The 6 Best Sleep Trackers

Apr 1, 2021

Category: Tech

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: without sleep, you’ll die faster than you will without water. Obviously, this statement isn’t entirely accurate — a human could, theoretically, die in a manner of minutes in the face of extreme dehydration — but there is still some value to be taken away. That is to say, sleep is essential to our survival as individuals. Furthermore, the better the overall quality of the sleep you get, the better you will feel and perform in the waking period that follows.

However, there’s one big hurdle in the way of being able to control your sleep: you’re unconscious when it happens. Thankfully, technology has risen to the occasion and now the average person can acquire the tools necessary to better understand and perhaps alter how you sleep, how long you sleep, and how you can increase the overall quality of that resting period therein. Those tools, as you’ve likely guessed, are sleep trackers. And we’ve wrangled together six of the best on this comprehensive guide to sleep trackers.

Photo: Fitbit

The Value Of A Good Night's Sleep

Well-Rested Recovery

Put simply: humans cannot survive without sleep. In fact, sleep is so essential to our survival as a species that your body can actually force you to fall asleep in the right conditions. However, understanding why sleep is so essential is a bit more complicated than involuntary bodily functions. To better appreciate and put value to these essential periods of rest, we’ve outlined a number of the major benefits to getting a good night’s sleep in the section below. Remember, these are only a fraction of the upsides to ensuring you’re well-rested and have had a full 7-9 hours of sleep every night, as advised by the National Sleep Foundation.

Brain Function: By far the most immediate benefit of a good night’s sleep is improved brain function. Or rather, a lack of good sleep can almost immediately cause numerous cognitive deficiencies. This includes things like a decrease in one’s ability to problem-solve, a downturn in one’s ability to pay attention during complex tasks (which worsens over time), slowed reaction times, and negative mood shifts (and wild swings, in some circumstances). In no uncertain terms, a lack of restful sleep will inevitably result in your brain functioning worse than it would with an appropriate amount of good rest.

Heart Health: Just like brain functionality, your heart needs sleep periods to continue working properly. No, this doesn’t mean that your heart shuts down while you sleep; but rather that rest is a period of refreshing and regulation for your heart. When you sleep, your heart rate drops — giving your heart the closest thing it has to a break — and it tends to remain more regular, meaning it beats consistently and is typically unmarred by waking stresses and anxieties that will cause your heart rate to rise and force it to work harder.

Athletic Performance: Ask any top-level athlete what their fitness routine looks like and you’re going to notice that rest is an absolutely essential part of it. For some, this may seem obvious — muscles need time to repair and improve themselves between exercises, after all — but that might not carry over to sleeping well for an appropriate stretch of time. Well, it’s time to set that straight: shutting down for the night gives your body the opportunity to relax and repair better than it can while you’re awake and moving around. Furthermore, sleeping can improve motivation, restore your energy reserves, and even increase the speed at which your athletic performance improves.

Illness Prevention & Treatment: Just as a lack of sleep slows down your brain, heart, and muscles, so too does it decrease your body’s ability to fight off infections disease. In fact, your white blood cells — those that are chiefly responsible for attacking disease in your bloodstream — will slow down and perform worse when you’re tired. Sleep well and your immune system will become stronger in return.

Weight Stabilization: As it turns out, sleep deprivation can affect your weight in a couple of different ways, although they’re certainly connected. For starters, longer periods of sleep means you’re going to be spending less time awake and, perhaps obviously, will have fewer opportunities to snack unnecessarily, you’ll be less hungry overall, and you’ll be more motivated to move around in your waking hours. However, it goes deeper than that. You see, sleep deprivation will actually mess with your hormones — specifically those that control your hunger levels and impulse control — and could lead to a higher likelihood of you caving in to cravings for unhealthy food.

Photo: Withings Sleep Tracking Pad

What Is A Sleep Tracker?

Rest Metrics

Though they come in numerous shapes, sizes, and types, the basic concept behind a sleep tracker remains, essentially, the same. That is to say: they’re all designed to keep tabs on numerous factors and metrics — all while you’re unconscious — in the hopes of giving you a better understanding of your patterns and, perhaps, the tools necessary to improve your overall rest. To help you better understand how, exactly, that works, we’ve outlined some of those factors and metrics below. Keep in mind: the way these devices track your metrics often depends on the type of device and not all take into account all of these factors (for instance, a non-wearable might not be able to track your exact heartbeat); these are simply the most common and impactful.

Length of Rest: The National Sleep Foundation advises that all adults rest somewhere between seven-to-nine hours per night in order to function normally during their waking period. As such, one of the most basic metrics sleep trackers use to determine your quality of sleep is by measuring the time you spend asleep. In fact, most of them are designed to note periods in the middle of the night when you wake up — based on your breathing, heart rate, motion, etc. — and will resume tracking once you’ve dozed off again.

Movement: Not all sleep is good sleep. In fact, people who roll around at night tend to be less well-rested during waking hours. While rolling over isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker when it comes to being refreshed and recovered — in fact, it can be good for you in numerous ways, including helping with circulation — greater amounts typically signify less genuine rest. Furthermore, large amounts of movement that occur while you are resting can often lead to injuries like pinched nerves, cramped muscles, strains, etc. Knowing how much you roll around can help inform your fatigue in waking hours and will give you the ability to make changes — like tiring yourself out before bed and/or easing anxiety at bedtime.

Breathing: Tracking the way you breathe actually impacts sleep trackers in multiple ways. For starters, your breathing patterns serve as an indication of whether or not you’re asleep, as well as indicating which sleep cycle you’re in. But your breathing can also be an indicator as to why you are not as well-rested as you should be. For instance, excessive snoring could be an indication of sleep apnea — a condition categorized by the repeated interruption of your breathing pattern — which often causes people to miss out on essential rest and can even be dangerous to the point that there is a risk of fatality.

Sleep Cycles: By taking into account multiple bodily metrics, many sleep trackers can assess which sleep cycle you find yourself in and for how long you remain in those cycles. This information can serve, like all the other metrics, to explain why you might not be feeling as well-rested as you probably should. Just keep in mind, while “REM sleep” is certainly a buzz-worthy term (one that many people associate with good rest, likely because of its connection to dreams), the most important sleep cycle is known as “deep sleep” and most adults only get about 1-2 hours of time in this cycle per night.

Heart Rate: As is the case with all of the above metrics, your heart rate (the speed at which your heart beats) will not tell the full story of your sleep patterns, but it can be essential to helping construct the entire picture — especially when juxtaposed with other metrics like your breathing, movement, and sleep cycle. As you might imagine, a lower heart rate is ideal for better rest — although some stressful dreams may cause that to rise, even to the point that you could heat up enough that you’ll wake up in a sweat. Furthermore, abnormalities in your heart rate while you’re asleep could actually be indicators of underlying medical conditions. They’re not always something to be alarmed by, but it’s a good idea to keep this in mind if you notice anything too far outside the norm.

WHOOP Strap 3.0

Technically, the WHOOP Strap 3.0 isn’t a dedicated sleep tracker (it’s geared toward full-body fitness), but it does have enough sleep-tracking features to earn a spot on this list and offer a large amount of value for a relatively low price point. In fact, it’s actually quite capable — boasting the ability to measure your breathing and heart rate with tremendous accuracy, as well as gauge other physical measurements courtesy of its onboard 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, and PPG-heart rate sensor. Then, users can access all this vital information directly from the included mobile app and make changes to improve upon those resting periods.

Purchase: $30+

Withings Sleep Tracking Pad

If you’re the kind of person that finds a wearable to be more of an impediment to your rest (or you prefer sleeping completely naked), then you might be drawn to the Withings Sleep Tracking Pad, as this sleep tracker actually slips between your mattress and box spring or frame. Paired with a handy smartphone app, this handy tracker then can measure your sleep by detecting seemingly-subtle changes in your movements throughout the night. This allows the device to gauge your breathing, heart rate, and more — which it assesses to create a sleep score each night, giving you all the information in a handy at-a-glance format and allowing you to make the necessary changes in order to improve your resting periods. Better still, it can be used alongside other smart devices, like your lights or thermometer, to control your environment to create better sleep conditions.

Purchase: $88

Beautyrest Sleeptracker Monitor

Just like the Withings above, the Beautyrest Sleeptracker Monitor is a non-wearable sleep tracker that slips beneath your mattress — meaning it is compatible with your bed regardless of size, type, bedding, etc. Similarly, it also pairs with a smart app to deliver all of your sleep and rest information in a simple at-a-glance format — including the length and quality of rest, as well as any interruptions and more. It is also Alexa-enabled, so you can integrate it into the functionality of the rest of your smart home devices. What really helps this one stand apart, however, is that it comes with an integrated AI-driven sleep coach — meaning it will help piece together solutions specific to you and your rest to increase the quality of your rest based on the metrics gathered during your sleep periods.

Purchase: $97

Fitbit Charge 4 Fitness Tracker

Fitbit has solidified its name amongst the fitness trackers of the world — helping to legitimize the category and turn the technology into something that could now be called commonplace. And while this device has plenty of substantial waking-focused features, it also has a full suite of sleep tracking ones to help you get a full picture of your overall health. Wearing this device while you sleep will grant you access to information regarding the length of time you spend asleep, interruptions throughout the night, heart rate information, and can even determine which sleep cycle you’re in. It can even send you bedtime reminders, allowing you to give yourself the best chance of getting a full, good night’s sleep on a regular basis. When paired with all the other features this top-notch fitness tracking wearable has to offer, the price seems suspiciously low — but we’ll take it.

Purchase: $135

MUSE S Brain-Sensing Headband

The only wearable on our list that’s actually dedicated to sleep tracking, the MUSE S might look like something out of a science fiction movie, but there’s a good reason for that. You see, this device doesn’t just utilize the external physical information your body produces — like your breathing patterns, pulse rate, and how much you roll around (all of which are clocked and measured by the MUSE S) — it actually detects your brain waves with onboard EEG technology. This means, along with all the benefits offered by the other sleep trackers on this list, it will actually tell you what your brain is up to while you are resting. Furthermore, it can be used in the time up until you fall asleep to help get your body and mind into a better place for deep, restful sleep. That includes guided meditations to help slow down and stabilize your heart rate, breathing, body movement, and more. All told, this looks like a science-fiction device because, well, it kind of is — at least when compared to the other ones on this list.

Purchase: $350

Apple Watch Series 6

Especially because of the recent addition of an onboard ECG (AKA EKG), the Apple Watch Series 6 is undoubtedly one of the best sleep (and all-around fitness) trackers around. It will also measure your movements while you’re unconscious, the time you spend actually asleep, and it can set bedtime reminders (as well as turn off notifications) in order to give you the best chance at restful sleep. Furthermore, it will organize all your data into an easy-to-use app accessible directly from the watch itself or your accompanying iPhone, so you can learn from your patterns and make the changes necessary to improve upon them. You’ll probably not want to purchase an Apple Watch just because of the sleep tracking features, but the strengths therein are definitely worth considering if you’re already on the fence when it comes to picking up one of these spectacular smartwatches.

Purchase: $399+

The 15 Best Sleep Accessories

There are some ways you can stack the deck in your favor when it comes to being well-rested — including by integrating tech into your routine. Find a range of exceptional options on our list of the best sleep accessories.

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