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We all know the importance sleep has on our general health and well-being. Making sure we sleep well every night gave birth to the concept of sleep trackers, which help to analyze and report on how well we actually sleep, rather than think we sleep. How do you select the best sleep tracker to fit your needs? That's what we're about to examine in this article.
Sense Sleep Tracker
Misfit Shine 2
Up3 by Jawbone
Up until the current decade, the only way to analyze the quality of your sleep or diagnose sleeping disorders was to undergo a sleep study. These sleep labs were able to analyze and help prescribe treatment for disorders like sleep apnea, leg cramps, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and snoring.
While most home sleep trackers can't diagnose disorders like these, they can provide an analysis of the quality of your sleep and record any interruptions.
Instead of using polysomnography, as sleep labs do, sleep trackers use actigraphy to monitor sleep cycles. With actigraphy, an accelerometer records your sleeping movements, where stillness corresponds with sleep and body movement tends to correspond with wakefulness.
Relying on a wrist-worn sleep tracker to provide the depth of information a sleep study offers is a tall order, but a sleep tracker can play a role in analyzing sleep patterns.
Furthermore, unlike sleep labs, sleep trackers are non-invasive and can be used at home, which provides a more accurate analysis of your normal sleeping habits.
Case in point, a study conducted by sleep researchers in the United States determined that sleep trackers provide an accurate analysis of total sleep time (TST), sleep percentage, and waking after sleep onset (WASO) (source). In fact, it only seemed limited in so far as measuring sleep onset latency (SOL).
The study, however, makes clear that actigraphy shouldn't be viewed as a replacement for other assessment tools, especially if serious sleep disorders are suspected.
Since this study was conducted in 2011, home-use sleep trackers have become even more accurate and now also offer ways to measure light sleep and REM sleep (rapid eye movement). Despite these advancements, sleep trackers won't replace full diagnostic sleep studies anytime soon.
As the study above suggests, sleep trackers provide lots of useful data that can help you get a better understanding of your sleeping patterns and pinpoint the source of any sleep-related issue.
Most notably, sleep trackers can record the amount of time spent in each stage of sleep (non-REM and REM), both of which have tremendous health benefits for your body (source). Once you've collected this data, you can make adjustments to your nightly routine or seek additional help from a health care professional if patterns continue.
The video below is a short discussion about circadian rhythms and sleep stages to give you a better understanding of its effects.
Again, a sleep tracker is only an analysis tool to help pinpoint potential problems in your circadian rhythm and sleep stages, nothing more. But even with this limited information, it's enough for you to make positive changes that can impact your life significantly.
From helping you choose the right pillows, mattresses, sleep positions and wake up times, to changing your bedtime rituals and possibly identifying sleep disorders, a sleep tracker can make a big difference.
There are two main types of sleep trackers: wearable and standalone.
Wearable sleep trackers are typically wrist units that collect data, which is then uploaded to a smartphone or computer for analysis. While more portable than standalone sleep trackers, wrist units usually don't provide the best or most statistical data, especially since they're often combined with fitness-related information.
In contrast, standalone sleep trackers are specifically designed to track sleep using broader and more accurate statistical data, then uploaded for analysis. And unlike wearable trackers which bother some people during sleep, standalone trackers aren't a problem in this regard.
The best sleep trackers are those that most resemble statistics collected in a sleep lab. At the least, they should offer the following data for analysis:
Personal preferences like wearable vs. standalone trackers, customization options, and app functionality are also important considerations.
The Smart Sleep System from Withings Aura combines comfort and high tech to create one of the best possible sleep tracking systems outside of a sleep analysis lab. The unit is designed to improve the quality of your sleep by helping put you to sleep, monitor your sleeping patterns, and awaken you with light and sound.
A multicolored LED bedside lamp helps you fall asleep faster and wakes you up slowly once you've reached your optimum level of sleep.
The bedside lamp unit also records data from a sensor pad placed underneath your bed mattress while you sleep. The collected data is easily linked to your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to analyze your sleeping patterns, including:
It also includes programmable features for naps and resting periods.
While the learning curve to get this system set up might be greater than other trackers, the benefits outweigh the challenges once it's set up.
The carefully designed lighting and sound systems for sleeping and waking are optimal but not customizable. So, if you're already using a wake-up light or other customizable light and sound system for your sleeping needs, you might find this device somewhat limiting. On the flipside, not having to bother with a wearable device is a major plus, not to mention its accuracy and durability.
The Beddit system is a trusted name in the field of sleep research due to the reputation of its creators: the Helsinki Sleep Clinic, VitalMed Research Center, and professor Markku Partinen.
Like the Withings Aura sleep tracker, the Beddit 3 is a standalone device but unlike Withings Aura, its flat sensor is placed on top of your mattress instead of underneath it.
As soon as you get into bed, the Beddit sleep tracking app turns on and starts interfacing with your smartphone or computer, providing you with the following sleep tracking statistics:
The vast majority of Beddit 3 users seem satisfied with this device. They appreciate the hard science behind its creation, broad range of sleep tracking statistics, ease of use, and the advantage of it being a standalone device. By all accounts, the Beddit 3 is also easier to setup than the Withings Aura.
The biggest problem is the software, which only provides sleep scores for some of the measured statistics but not all (e.g, no heart rate score). Even so, the Beddit 3 is a solid sleep tracker.
The Sense Sleep Tracker is an affordable, attractive, easy to use device, providing you with basic sleep tracking statistics without take up too much physical space.
This sleep tracker consists of a "sense" sensor for your nightstand and a couple sleeping "pills" which attach to your pillow where they record and send data to the sensor via wireless communication. It easily links to iOS and Android devices to upload the collected data for analysis on your smartphone using the Sense app.
The Sense Sleep Tracker tracks the following statistics for later analysis:
It also provides sleep sounds to help you fall asleep and a Smart Alarm to help wake you more rapidly.
But what sets the Sense Sleep Tracker apart from its competitors is its programmable voice command system, making it one of the most technologically advanced sleep trackers on the market today.
Clearly, the standout feature of the Sense Sleep Tracker is its voice command feature, which can come in handy, especially if you're already accustomed to using similar technology like Apple Siri or Amazon Echo. If getting an accurate reading of your sleeping environment and having the capability to measure your heart rate are deal breakers, look elsewhere. Otherwise, this tracker may be a good pick.
The Misfit Shine 2 is a sleek, wearable sleep tracker. But in comparison to all but one other model on our list, sleep tracking is just one of its several functions. While it's more versatile, its sleep tracking capabilities are more limited.
The Misfit Shine 2 is both a sleep and fitness tracker. Not only does it record data like the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, it also records walking and running distances, the number of steps taken per day, and the number of calories burned per activity.
Furthermore, it allows you to listen to music, take photos, set alarms, and interact with certain smart home devices. And like all sleep trackers, it easily interfaces with your smartphone.
Interestingly, the device uses the Beddit sleep monitoring system and offers similar readout and analytics (albeit, not as complete):
While the Misfit Shine 2 tracks sleep, it's only one of several features. If these other features are important to you, this device may fit your needs. But if you're looking for a more complete sleeping assessment, you'd fare better with one of the other devices reviewed in this article.
Like the Misfit Shine 2, the UP3 sleep tracker by Jawbone is a multi-faceted device, tracking not only sleep, but also food consumption, calories, steps, distances, and workout quality. Plus, it allows you to link with and challenge friends to fitness duels to keep each other motivated and accountable.
The UP3 uses lightweight, multi-sensor technology to track the following statistics for later analysis:
And as you'd expect, the UP3 links wirelessly to your smartphone for data analysis (but not computers).
It also includes personalized guidance via its Smart Coach feature and a Smart Alarm to awaken you at the optimal time.
If you're interested in a light-duty activity tracker with several recording features besides sleep tracking, this device might serve you well. But if you're looking for something more substantial to track your sleep, the UP3 won't cut it. This isn't surprising given its multi-use capabilities, which tend to give limited quality in each area. Still, the UP3 is decent for the budget.
While you can't go wrong with either the Beddit 3 or Sense Sleep Tracker in particular, they're no match for the Withings Aura Smart Sleep System for several reasons:
First, the Smart Sleep System gives a broad range of reliable and accurate sleep statistics and provides an easy to use software platform to analyze the gathered data.
Second, it includes an environmental monitoring system, which helps you to identify the perfect room temperature for your sleep and other perks.
And third, its Smart Wake system awakens you at the optimal time, taking out the guesswork on your part.
While the Withings Aura Smart Sleep System is higher priced than other sleep trackers and a bit slow at uploading the sleep data for analysis, it's still far and away the best sleep tracker of those reviewed.
What are your thoughts about sleep trackers? Leave your comments below!