There has been a huge movement towards tracking various health behaviours lately, with people measuring everything from daily macros and steps to sleep stages, heart rate variability, and more. Is sleep tracking a useful strategy to improve your health, or just another time-consuming gimmick?
Sleep is hugely important for pretty much every aspect of health. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Seems like a good idea to sleep more, right?
I decided to give sleep tracking a go for August, and see if I noticed any changes in my sleep patterns and energy levels. I used an app called ‘Sleep Better’ on my iPhone – I just searched the iTunes store and that was one of the first ones that came up. It’s free, but does have a premium version with some extra features and no ads. There’s loads of apps on the market, many of which are free – I recommend trying a few before settling on one you like! Many step counters like the Fitbit etc. also track sleep, and may be more accurate, but I haven’t invested in one yet!
First off let’s look at the pros – it’s pretty cool to see how much sleep you get! The app tells you the amount of time spent awake, in light sleep, and in deep sleep. It also gives you a sleep efficiency percentage based off these figures – though I don’t know how accurate this is! It’s definitely beneficial to see how much sleep you’re getting – it can be easy to overestimate the amount you actually get. For me, it highlighted how long it takes me to get to sleep at times!
My favourite feature was the ‘smart alarm’.You set a half hour window in which you would like to be woken, and the app wakes you up when you are in the lightest phase of sleep. This means you wake feeling more refreshed. and less groggy. I did find myself having a lot more energy in the mornings, and feeling a lot more awake. The app is worth getting for this feature alone!
You can also track various factors that may affect your sleep, like caffeine intake, exercise, and being away from home. This can be handy to pick up trends in your sleeping patterns. There’s a place to jot down your dreams if you want to keep track of them too.
The downsides – knowing the exact amount of time spent in each sleep cycle isn’t all that useful to know! Sure it’s cool and all, but knowing how much REM sleep vs deep sleep you get probably isn’t going to be all that actionable. You could definitely get caught up with interpreting all the measurements, when really all you need to know is how long you slept for!
On a more practical note, I usually charge my phone far away from my bed, so it was a little annoying having to leave it under my pillow every night. I found myself using my phone more before bed when it was so close to me, which probably made it harder for me to fall asleep! Being exposed to white light from screens at night can interfere with sleep, so the temptation of having your phone so close at night isn’t ideal.
While I found the smart alarm feature good, it requires you to turn the app on every night – if you forget, it won’t go off! I’d recommend still setting your regular alarm in case you forget.
Another practical note – it requires you to have a plug right beside your bed to have it charging overnight – if you don’t have a convenient plug, you’re out of luck!
In general I found it really interesting to track my sleep – it has made me more aware of the amount of sleep I’m getting, and how much better I feel when I get enough. I did love the smart alarm too, and would recommend giving it a try!
Will I be continuing it though? I’ve just moved into my college house, and the only plug in my room is the opposite side to the bed – I’ll have to give it a miss!