About Sleep Tracking

With a number of new wearables and smart watches on the market boasting all-day heart rate monitoring users are finding themselves wondering about how they can get the most use out of these health-monitoring devices. They can easily track their steps, workouts, and heart rate while awake, but heart rate monitoring applications are increasingly adding sleep tracking features to their libraries of features. While having this new data can be a helpful addition to a holistic health tracking plan, it isn’t always easy to know what to do with this new information.

Though many studies have shown the myriad of benefits that getting proper sleep has on the body, and sleep tracking in specialized sleep clinics has a long history, sleep tracking at the consumer level is still a new field. Finding understandable information about how sleep tracking works and how to evaluate your sleep tracker’s information is difficult, but with a little bit of background on the history and science behind sleep tracking you can easily add this metric into your understanding of your health and your quantified life.


Before the invention of affordable heart rate monitoring equipment and accelerometer-equipped smart devices sleep tracking was reserved for specialized sleep clinics. When physicians worried that their patients were suffering from sleep disorders they were referred to overnight stays at these designated clinics where they would have their vitals monitored while sleeping. Because of the cost associated with this type of diagnostic tool, sleep tracking was reserved for obvious and problematic sleep disorders, and was not a practical tool for diagnosing more common sleep issues.

The main type of sleep tracking done within sleep clinics is called polysomnography, which tracks a variety of different vital signs in order to get an accurate picture of the bodily processes and stages associated with an individual’s sleep. By tracking brain waves, eye movement, respiration and heart rate doctors are able to determine how much time is spent in each of the stages of sleep, how often a person wakes up during the night, and how sleeping impacts that individual’s health. These data points can help diagnose a variety of sleep conditions or disorders so that patients can get appropriate treatment.


Modern wearable sleep-tracking technology is not nearly as involved or detailed as polysomnography, but can still help give you a general overview of your sleep habits. These trackers generally work with two main types of technology. By measuring heart rate fitness trackers can determine how long and how deeply a person sleeps, and how often that person wakes up during a normal night. Similarly, accelerometer data can show you how much time you spend in sleep, since body movement can differentiate between periods of sleep and restfulness. Though these types of sleep tracking technologies only give a vague picture of your total sleep habits, they can be a useful tool in tracking sleep and learning more about your sleep habits and how they affect your health in general.


The question that many wearable owners might be asking themselves next is: should I be monitoring my own sleep habits? Even though sleep tracking is a functionality that might be included in a device you already own, that doesn’t necessarily mean that tracking your sleep will really benefit you. If you don’t have any specific issues with tiredness or fatigue and find yourself on a regular sleep schedule, sleep tracking using a wearable device is probably not accurate enough to give you any specific benefits. When deciding which health metrics are worthy of the time and effort to track, it is often important to look at what you are trying to achieve. If you find that your sleep is often short or frequently interrupted, or you want to get a vague idea of the hours you sleep during a week, sleep trackers are probably a great addition to your health tracking routine. If, however, you are not sure about whether or not sleep tracking will benefit you there might be no specific need to track yet another aspect of your lifestyle.

With new wearables being developed so quickly, there are more and more ways to track your health status and quantify your lifestyle. Though sleep tracking seems to be one of the newest growing trends in the wearable industry, the benefits to sleep tracking are still in their infancy, as with the technology. Like all aspects of health tracking, it is best to use your own judgment about what elements of your lifestyle should be tracked and analyzed.