Get eight hours of sleep each night, and you should be good to go – right?
The quality of your sleep matters just as much as the quantity. Factors like heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, and more all contribute to whether we wake up feeling refreshed or zombie-like.
And that’s where a sleep tracker comes in. These devices have been expertly designed to give you the key information you need to learn about your current sleep and make the changes to improve it.
What’s Sleep Tracking?
Sleep tracking is exactly what it sounds like. It includes monitoring your sleep every night, evaluating how you feel when you wake up each morning and making changes to improve your habits over time.
But do you actually need to track your sleep to roughly know what your sleep quality is?
Let’s say partway through the morning you realize you’re already on your fifth cup of coffee for the day. You feel like you absolutely need that caffeine boost to function.
That sends a signal that your sleep quality the night before may not have been what you needed it to be.
But knowing you feel tired and knowing why you feel tired are very different things.
Sometimes the reason for poor sleep is obvious, like: I slept terribly because I was terrified about presenting at work.
But the culprit is often more subtle than that.
Moreover, subjective feedback like “I feel terrible” or “I feel ok” usually doesn’t help you make meaningful changes in your sleep.
And this is where sleep trackers come in:
These devices track several factors to get a holistic picture of your sleep and help you discover where you can make changes to improve.
Sleep trackers give you data about your sleep by monitoring things like:
- Heart Rate
- Respiratory Rate
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
How Do You Use Sleep Tracking Data?
So you use a sleep tracker for a few nights, and you end up with charts and graphics covering your heart rate, your breathing patterns, temperature, and more.
What are you supposed to do with all that data?
Well for starters, while this information does give you an interesting snapshot of a single night of sleep, that’s not exactly where the value comes in.
Instead, this data becomes more valuable over time. The more you wear your sleep tracker, the more data you collect, the more valuable that data becomes.
As you track your sleep over weeks and months, trends begin to emerge that can help you take steps to improve your sleep.
For example, you might find that:
- A late night out at a bar can tank your sleep quality for the next three days
- Your sleep is always more restful after you exercise – but only during morning hours
- Shutting all of your devices down at 10 pm leads to better sleep than doing so at midnight
And once you get these insights, you can start taking actionable steps – whether that means limiting all-nighters, exercising more consistently, or heading to bed a little earlier.
The point is:
You’ll now have information that can help you identify behavioral changes that improve your sleep.
You can even start to create goals in areas you find you need to improve and use your tracker to see how you’re keeping up with those goals over time.
Sleep technology has boomed over the last few years and there are so many sleeping tracking options available to you now.
How are you supposed to know what’s right for you?
Below, we walk you through our top choices and the factors you should take into consideration when finding the right fit for you.
Best Overall Sleep Tracker
Our Pick: Oura Ring
Price: Starting at $299
When it comes to sleep tracking technology, Oura is a clear industry leader.
Whereas most other health trackers are worn on the wrist, similar to a watch, the Oura is a ring that’s meant to be worn on the finger of your choice (though Oura recommends your index, middle, or ring finger).
The ring takes its measurements using infrared LEDs, similar to how other trackers work. However, because the blood vessels in your finger are closer to the surface than those on your wrist, the data can be more accurate.
The Oura Ring shows you important data to help you understand your sleep habits, like:
- How long you slept
- How deeply you slept
- Your respiratory rate
- Your heart rate
- Your HRV (heart rate variability)
- Your temperature
The ring comes with an app you can download on your phone to view a broad summary of your metrics for each night as well as over time.
You can even take a deeper dive into individual metrics, like your heart rate.
One of the biggest standout features of Oura is its Readiness Score. This number between 0 and 100 tells you how much you’ve recovered from your previous day and how ready you are to take on the current day.
To calculate this score, Oura uses two weeks’ worth of data to help you understand how hard (or how little) you should push yourself on a given day.
For instance, let’s say you experienced a few nights of lighter sleep than you usually do. Your Readiness Score may recommend that you take it a little easier the next day to help your body recover.
It’s important to point out that Oura focuses on general trends rather than relying too much on a single night of sleep. With that in mind, you’ll need to wear your ring consistently to get data that’s helpful to you.
Additionally, you’ll need to wear your ring for at least two weeks when you first get it before you start seeing data you can make meaningful inferences on.
One last note:
The Oura Ring does track your activity, your daily steps, and your calories burned. But these metrics are secondary. The real magic in this technology is the learnings you can glean about your sleep habits.
Best Activity And Sleep Tracker Duo
Our Pick: Fitbit
Price: Starting at $99.95
Fitbit is a name you’re likely very familiar with; after all, it’s been a leader in fitness tracking for more than a decade.
Over the past few years, it’s begun adding more emphasis to its sleep tracking capabilities on its newer devices.
And this makes a ton of sense for the brand.
After all, activity tracking pairs nicely with sleep tracking as exercise generally correlates with better sleep.
Fitbit’s 24-hour tracking can help you determine how your daytime habits might be affecting your sleep.
A Fitbit can help you track key metrics like your heart rate and your movement during the night. Your device uses this and other factors to give you an overall Sleep Score for the previous night. You can also see trends over time within the app.
Fitbit can tell you information like the quality of your sleep, the amount of time you spend asleep, and the estimated time you spend in each sleep stage.
A cool bonus feature:
The Fitbit watch features a silent alarm that vibrates on your wrist to gently wake you up. A much nicer alternative to the blaring beep of your old alarm!
Best Sleep Tracker For Activity Lovers
Our Pick: Whoop Strap
Price: Starting at $30 per month
Like Oura, the Whoop Strap is a tracker that primarily focuses on sleep. But there are a couple of things that set it apart.
For starters, the strap is set up as a subscription rather than a one-time purchase. You’ll pay a monthly fee for access to your technology. And your strap is included in this fee. You also have an option to prepay for a year or 18 months, which can lower your monthly membership rate.
The next immediate difference you’ll notice when you check out the Whoop strap is its general look. Unlike many of the other trackers on this list, this one is stripped down and unadorned. It doesn’t have a watch face or take call notifications.
It’s just a plain strap with sensors to track data. Not only does this help keep the price point down, but it also makes the battery for this device particularly strong.
The Whoop Strap is designed to help you track your sleep, your activity, and your recovery levels. It monitors your sleep disturbances, your respiratory rate, your heart rate, and how long it takes you to fall asleep each night.
It uses all of this information to estimate your sleep phases.
There’s also a “Sleep Coach” function that provides personalized sleep suggestions based on how strenuous your day was. It will tell you whether you’re ready to perform at your peak or if you need to take it a little easy.
The Whoop Strap is probably a bit excessive for the average gym-goer, but if you’re particularly active and are looking to remain at the top of your game with exceptional sleep analytics, this could be a great fit for you.
Best Sleep Tracker For Runners
Our Pick: Garmin Fitness Trackers and Watches
Price: Starting at $79.99
Garmin offers another alternative for runners and other activity-seeking people who are looking to track sleep as a way to optimize all of their health data.
While Garmin has long been a popular choice among runners, it’s only recently entered the sleep tracking field.
Its sleep function is referred to as Advanced Sleep Monitoring. The biggest thing to point out is this functionality isn’t available on all models – so make sure to pay attention to the features listed on each product you’re looking at.
While you sleep, Garmin wearables track your heart rate and overnight movement and use that information to estimate your time in light, deep, and REM sleep.
Newer Garmin watches with an optical heart rate sensor can also track your heart rate variability to help determine the quality of your sleep.
Some models also include a pulse oximeter that measures your blood’s oxygen levels, which is directly correlated with both high-quality fitness and sleep.
As with the Fitbit, you can set goals for yourself within the trackers to remind you to go to bed or to aim for 8 hours of sleep.
Garmin offers a wide range of products that include sleep tracking, from slim and unassuming (and fairly cheap), to ultramarathon serious (and expensive). As you might expect, the higher-priced trackers tend to offer more features.
Best Sleep Tracker For iPhone Users
Our Pick: Apple Watch Series 6
Price: Starting at $399
A pioneer in wearable trackers, the Apple Watch is nevertheless late to come to sleep tracking. But it’s been a highly-anticipated and exciting development for many Apple fans.
The feature only became available on WatchOS 7 on Apple Watches from Series 3-6. And while the design and interface may still be rudimentary, they’re expected to evolve pretty quickly.
Sleep tracking pairs data from the watch to the iPhone app to compile your information and display sleep trends over time.
As with its activity-tracking features, the watch uses an accelerometer to detect whether you’re asleep while the heart rate monitor helps determine your sleep quality.
If you’re looking for a dedicated sleep tracker without all the bells and whistles of a smartwatch, the AppleWatch is definitely overkill.
Additionally, the battery life, which right now maxes out at 18 hours, does still leave some room for improvement.
That being said, if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and are interested in tracking a lot of different metrics, the sleep tracking features here are a handy addition to an already exemplary fitness tracker.
Best Non-Wearable Sleep Tracker
Our Pick: Withings Sleep Tracking Mat
We’re going to step out of the box a bit with this next one.
While each sleep tracker on this list does have its own list of differentiators, there is one thing they all have in common:
They’re wearable devices.
So if you’re someone who doesn’t like wearing your watch (or ring) to bed, we have another option for you to consider.
Enter: the Withings Sleep Tracking Mat
Now, it’s important to point out, this option doesn’t measure your activity during the day- something that the other trackers on this list are able to do.
But whether that’s a pro or a con is really up to you and your personal preferences.
The Withings Sleep Tracking Mat is a tracker that you place under your mattress.
It has a pneumatic sensor that is able to measure your heart rate (even through your mattress). That sensor also analyzes your movement to determine sleep quality.
In addition, the Withings Mat analyzes your breathing, looking for disturbances that might indicate sleep apnea.
Using all of this information, the sleep mat presents you with a Sleep Score each day detailing how well you slept and for how long you spent in each phase of sleep.
Best EEG Sleep Tracker
Our Pick: Dreem 2 Headband
For our last pick, we’re going to continue stepping outside of the box.
While this final tracker is technically wearable, it works significantly differently than the other options we’ve walked through.
It’s also important to point out that this device is only for those who are very serious about sleep tracking and willing to invest in their data.
Electroencephalography (EEG) sensors are small electrodes that directly measure what phase of sleep you’re in, rather than estimating it from your heart rate and movement.
The result is a very accurate picture of your sleep quality. In fact, you probably won’t get higher quality data than this without entering a formal sleep study.
The Dreem 2 Headband uses nine sensors to measure your brain waves, heart rate, and respiratory rate throughout the night to give you extremely precise data.
It is, like the sleep tracking mats, designed solely for sleep, without any daytime activity tracking.
The Dreem 2 is expensive, and many people don’t like wearing something on their heads while sleeping. However, EEG technology is one of the best possible ways to measure sleep quality, so people who want to be on the cutting edge in sleep tracking may want to consider it.