Getting a decent amount of sleep is essential. The quality of our sleep impacts our memory, our decision-making faculties, mental and physical health as well as appearance. Perhaps that is why smartwatch sleep monitoring has become such a popular technology.
There is no denying sleep is a massive part of our daily lives. The average person will spend a third of their life, some 26 years, either sleeping or trying to get to sleep. Most of us are fortunate enough to fall asleep when our head hits the pillow. But millions of people worldwide do fail to get the recommended 6-8 hours of sleep each night.
This has caused many to turn to modern sleep monitoring technology to step in and lend a hand. There are lots of smartphones and other devices out there to help monitor sleep. But one of the best ways you can keep track of sleep habits is to wear a smartwatch capable of discerning all of the factors which go into getting a good night’s rest.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to a host of problems as our bodies need that time to recuperate and renew cells. Not to mention the energy we need to get us through the day. If you’re not sleeping properly, you can become susceptible to issues such as:
- lack of concentration
- excessive fatigue
- impaired or lowered immune system
- weight gain
- cardiovascular problems
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at how smartwatches actually work to monitor sleep. We’ll discuss how accurate they are and some of the best sleep tracking apps and smartwatches on the market right now so you can take back control of your sleep rhythms.
How Does Sleep Monitoring Work With a Smartwatch?
If you’ve been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, you’ve likely been referred to a specialist sleep clinic. A sleep clinic monitors your vital statistics and other contributing factors to sleep throughout the night.
When we sleep, our bodies go through various cycles, from light to deep to rapid-eye-movement. These stages present different physiological cues that specific devices can detect. In a clinical setting, techniques such as actigraphy and polysomnography are used to gather data. But it is generally acknowledged that wearing a smartwatch in your own bedroom can be more beneficial for gaining results than sleeping in an unknown location hooked up to a bunch of wires.
Sleep trackers offer lots of different data. This is important because it may not just be one issue preventing you from sleeping. They can monitor the quality of your sleep, the different phases you go through, how long you sleep, factors in the environment such as temperature, noise, and light, or even factors affecting your lifestyle such as the amount of coffee you drink or how much stress you are under.
However, a number of factors need to be tracked when determining sleep issues. And many of these cannot be checked with a smartwatch. In a sleep clinic, everything from your brainwaves, breathing, and body movement to your heart rate, blood oxygen, and eye movement will be measured. But a smartwatch can only monitor some of these.
Nonetheless, what these wrist gadgets can do is pretty impressive. When worn, they can track your wrist movements with the accelerometer. They can tell you your heart rate at all times. They can track how much time you spend sleeping in which cycle (light, deep, REM). Not to mention they can record your respiration and blood oxygen levels.
How Does an Apple Watch Track Sleep?
A latecomer to the world of sleep monitoring, Apple now has its very own Sleep application compatible with the data gathered on a smartwatch. It works with all models which have watchOS 7 or higher.
The app knows when you are in the land of nod thanks to the movement on your wrist, coupled with your heart rate, which drops as your body relaxes. The app doesn’t track that much activity, such as sleep stages. But it does have handy sleep features such as sleep goals and a Do Not Disturb function.
How Does a Fitbit Track Sleep?
The Fitbit sleep monitoring feature allows you to detect when you’ve fallen asleep due to your lack of movement. It also records various data about your sleep pattern by using a heart rate monitor. This data is compiled into an easy-to-read graph showing times when you were awake, asleep, or restless during sleeping hours.
Many Fitbits also have a blood oxygen sensor. This allows you to see any significant breathing issues affecting oxygen intake, which could be a sign of sleep apnea.
How Does a Garmin Track Sleep?
Most Garmin sleep monitoring devices are equipped with optical sensors to monitor your heart rate. But what sets Garmin apart is its Advanced Sleep Monitoring feature, something to highlight when it comes to smartwatch sleep monitoring.
This is thanks to a combination of sensors, including respiration rate, pulse oximetry, and blood oxygen detection. The smartwatch knows when you are asleep. And it lets you monitor your sleep patterns and discern when you need more sleep.
Which Are the Best Apps to Monitor Sleep?
With sleep tracking apps being available for so long, in addition to own-brand applications, there is a range of third-party apps which can monitor your sleep via a smartwatch. A few great options include:
SleepScore – available on both Android and Apple devices. This app uses sonar technology for sleep monitoring, giving you an accurate analysis of your nocturnal patterns. It also measures both noise and light found in the environment.
Sleep++ – a free app that is compatible with Apple Watches. Sleep++ is a sleep tracker that gives exact sleeping times and times during the night when you are either restless or awake. It doesn’t track changes in light or sound like other apps. But it does monitor heart rate.
Pillow – an app for the iOS family of devices. Pillow provides a visually appealing analysis of your sleep stages. It monitors everything from your heart rate and respiration rate to the oxygen in your blood and even the noise level throughout the night.
Sleep Cycle – downloadable on Android, Apple, and Huawei devices. Keep an eye on your sleep cycle, especially when it comes to noises keeping you awake. It can identify the difference between snoring and a baby crying and overlays these on your personalized sleep graph.
Which Are the Best Smartwatches to Monitor Sleep?
Many devices on the market have dedicated functions for monitoring sleep and nothing else. But many of the leading smartwatch makers have incorporated this tech into true multitasking devices. People are craving more and more features from their smartwatches. From allowing them to place a phone call or give directions to monitoring blood pressure and sleep.
But two models really stand out when it comes to smartwatch sleep monitoring. These models allow users to do lots more than just basic monitoring of their physiology.
The Fitbit Sense is an excellent wearable smartwatch that is one of the better sleep trackers. It provides daily updates via the Sleep Stages function, showing you an estimate of your awake times, your light and deep sleep routine as well as REM.
The Fitbit Sense also allows you to compare your sleep cycles and judge the quality of your sleep. It uses technology like blood oxygen monitoring and heart rate and movement.
Another newcomer to the world of sleep monitoring, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro has been making waves thanks to its new and improved algorithms. This smartwatch is quickly becoming a hot favorite for tracking and analyzing sleep patterns.
You can monitor the various stages of sleep, from light to deep. And it goes one step further to give you a single figure of how you slept that night. It does this by using sensors like respiration rate, heart rate, blood oxygen, and pulse ox.
Click here for a full list of our top smartwatches you can buy online to monitor your sleep.
How Accurate Are Smartwatch Sleep Monitors?
Sleep monitors and apps for smartwatches have been around for a while. And with each new device or software update, they get that much smarter. But how accurate are they really when it comes to monitoring sleep?
Some brands have invested more in the research and development for this specific feature of smartwatches. While there’s no substitute for professional polysomnographic monitoring, sleep apps are actually quite accurate.
Studies have shown that some sleep trackers have a high accuracy, but some can only detect if a person is asleep or awake around 75% of the time. This is because the technology in a smartwatch is limited to blood oxygen monitoring, movement with accelerometer sensors, heart rate, and pulse oximetry.
Smartwatch Sleep Monitoring Versus a Sleep Clinic
Compare the data you get on a smartwatch to what happens in a sleep clinic where eye movement and brain wave patterns are analyzed via electrodes placed directly over key areas of the body. Clearly, smartwatches are somewhat lacking when it comes to data and analysis abilities.
Due to this, some smartwatches cannot accurately tell us what stage of sleep we are in. This is because they base sleep off of movement. But special apps cannot discern whether or not an individual has insomnia, as they may lay very still in bed for long periods with a reduced heart rate but will still be wide awake.
When a watch can incorporate the data gained from heart rates, the accuracy increases, heart rate data can correlate to different stages of light and deep sleep. So, it’s fair to say that the more sensors a watch has, the more accurate it will be. The more data it relies upon, the better.
The second thing to note is that even with all of the sensors, the watch software needs to classify and organize the combined data effortlessly. If an algorithm can’t organize the data in a readable way, the data is useless.
How Do Smartwatches Monitor Deep Sleep?
Deep sleep helps us feel refreshed and full of energy throughout the day. Without deep sleep, fatigue can easily set in. A lack of deep sleep can also affect your eating habits.
While asleep, you go through different stages, from light to deep to REM sleep. The chart below shows the various brainwaves sleepers emit as they move through sleep cycles.
Brain waves identify deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep. During stage one of sleep, the non-rapid eye movement phase (NREM), the brain emits shorter, slower waves known as Alpha waves. A short while after this, the brain enters a stage where it emits Theta waves coupled with ‘sleep spindles’ where more intensive activity takes place.
As the sleeper drifts into stages three and four, still non-rapid eye movement stages, the waves change frequency yet again to Delta waves. Finally, the body enters a rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage where most dreaming occurs. During this stage, the eyeballs flicker back and forth as if viewing something.
The issue with smartwatches is that, for the most part, they cannot correctly identify these stages. Only specialist equipment can detect brain waves. With our current level of technology, it is simply not possible for a smartwatch to pick up brainwaves from your wrist. But with technology constantly advancing, who knows what is in store for smartwatch sleep monitoring!
Do you use sleep monitoring technology, has it helped improve your sleep? Let us know in the comments.
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Last Updated on March 23, 2022