How to Choose the Best Sleep Tracker for You
Here's how your options stack up — plus why you should invest in a sleep tracker in the first place.
This year has really done a number on our sleep — and our sleep wasn’t that great to begin with (hello, tired Americans). Studies have shown that the stress of COVID-19 alone has caused an uptick in insomnia and sleep problems, and with election stress and daylight savings coming to an end, our circadian rhythms are in serious need of some TLC.
One way we can start to prioritize our sleep (which, mind you, can mitigate stress and anxiety, improve immunity, enhance skin health, and boost mood) is to use a sleep tracker. Though a sleep specialist is going to be your best bet for serious insomnia, sleep apnea, and night waking, a sleep tracker can help you in a more general sense — and could give you clues if you really do need to check in with a doc.
“Sleep trackers use movement detection or motion technology similar to what we have in a sleep test called Actigraphy,” says board-certified pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine physician Jose Mendez, M.D., Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut. “They are useful to some extent in detecting restless sleep, which could be a sign of some sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.”
Dr. Mendez says in addition to checking in on your sleep movement, the trackers can look at your sleep time with minimal or no movement, “Which could lead to a suggestion of circadian rhythm disorders, insomnia, and insufficient sleep,” he says. Most people do move a bit in their sleep (and sometimes movement signals a change in sleep phase, like from REM to light) — the amount varies from person to person, and comes down to genetics and race.
“All in all, I take the information from a patient’s sleep trackers and add it to my overall sleep evaluation.”
Here, the best wearable and under-mattress sleep trackers out there, across a variety of price-points.
A wearable has the ability to use your body’s metrics — O2 saturation, temperature, and heart rate — to give more specific detail on your sleep patterns. If you’re comfortable wearing something on your wrist or hand while you sleep, this could be your best option.
So a lot of reviews are already comparing the Halo to an episode of Black Mirror (it analyzes the tone of your voice and provides feedback on how energized — or depressed — you sound to others), but if you want something that anticipates your needs better than any of your exes, then this might be for you. In addition to body composition and tone analysis, the Halo uses temperature sensing to track the quality and quantity of sleep, and then provide expert suggestions to help you sleep better via the app (temperature sensing is a big trend in the wearable sector right now, perhaps in part due to COVID-19).
Like with some of the other apps (Fitbit, Sleep Cycle, etc) the Halo will provide a view of your night’s sleep and generate a score. You’ll see the phases of sleep, as well as your temperature (so you can compare your nighttime temp to get your personal average).
$65 + $4/month subscription; amazon.com
This swim-friendly, heart-rate-monitoring, O2-sensing fitness tracker boasts an impressive sleep tracking capability as well. It’s thin and subtle compared to most watch-style trackers, and has a way of measuring (by estimate) your body’s blood oxygen saturation level. Why does this matter? Beyond the general health metric, it’s factored into your sleep tracking. The Garmin Vivosmart 4 tracks light, deep, and REM stages of sleep, along with movement throughout the night and the blood oxygen levels with the Pulse Ox feature. Why is blood oxygen important? If your saturation is lower than normal, it can impact the quality of your sleep and adversely affect your health. Think: restless sleep (leading to headaches and fatigue the next day). It can also be a sign of sleep apnea or other respiratory problems that your doctor can diagnose. You can view all your data on the corresponding app on your phone.
This is a great option if you want a slender, multifunctional fitness tracker with strong sleep-tracking capabilities (and with four to seven days of battery life) — all under $100.
Fitbit Versa 3
Fitbit has been a pioneer in the sleep tracking space, and the Versa 3 is the latest addition to the brand’s stellar track record. This is a full-on smartwatch, with a beveled square face, GPS, heart rate monitoring, O2 sensing, and over six days of battery life. Using the sensing capabilities (motion, O2, and heart rate), the watch tracks and reports data on your time in light, deep, and REM sleep, providing a daily sleep score. You can also set your Fitbit alarm to wake you up with a quiet vibration during a lighter sleep stage — in theory, this would be a better way to wake up so you’re not jolted out of deep sleep.
Try this tracker if you’re looking for a smartwatch you can wear to bed, with a long battery life, menstrual health tracking, and more. If you like all these features and are willing to shell out a little more dough, the new Fitbit Sense adds temperature sensing to the mix, and rings up at $330.
While the other wearables on this list were designed with a number of functions in mind (think: exercise tracking, mood sensing, texting, etc), the Oura Ring was specifically designed with sleep as the primary focus (though it does still track things like your activity and steps). It’s also a ring (obviously) instead of a watch or wrist band, which could be more comfortable based on your preferences and personal style. This device uses infrared LED sensors, a NTC body temperature sensor, a 3D accelerometer, and a gyroscope — a lot of tech packed into a tiny little ring. It’s made of lightweight titanium, has seven days of battery life, is water resistant, and comes with a charger customized to your ring size. The Oura ring also claims to have “unrivaled sleep monitoring” that will help you discover your ideal bedtime — the app will also merge your data with Google and Apple health apps so you can have all your information in one place.
The Whoop Strap used to be $500, but the new pricing model allows you to buy six months of their tracking subscription ($180) and they’ll throw the band in for free. The Whoop is like the Halo in that it’s not a smartwatch, but rather a wrist band. It uses five different tracking metrics at “high frequency, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide the most accurate and granular understanding of your body.”
When it comes to your sleep, Whoop uses heart rate, motion sensing, and more to detect how much time you spent in bed, how much sleep you got, and how long you were in different sleep stages. It will track respiratory rate, analyze the number of disturbances to see if your sleep was interrupted more than once, and give you a report on your sleep efficiency. From there, it recommends how many hours you need for optimal recovery. Another cool facet: it looks at how long it takes for you to fall asleep (they refer to this as latency) based on when you are attempting to go to bed, all of which can help you find the ideal bedtime. Combine this with a five-day battery life, and you’ve got a solid contender.
Free with $30/month subscription; join.whoop.com
Apple Watch Series 6
It’s no newsflash to say that the new Apple Watch is one of the most popular, most desired wearable devices on the market today. It’s flashy, it’s cool, it’s stylish — it also tracks heart rate and O2, let’s you use several of your iOS apps on the go (like listening to Podcasts and paying for Starbucks), and now syncs up with the new Peloton Bike+ to track your workouts. But what about sleep?
The recently added Sleep app analyzes motion (or lack thereof) to determine your sleep time. The app has you set a bedtime and desired wake time, and from there will give you a reminder to wind down and get ready for bed. Unfortunately, while the Apple Watch is beautiful and versatile, it needs quite a bit more charging than some of the other trackers due to its 18-hour battery life and you’ll need to charge it during the day if you’re using it to monitor your sleep.
We’d recommend the Apple Watch if you’re looking for a smartwatch with a ton of health monitoring features and tech specs... that also happens to track sleep. But if sleep tracking is your number one priority, the others on the list may better suit your needs.
From $399; apple.com
Not into wearing a tracker? Try using a device placed under your mattress to monitor movement and heart rate.
With a sleep quality assessment feature, snoring detection, heart rate tracking (yes, apparently it can track your HR from under your mattress!), and a sleep coaching program, popping this little device under your bed can help you analyze your sleep without wearing anything extra to bed. Like the other devices, it has a corresponding app that can merge your data with Apple and Google health apps, and it provides a sleep score. But here’s where things get extra cool: the Withings Sleep monitor has an “enhanced sleep environment” function that uses IFTTT integration (i.e., smart home features using wifi) to create “sleep scenarios” (like on your Alexa or Google Home). Think: dimming lights before bed, turning up your thermostat when you wake up, etc.
You know the mattress brand, now get to know their AI-powered Beautyrest Sleeptracker. This little guy actually works with Alexa if you have an Amazon smart home device, so you can add it to your high-tech ecosystem. The Beautyrest works with any brand of mattress and uses sensors to look at your heart rate, breathing, movement patterns, and “unique sleep behaviors.” Use the app to get your sleep data, and use that data to create an intuitive alarm that determines your optimal wakeup time. This device and app also provide sleep coaching and can monitor two sleepers independently for separate data and personalized tips.
This Finnish company has also created a heart-rate-monitoring device you can sneak under your mattress — even a super thick memory foam one. Thanks to super sensitive “proprietary ferro-electret sensor technology,” EMFIT QS is able to use ballistocardiography to detect heartbeat, breathing, and movement. The device boasts longevity (and provides a 2-year warranty), and offers extremely precise data you can access in the app, specifically geared toward athletes and fitness professionals to help optimize recovery. Like the Beautyrest, this can track the data of two individuals in the same bed, but it does not provide coaching or recommendations like some of the other devices and apps.
Device-free, inexpensive, and harnessing the power of your smartphone.
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock
If a physical device seems like a little much for you, try Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, which will both monitor your sleep movement and sounds and wake you up gently in the morning at the most optimal time based on where you’re at (from deep sleep to light sleep) within a certain set time range. SCAC records snoring that you can then listen to (and show your doctor), and allows you to take notes to identify things that might impact your sleep (for better or for worse), like caffeine consumption, alcohol, screen time, and stress.
$40/year membership; sleepcycle.com