How Can I Use My Sleep Tracker Data to Sleep Better? Can sleep tracking really give you the information you need?

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You can’t. Sorry. Sleep tracking simply isn’t (yet) capable of truly identifying the different stages of sleep. How many times have we all had this conversation…

Sam: ‘I don’t feel well slept today’

Armand: ‘Why?’

Sam: ‘I didn’t get the right amount of NREM stage 3 and 4 last night for someone of my age and gender.’

Armand: ‘Well make sure you top up on NREM stage 3 and 4 tonight then.’

Sam: ‘Great idea.  I fancied dreaming for at least six hours tonight but you’re right.  I’ll focus on NREM’

This conversation has never happened because it’s impossible.  We can’t (yet) control our sleep. Personal sleep tracking data is interesting but essentially useless.

You’ve got a few hundred thousand years of evolution behind you.  Your brain, with the right routines, habits and environment will get exactly the right amounts and type of sleep you need if you let it.

Focus on your day time behaviors and sleeping environment, not what your sleep tracker is telling you.

Focusing on the sleep tracking data can lead to worry.  If you’re going to bed thinking I’ve not been getting enough REM sleep you are going to bed worried.  What’s the one thing that will keep you awake? Worry.

If you want your sleep tracker to make you sleep better then take it off and put it in a draw. 

There is ongoing debate over how accurate personal sleep trackers are.  Fitbit commissioned and published their own study which (perhaps unsurprisingly) found their devices to be relatively accurate.  

Modern wrist worn trackers use heart rate monitoring as well as movement to measure sleep.  Accuracy will be improving. However, a sleep lab is the gold standard for measuring sleep. The danger of relying on your personal sleep tracking device is you might think you’re not ‘sleeping right’ when you are.  This leads to worry which will stop you sleeping; or worse still, you have a sleeping disorder that your sleep tracker is not identifying and you don’t seek medical help.

Our recommendation? Ditch the sleep tracking and focus on your daytime habits. It works.

https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/40/suppl_1/A26/3780957

Written by
Sam Billington

Sam is our sleep guru. I am fascinated by sleep and I've used my science training to research and learn about sleep. I have been providing sleep advice and personal sleep plans for years. My day job is Head of Workplace Culture in Defra, I live in London with my wife and have a PhD in Ecology and Biology.