Sleep tracking is becoming more popular than ever these days. And with good reason, too. According to the NIH, over 60 million Americans have chronic or intermittent sleep disorders that adversely effect their health.
Scientists have done extensive research on sleep patterns and typically use bulky/expensive equipment to do so. However with the advent of new technologies, it is now possible for the average consumer to easily monitor their sleep patterns.
If you are looking to purchase the best sleep tracker for sleep monitoring, their are a few important considerations and features you should look for.
Sleep Tracker Guide - How To Find The Best Sleep Monitor
When you lie down to sleep at night, your sleep tracking device will detect a prolonged period of stillness and will begin to actively monitor your sleeping patterns. A typical sleep tracker will utilize a variety of different methods to ensure an accurate measurement. There are quite a few different types of sleep trackers, and each of them in turn will utilize different technologies to monitor your sleep. Here's a quick list of the methods and styles of each.
Sleep Analyzing Technolgies
The most common sensor type is the accelerometer. These sensors operate by utilizing an embedded motion detector that monitor your movement during the night. So for instance - if you wear your device to bed, it will record simple things like how many times your turned over during the night, got out of bed, or moved the covers. Accelerometers are cheap and abundant and are most commonly found in devices like the Fitbit trackers and smart phones.
Heart Rate Monitoring
Heart rate monitors where once bulky and expensive. However, the price has recently come down on these devices, and they can now be found included in many different fitness trackers or even as stand alone units. The most common type of heart rate monitors are chest strap style sensors, which are worn over your chest and sit over the heart area. These devices are better suited to people who are looking to track their fitness levels, as they are rather bulky and can be uncomfortable to wear to bed. However, there are now a few less invasive methods of heart rate monitoring which are much better suited to those who are looking to keep track of their sleep. Here's a quick rundown:
- Optical Heart Rate Sensors were first introduced on the basis peak. Essentially, these devices operate by shining a light into your wrist and monitoring the passage of blood through the capillaries. They have the advantage of being very unobtrusive and are pretty accurate. The downside is that you will often have to wear the wrist band pretty snugly to get an accurate measurement. This can make the device uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
- Ballistocardiography sensors utilize a more straightforward method of heart rate monitoring. They operate by simply monitoring the speed at which the heart contracts and expands. As the heart go's through its normal rhythms, it will force blood in and out of the vessels with each beat. Ballistic heart rate sensors are able to monitor this rhythm and give an accurate measurement of your heart rate.
- Bio Impedance tracking is the latest in heart rate monitoring technology. This type of sensor operates by tracking the electrical signals generated across the the skin, which is otherwise known as galvanic skin response. In other words, the surface of your skin emits a tiny electric current and the sensor is able to read this current. The accuracy of this sensor type is still up for debate, but it is easily the smallest and least intrusive of the heart rate monitors. Take a look at this article here to learn more about bio metric sensors and how they function.
Radio waves can be used to measure your heart rate and sleep cycles, albeit a bit less accurately. The upside to this method is that it is completely unobtrusive - you don't have to have a sensor touching your body. At the time of this writing there is only one device that has this capability - the S+ by Resmed.
Most of the more pricey dedicated sleep trackers will have some form of heart rate sensor that sits on or near the body in order to measure heart rate. The takeaway here is that measuring heart rate is a more accurate way of tracking sleep since the body's heart rate will change when entering the different stages of rest.
|Fitbit One||Super accurate wrist style wireless tracker; very popular among fitness buffs; all-around device that includes sleep pattern tracking||Excellent||Mid-Range||4.5 / 5|
|UP4||Among the first jawbone products with embedded bio feedback sensors; all-around device; monitors sleep patterns tracks via heart rate||Good||Mid-Range||3.5 / 5|
|Misfit Shine||Device is a wearable necklace; sleep tracker also used as wristband or stand-alone unit; beats competitors on versatility||Good||Low||3.5 / 5|
|Basis Health Tracker||Attractive wearable tracker that tracks running, calories burnt, food consumption, heart rate & REM sleep; has shorter battery life but priced lower than other smart watches||Good||Very High||3.5 / 5|
|Sense||Device is designed like a sphere and comes with a "sense pill" that works as an accelerometer; monitors sleeping patterns, light, sound, temperature, air quality & humidity||Very Good||Mid-Range||4.0 / 5|
|Sleepace Reston||Bluetooth mattress sensor in sleek design; that comes as a strip laid under the sheet; easy set up just like other plug and play items||Good||Mid-Range||3.5 / 5|
|BEDDIT SMART 2.0||Tracks all standard sleeping metrics & reads out sleep scores every morning; features coaching tips & uses adhesive to attach to mattress; sensor is non-obtrusive||Very Good||Mid-Range||4.0 / 5|
|Withings Aura||2-sensor all in one solution for sleep tracking - one under the sheet, the other on the nightstand; features a soothing light that goes along with the emitted sounds; works for 2 people on same bed||Very Good||High||4.0 / 5|
|SLEEP CYCLE||iOS app that records different sleep levels with active sleep monitoring algorithm; customizable - has different sortable graphs; ability to do detailed sleep analysis||Good||Low||3.5 / 5|
|SleepBot||Solid sleep tracking iOS app keeping track of basic sleeping patterns; utilizes a microphone to monitor noise levels within the room; features intuitive interface, app is 100% free, comes with a web app||Good||free from iOS||4.0 / 5|
There are quite a few different devices that can be utilized to quantify ones sleep. Each of them have pros and cons, and some may be better suited to people who are looking for a more casual approach to their sleep tracking.
Many smart phones such as the iPhone and Galaxy series have the ability to utilize the myriad of sleep tracking apps available on their respective app stores. The reason they are able to do this is because most smart phones have an embedded acceleormter for tracking movement. This can be utilized with a dedicated sleep tracking app to record your activity during the night. Since smart phones only have acceleromters, they can only detect and record your nightly movement. You wont get as much of a detailed analysis as you would with a dedicated unit.
Fitness Trackers & Smart Watches
Fitness trackers come in many different shapes and sizes. The most common ones are worn via a clip and can be placed virtually anywhere. More dedicated types such as the Fitbit Charge HR or the Basis Peak can are worn on the wrist and have the ability monitor many different metrics, such as your current elevation, calories burned, and even your heart rate. The great thing about may fitness trackers is that they will oftentimes be able to monitor your sleep automatically - that is, they will begin tracking your sleep when you lie down and drift off. This saves having to fiddle with complicated set up options when right before you go to bed.
The subset of fitness trackers is the modern day smart watch. Smart watches function similar to a high end fitness tracker when it comes to sleep tracking. The bonus is that many smart watches often come with a myriad of extra different features - the most notable of which are things like on board GPS tracking, different sports tracking modes, expanded connectivity options, and of course embedded heart rate sensors. Smart watches make great fitness trackers but they oftentimes don't have the best battery life, which can be an issue for someone who is looking to wear one all night.
Dedicated Sleep Trackers
Sleep tracking has advanced to the point of becoming its own sub section of the quantified self movement. This means that there are now a few different devices on the market that are solely dedicated to monitoring your sleep. Stand alone sleep trackers like the Withings Aura or the Beddit Smart are able to track your sleeping metrics via a desk unit and a mattress sensor. This type of sleep tracker is for people who are really looking to drill down into their sleeping data. As a bonus, many of these units can monitor different things about your sleeping area, such as the ambient light/noise, relative humidity, and even the air quality.
Quantifying Sleep Levels
Lastly, many different sleep trackers will have the ability to give a few different types of readouts depending on the level of sleep you are in. Here's a quick list.
Nerm sleep makes up the largest portion of a typical sleep cycle. This is a more slow, relaxed type of sleep.
REM sleep stands for rapid eye movement sleep. So named because the eyes move about involuntarily in different directions. This tends to occur at random intervals during the sleep cycle and makes up the smallest portion. This is the state where dreaming occurs.
Some trackers will have a deep sleep readout. This just means that you were moving less during that period. Most of the sleep tracking apps that I have tested mix the deep sleep and REM sleep portion into one.
A word of caution
Keep in mind, most acceletometer based sleep trackers do not have the ability to measure the different stages of a nights rest. This can be a detriment to someone who is looking to iron out their sleeping issues, as this type of data is crucial to understanding your sleeping patterns. Most sleep trackers that can monitor your heart rate will include this function, so that is a good place to look if you want a detailed readout from the device you purchase.
With all of the different offerings on the market it can be a challenge to find a sleep tracker that has a decent sleep tracking function. I recommend a dedicated device, rather than one that is more multi function oriented.
The Best Sleep Trackers of 2016
Rather than do the usual top roundup, I went with a more holistic approach this time. Since there are so many different ways to track sleep, I felt this way would be more accurate. I have included the top devices of for each category: that of fitness trackers, smart watches, stand alone units, and smart phone apps. Click the button to reveal the content of each category. Without further ado, lets take a look at some of the best sleep trackers of 2016.
Best Fitness Trackers For Sleep Monitoring
- Fitbit One
- Video Review
Fitbit is a company that needs no introduction. Their products practicably dominate the wearable fitness sphere, and the Fitbit one is one of their more popular units. This is another all around device that is also very adept at tracking sleep.
Pros: This is easily the most accurate of the wrist style trackers I have tested.
Cons: The clip that this tracker comes with is a little on the weak side. I noticed that it came out of the clip a little to easily. This made us worried about how easy it would be to lose the sensor, since it is so small.
- Video Review
The UP4 is the latest version of one of jawbones most popular lines. It boasts an impressive array of features, and has the ability to track your sleeping patterns through your heart rate. This is one of the first jawbone products that has embedded bio feedback sensors - which are a must for sleep tracking accuracy. I also liked embedded NFC mobile payment system - for those with american express cards that is. Full Review >
Pros: I loved the "all in oneness" of this sleep tracker. For users with an active lifestyle this is a great device to own.
Cons: I found the jawbone to be to loose in its fitting. It fell of once during the night.
- Misfit Shine
- Video Review
Misfit has a number of wearable on the market, but the shine has the distinction of being a wearable necklace. This versatile sleep tracker can be used as wristband or even a stand alone unit. Full Review >
Pros: This sleep tracker has its competitors beat in the versatility department.
Cons: The sleep tracking on this unit isnt the most accurate, I found that teneded to give a "deep sleep" reading when I was up and moving around. This may be a software issue.
Best Smart Watches For Sleep Tracking
- Basis Peak
- Video Review
When it comes to wearables, few are more attractive than a basis peak. The basis does it all - from tracking running, calories burnt, and food consumption, to heart rate and REM sleep. Full Review >
Pros: This is one of the lower priced smart watches on the market.
Cons: The battery life tended to be on the low side.
Best Stand Alone Sleep Trackers
- Video Review
The Sense sphere is one of the newer products on the market. It comes with the aforementioned sphere and a "sense pill". The sense pill is just a fancy name for an accelerometor. In addition to monitoring your sleeping patterns, the sense also monitors things like light, sound, temperature, air quality, and humidity. Full Review >
Pros: This unit has quite a nice aesthetic to it.
Cons: I noticed it tended to show grease and fingerprints after prolonged use.
Sense Sleep Tracker Review
The Reston by Sleepspace is easily the sleekest device I have looked at. It comes as a strip that lays under your sheet, similar to the Beddit but without the sticky residue.
Pros: This device has one of the easiest set ups I've encountered, its almost plug and play.
Cons: The mattress sensor is somewhat bulky.
- Beddit Smart 2.0
- Video Review
The Beddit smart is an updated version of an older model. it appears Beddit has ironed out a lot of the kinks with this new version too. This device can track all of the standard sleeping metrics and will spit out a "sleep score" every morning. I also liked its "coaching tips" feature. Full Review >
Pros: The included sensor is one of the most unobtrusive sensors I have seen. It is almost as thin as a piece of tap and doesn't need to be attached to your body.
Cons: This device uses adhesive so it can be attached to the mattress. When I detached ours it left a bit of sticky residue behind.
- Withings aura
- Video Review
The Aura is a complete all in one solution that is dedicated solely to sleep tracking. It has 2 sensors - one is placed under your sheet and the other on your nightstand. Its unique feature - a soothing light that goes along with the sounds it emits. Full Review >
Pros: The unit I tested worked with 2 people in the bed. This wasn't the case with some other devices I tested.
Cons: The light can sometimes be a little on the bright side. This takes some getting used to.
Best Smart Phone Sleep Tracking Apps
- Sleep Cycle
- Video Review
Sleep cycle is a feature packed app that has the ability to record your different sleep levels and also features an active sleep monitoring algorithm that will wake you when your at your most rested state. The app is very reasonably priced - around $1 - and has many different sort-able graphs. You can also mark different conditions and behaviors that you are working on changing during the night.
Pros: Fairly robust for a stand alone app, can do detailed sleep analysis
Cons: Accuracy is not the best
- Video Review
Sleepbot is a solid sleep tracking app that can keep track of your basic sleeping patterns. The app can also utilize your microphone to monitor the noise levels of your room. The noise monitor can also be used to tell if you are having breathing issues or snore a lot, which is a nice touch.
Pros: Intuitive interface, app is 100% free, comes with a web app
Cons: not much detail
- Motion X 24/7
- Video Review
This is an ideal app for someone who is looking to utilize their smartphone to track more than sleep. The Motion app can use your phone as a stand alone fitness tracker. With this handy app you can keep track of your total steps taken throughout the day and allows you to take a "power nap". As far as sleep tracking goes, the app is fairly robust: it will keep track of your sleep levels, motion, and even your heart rate.
Pros: App is very well rounded, can be used for more than just sleep tracking
Cons: Accuracy is questionable, especially where heart rate monitoring is concerned
These 2 devices below have to be one of the more unique approaches to tracking sleep that I have seen. The S+ in particular is quite intriguing in that it is a desk top style unit that monitors your vitals via radio waves. I cant wait to see more from this company.
- Video Review
The S+ by Resmed is an interesting contraption. In addition to the impressive array of vitals it measures, it boasts a personalized feedback system that syncs with your smartphone and is supposed to help you achieve better sleep cycles. One notable features is its "relax to sleep", which plays sounds that are specifically designed to help you relax. Full Review>
Pros: This is one of the more accurate "no contact" devices I have seen.
Cons: The app for this ate up a lot of our mobile data.
- Video Review
At the time of this writing this product hasent been released yet. but I like the idea of a "smart mattress". The manufacturer claims it is able to monitor all of your vitals and sync wirelessly to your phone just like any other sleep tracker. I cant wait to see what the future holds for this product.
And just in case you didn't want to go through all of the above data, here is a quick comparison table to make things easier. I have listed each tracker with 3 things in mind: detailed sleep tracking( REM, light, deep, etc), heart rate monitor support, and automatic sleep tracking.
Sleep tracking functions will typically be included in many fitness bands. These types of functions are not unique to a specific device, however as you have no doubt seen, their are many stand alone options. For the stand alone units my pick would have to go to the Aura. The aura was the most accurate sleep tracker I have tested.
Although it was not the best sleep tracking device, the runner up in this instance is the UP4. This device is pretty much the best jack of all trades fitness tracker I have ever seen. It even has the ability to do mobile payments. How cool is that?