You’ve been feeling sleepy throughout the day lately, but how can that be? You’re sleeping for seven or eight hours each night, but something just seems off. After reading some articles about the importance of deep sleep, maybe it’s something to do with how much–or supposedly, how little–REM sleep you’ve been getting. Regardless, you need someone (or maybe something?) to give you some advice, some feedback about how you can return to sleeping soundly. But, unless you take part in a sleep study, you can’t really define the quality or identify the stages of your sleep….or can you?
As wearable, and even nonwearable, technologies advance, products emerge that have the capability to produce results very similar to clinical sleep studies. In fact, some people believe that in-home sleep trackers can better measure your sleep quality without interruptions arising from the potentially uncomfortable sleeping environment of the lab.
Replicating Sleep Study Results at Home?
Known as a polysomnography (PSG), a clinical sleep study can give you insight into the quality of your sleep by monitoring your breathing, your heart rate and rhythm, the flow of air in and out of your lungs, your muscle activity, the movement of your eyes, and the oxygen levels in your blood. Outside of a lab, measuring sleep quality would prove quite difficult without the extensive equipment associated with monitoring so many different bodily processes.
While in-home sleep trackers and monitors can give you insight into your sleep patterns, it’s essentially quite difficult to capture data in the same way that a sleep lab can. However, as the sleep trackers on the market today constantly advance making technological leaps and bounds, some trackers have proven to be acceptable solutions. But, with all of the emerging products, models, and brands, it can seem nearly impossible to choose a device.
In purchasing an in-home sleep tracker, one of the most important things to note is how the device gathers information.
Sleep Jargon: Actigraphy Vs. Ballistocardiography
Especially in earlier model devices, sleep trackers work by being placed on your wrist. These devices record movement through actigraphy, a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest and activity cycles. In this process, the device records movement through a measuring device known as an accelerometer. In essence, actigraphy-powered sleep monitors assume that a certain amount of movement will correspond with being awake while periods of less moment equate with being asleep. But, what if you’re lying awake for hours staring at the ceiling…but barely moving? When it comes to devices like these, the main limitation is equating that being motionless means that you’re asleep.
According to Dr. Christopher Winter, neurologist, sleep specialist, and author of The Sleep Solution, actigraphy-based sleep monitors have their place, but more advanced trackers–such as the Basis Chrome–gather more accurate sleep data. These advanced sleep trackers monitor heart rate, skin temperature, and perspiration instead of relying solely on actigraphy.
With regard to the Basis Chrome, Winter remarked, “I am floored that this device accurately staged sleep based solely upon wrist inputs.” But before you start shopping, let us warn you. With the gadget’s most current model (the Basis Peak), users, unfortunately, began experiencing overheating serious enough to cause blistering burns in some instances. While you’re unlikely to track down one of these hot devices, you can use this information regarding ballistocardiography to better inform your purchase decision.
Ballistocardiography: The Better Tech
In an article for Wareable, researchers rated a number of sleep trackers on the market today, and, ultimately, ranked the Beddit Smart as the best sleep tracker. Instead of simply using actigraphy, the Beddit Smart–and other high rated sleep trackers–use ballistocardiography (BCG) to assess sleep quality, duration, heart rate and respiration rate.
Unlike the vast majority of sleep trackers that are worn on the wrist, this soft device is placed under the sheets. According to Ethan Green, former insomniac who started the info-rich website No Sleepless Nights, non-wearables “tend to be more reliable than wearable devices on the whole, especially if you sleep alone.”
Once installed, users are left with virtually zero reminders of the device’s existence. Developed in partnership with the Helsinki Sleep Clinic, VitalMed Research Center, and a leading authority on sleep research, Markku Partinen, MD., Beddit works with the Beddit app to collect, store, and compare data; the product also provides a sleep alarm that uses information from your sleep cycles to determine the most optimal time to awaken you.
In the number two spot, Fitbit holds steadfast in its market position as a pioneer of wearable tech. Though perhaps best known for their activity trackers, many of Fitbit’s products now come standard with their sleep tracking software, Sleep Stages. Using your heart rate to monitor your stage of sleep, Fitbit’s huge sleep database provides feedback on how your trends compare to others of your age and gender. As Fitbit collects data about your sleep over time, their software provides more personalized feedback with advice on improving the quality of your sleep.
Still currently available on Amazon, the number three recommendation is the Withings Aura Smart Sleep System. When this product was created, Withings owners were most excited about their ability to empower people “to take control over their own health and wellness thanks to beautiful devices and apps.” However, after being acquired by Nokia, the Withings Aura has become more difficult to find, being obliterated from Nokia’s sleep technology offerings online. Similar to the Beddit, this product utilizes a sleep-sensor tucked under your sheets that communicates with a smartphone app while also employing an active light and sound bedside device.
Using specific red wavelengths, the light activates the secretion of Melatonin at bedtime to help you fall asleep faster, and, in the morning, awakens users gently by gradually lighting up with blue-wavelengths to halt the production of Melatonin. Additionally, the device connects to Spotify so that users can create a dedicated wake-up playlist.
Do You Need To Purchase a Sleep Tracker?
While each of these three recommendations was highly rated in third party reviews and provide specific feedback to improve upon your current sleep quality, can you get your best night’s sleep without a sleep tracker?
Of course you can.
In an interview with Wareable, Professor Paul Gringras–specialist in children’s sleep medicine and neurodisability, and lead consultant at the Evelina Clinic at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital (one of the top sleep clinics in the UK)–questions whether all of this data is, in fact, helping us to sleep better.
The verdict: If you’re interested in collecting some interesting data about your sleep and can afford it, invest in a sleep tracker. (The models we’ve identified range from $129 to $225.) For the most accurate data, be sure to choose a model that employs technology that monitor motion as well as other inputs.
But, if you’re having trouble sleeping, remember that generations of people have managed to sleep soundly through the night without having to rely on expensive gadgets and smartphone apps. Before spending your hard-earned money on a sleep tracker, perhaps you should consider what circumstances may be standing in the way of your best night’s sleep. Removing stress, exercising more, creating a sleep routine, or even implementing a daily meditation practice can improve your sleep quality to such a degree that measuring your sleep quality would seem simply superfluous.
Have you purchased a sleep tracker? How has it changed the way you sleep?