“Sleep is roughly one-third of your life, and you don’t want it to be a mystery,” Will Ahmed, founder of Whoop, a fitness and wellness tracker, says. “Sleep is when your body is repairing [itself], so 95 percent of your body’s human growth hormone is created during sleep.” Which is to say that this is when your body is doing a huge amount of recovery work, especially after a hard workout. The first step to improving sleep is to gauge how much you’re actually getting. While the accepted amount is somewhere between seven and nine hours for adults, you might need more than that. “Sleep is so incredibly personal,” Dr. Lorenzo Turicchia, a sleep scientist at Bedgear, a performance sleep brand that makes mattresses and pillows for athletes, says. “I recommend paying attention to when you wake up feeling refreshed and see what your data looks like.” The only hard data you can really track is time spent in bed, and then you can use that to deduce the number of hours you were actually asleep. The other things, like sleep cycles and interruptions and pre-bed habits, are just nice-to-haves that you can personally draw from.
There are many wearables and apps available to give you a plethora of data points and the one point you want to pay attention to is sleep time. “Getting into bed at 11 PM and getting out of bed at 6 AM does not mean you automatically got seven hours of sleep,” Dr. Turicchia says. “Tracking could help you understand the number of hours you log each night, providing you with more data to help you prioritize your rest so you can feel more awake during the day.” The CDC recommends seven or more hours per night for everyone 18 and older, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine agrees. Wearables and a good old pen and paper are useful to help you log and monitor how many hours of sleep you’re getting. The key is that you use something that’s easy for you to remember — whether it’s a device you wear on your wrist, finger or slip under your mattress — you want to “set it and forget it,” Matt Delaney says. He’s the head of innovation at Equinox gym and founder of the sleep coaching program there.
Once you have the stats on your sleep, it can be overwhelming to know what to do with them. Look at the time you go to bed first — “most people fluctuate sleep and wake times a considerable amount,” Delaney says. It’s likely different on weekdays versus weekends. “If your schedule has a bunch of variability in it your body will have a tough time adapting to a consistent schedule,” Delaney says. Use the tracker to identify nights where, “I went to bed two hours later this night, but ended up wake up same time, so [I got] two hours less of sleep,” Delaney says. Once you identify those trends, you can use that to “systematically attack each one, fixing each until you get one handled,” Delaney says.
The goal with sleep tracking is to understand it — and everything you do that affects it. The watches can’t tell you how to use the data but, if you watch for patterns in your sleep in comparison to, say, your workout or eating habits, you can determine where improvements can be made to optimize your sleep. “There are all sorts of things you’re doing in the other 20 hours of the day that affect how you sleep later,” Ahmed says.
Here are five devices you can use to get the down low on your data so you can start tracking.
The Gear You Need
Withings/Nokia Sleep Tracking Pad
The Sleep Tracking Pad is what I use every night — it slides under my mattress and spits out a variety of stats via the Health Mate app. I never have to think about it, which is why I like it. I can open up the app any time of the day, and it will connect to the device through Wifi to let me know how many hours I logged last night. Each morning I get a sleep score based on how long I was asleep, how many interruptions I had, how much time it took me to fall asleep and what time I got up.
iFit Sleep HR
This device slides under your mattress to track your sleep hours and more. The iFit app asks about your last meal, alcoholic and caffeinated drink intake and when you last worked out to give you more information with each calendar data point you plot. While it’s a pain to have to open the app before bed to get it to log your sleep, many trackers don’t ask any questions, so you’re not getting a complete picture of your recovery. “If I look at my sleep, and I get 5.5 hours because my son woke me up in the middle of the night, that’s very different than me getting 5.5 hours of sleep because I had six drinks before bed,” Delaney says. “All I see on the back end is sleep data.” When you take the time to enter that information into an app, it’s easier to spot issues that are fixable — and ones that aren’t. The iFit Sleep HR provides you with the tools to keep track of all the little details, unlike the Withings Sleep pad, which gives you no options for note-taking.
We tested the Whoop Tracker (read the review here) last year and were impressed with how much data we had at the end of each day. You’ll see sleep latency (how long it takes you to fall asleep), disturbances (how often you wake during the night) and your time in bed, which is helpful when determining how hard you should exercise the next day. The app takes into account how much you exercise during the day, tracking your movement 24/7, so if you’re pushing yourself in a workout, yet not getting enough proper recovery, the app will alert you. Whoop calculates when your body is under too much strain, so you can focus more on rest and eating right before tackling an intense workout. Whoop reminded me how much sleep is an integral part of my recovery thanks to a rating system that shows you a score every day. When the score is in the red (meaning I was run down) Whoop served me a handful of reminders that I needed to get to bed sooner. It’s an easy-to-wear and easy to charge device that you never have to take off. You never take off the Whoop strap — not even to charge it — so sleep information is plentiful.
Thanks to four-day battery life (tied only with the Polar A370), the Fitbit Versa allows you to track your sleep for days between charges. Our tester loved the casual look and feel of the tracker. It gives you bedtime reminders, silent alarms and monitors your sleep stages. You can see everything in the corresponding Fitbit App, control your reminders and set a sleep schedule, which can help urge you to get to bed sooner, and at the same time, which is key to improving sleep. Just like you did when you were younger (bath, book, bed) having a sleep schedule and routine as an adult helps your mind start to wind down, so you’re ready to start dreaming as soon as your head hits the pillow. If the Versa is too pricy for you, the newly updated Versa Lite was just announced for $160.
Polar’s A370 features Sleep Plus, which uses the built-in accelerometer to record when you fall asleep and wake up, while looking at your movement and heart rate. Each morning you can view your total sleep time, actual sleep minutes, interruptions and a chart of your sleeping patterns, so it’s easy to gauge which days of the week could use a little help. The A370 also doesn’t attempt to give you your REM and light sleep (which are incredibly variable and tough for a wrist tracker to accurately monitor). Just like the Whoop and Fitbit, the A370 will let you know how many times you woke up during the night and for how long. In the Polar app, you can visually match up the time of night with your heart rate, checking your lowest rating, which for data geeks, is pretty awesome.
Some people find a ring more comfortable to wear than a tracker on their wrist. The Motiv ring keeps your wrist ready for the best-looking watches. This ring lets you simultaneously track sleep, active minutes and more thanks to a three-day battery life. When you order the ring, you first get a ring sizing kit, so the ring won’t slip off while you’re doing the dishes. And, you can wear in the pool and shower, making this an easy device to forget. Simply twist the ring to have it sync all your data with the corresponding Motiv app. This ring is for someone who doesn’t want to wear an ostentacious wrist tracker, but still wants all those data points after each day.
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