Sleep Monitor
Sleep Monitor

How can sleep be tracked?

More and more people wake up feeling tired even after a full 8 hours of rest and many of them wonder how can sleep be tracked so that they can learn what is happening to them.

As the stream of information in day to day life increases more and more, the quality of sleep has to suffer. There seems to be a strong connection between excessive technology use and low quality sleep.

The culprit is usually a mobile device that emits blue light or video games. And mobile devices do tend to be used excessively nowadays.

However, most people don’t even realize that they are not sleeping well. The only giveaway is the constant feeling of tiredness that creeps up around midday and never goes away.

Luckily, science is doing its best to come up with new technology aimed at improving people’s sleep, and one possible solution lies with sleep trackers.

In this article we will ignore the irony that derives from the fact that we now have technology aimed at helping us to deal with issues that other technologies (smart phones and videogames) created, and look into what sleep trackers are and what they can do for us.

How can sleep be tracked?

In a previous article we talked about the 5 stages of sleep and how each of them has its particularities.

Some of these particularities are:

  • Pulse;
  • Blood pressure;
  • Muscle tone;
  • Breath cadence;
  • Body temperature;
  • Brain waves.

Most devices that monitor sleep look at these factors and at how they change, and track the phases of sleep.

After that, they calculate how much a person has spent in deep sleep, how many times they were disturbed, and how long they spent in REM sleep.

What type of sleep trackers are there?

Sleep monitors come in different forms and with different types of sensors. As a general rule of thumb, the best on the market are used in hospital neurology departments and are not usually accessible to the general public.

Of course, there are less accurate products that still paint a pretty good picture about how sleep progresses and that can give a lot of information on what is going wrong.

Most common forms of sleep trackers are:

  • Wrist devices – just like a watch;
  • Belts;
  • Rings;
  • Headbands;
  • Mattresses;
  • Phone apps.

Do sleep trackers actually work?

This is a very good question because as sleep is not something tangible, it isn’t easy to measure either.

All sleep trackers work for what they are designed to do, but that may not always be what we want it to do for us.

Wrist devices for example, measure heart rate and motion and some may even measure body temperature. But these factors don’t necessarily correlate with sleep. Sometimes we can be absorbed by a good digital book and not move our hand for an hour. That definitely doesn’t qualify as sleep.

Phone apps are some of the less reliable options. They use the microphone to monitor sound and the accelerometer to monitor movement. This means that you have to have the phone on you, which can be uncomfortable. And if you don’t sleep alone in bed, it can be counterproductive.

Some sleep monitors have more sensors and can read blood pressure and breath cadence too. These paint a better picture especially if they are used properly.

The devices that are also able to measure brain waves, along with other functions, are by far the most accurate, surpassed only by the ones you would find in a sleep clinic.[i]

Of course, people are different, and each individual may have different preferences. So choosing the right sleep tracker should, among other things, be done with the person’s lifestyle in mind. Even if it is a gift, it’s still important to choose the right tool.

How to use a sleep tracker?

All sleep monitors should be used according to the instructions of the manufacturer. But there are a few other issues that you should consider.

Many people choose to use wrist bands or rings that track sleep. This is an easy to understand choice, but the fact that they chose to use it throughout the entire day may lead to confusing results.

Sleep trackers are also accelerometers and pulsometers, meaning that they measure the level of activity and heart beat frequency. They do this because less motion usually means more sleep. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep the muscles are completely motionless and the pulse is slightly higher than during the other phases of sleep.

However, users may find that the sleep tracker tells them that they were asleep while they were sitting quietly by the fire.

This shouldn’t reflect the quality of the tracker. This type of device should be only used to monitor sleep because its algorithm was created only for that particular circumstance. 

How to choose a sleep tracker?

As with everything in life, it all comes down to personal preference and budget.

Since these devices are not meant to be taken outside the bedroom, esthetics should be out of the equation.

Before choosing you will have to analyze reviews and specs and you will have to decide what you are comfortable with. Head bands may be very efficient, but some people have trouble sleeping with them on.

The budget should match your expectations. If you are having trouble sleeping, which you probably are if you are considering buying a sleep tracker, you need to know that they do not improve your sleep.

A sleep tracker can be used only as an assessment tool that will give you information about the duration and quality of your sleep. But this information can later be used to monitor progress that you will make using different strategies.

Feeling tired all the time is a sign that something is wrong. The level of energy usually fluctuates during the day, but the tank should never feel empty, especially not right after you wake up. Addressing sleep problems early can represent the difference between a lifetime of bad sleep and a few hiccups here and there.


[i] https://theconversation.com/are-sleep-trackers-accurate-heres-what-researchers-currently-know-152500

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210217151008.htm
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095881115300184
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6025478/

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