has recently been emphasised. Sleep deprivation can lead to a lack of focus, impaired brain activity, moodiness, weight gain and a general feeling of overall lethargy. Knowing how you sleep and what you need to do to improve can help dispel the consequences of a bad night’s sleep and lead to a general improvement in your day-to-day life.

sleep trackers

How do sleep trackers work?

Trackers differ in analysing sleep. The main methods for monitoring sleep are through Actigraphy, Accelerometers and by measuring heart rate. Actigraphy is the most commonly used method in sleep trackers and is often used in wrist-worn gadgets to record the body’s movements. Accelerometers are tiny components that work to sense any motions throughout the night, converting them into electrical signals. However, movement is not the most effective or accurate way to measure sleep. Newer sleep trackers use sensors to detect the changes in heart rate throughout the night.

What kinds of sleep trackers are there?

The simplest and cheapest sleep trackers are in the form of Iphone and Android apps that use your phone’s inbuilt accelerometers to sense movements as you sleep. However, these are the least accurate modes of tracking sleep as movements between sleep cycle stages are very subtle and can be easily confused. Wearable trackers usually combine fitness and sleep analysis and are more accurate than sleeping apps. Popular wearable trackers include Jawbone, Basis and Fitbit all vary in price and effectiveness. Sleep monitors can also come in the form of mattress attachments and contemporary devices that use radio waves to detect subtle body movements, but most are currently in the stages of development.

sleep trackers

How accurate are sleep trackers?

Compared to clinically tested sleep analysis, personal sleep trackers are nowhere near as advanced. Laboratory sleep clinics use a number of wires, tubes and electrodes to measure aspects such as brainwaves, eye movement and muscle tension to analyse an individual’s sleep, whereas personal sleep trackers can only use simplified methods. However, whilst sleep trackers may not be as accurate, they still provide you with useful information regarding the quality of your sleep and benefit in terms of price, simplicity and the fact that you can use it in your own home.

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