Sleep tracking watches: Can a sleep tracker help you get a better night’s sleep?

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I’ve been using a sleep tracking watch for two years now and I’m regularly asked if tracking my sleep helps me get a better night’s sleep?

It’s a hard question to answer because, for some people, tracking your sleep can actually be detrimental. Some people find it stressful and the anxiety of waking up to a bad result on their sleep monitor can actually cause them to sleep less! 

But other people will be able to improve their sleep habits by analysing the data recorded via their sleep tracking watches.

For me personally, I found that the excitement of checking my sleep score wore off after a few months so it didn’t take long before I stopped feeling the pressure to have a good score! This didn’t mean that tracking my sleep became less valuable over time, it just meant I wasn’t as bothered by the ‘score’ I woke up to each morning so there wasn’t any anxiety that would cause me to sleep less!

What sleep tracking watch do I use?

I use the Withings Steel HR and I have a full and detailed Withings Steel HR review here.

I chose this watch because it’s simple and stylish and doesn’t look like a traditional activity tracker. I wanted something that looked like a regular watch and could take me from work to the gym to the pub with no problems. It ticks all the boxes and I still love my Withings watch.

What statistics do sleep tracking watches monitor?

My Withings Steel HR watch tracks:

  • The duration of my sleep
  • Depth (deep sleep or light sleep. Mine doesn’t record REM sleep but some sleep trackers do)
  • Regularity (if you keep to a regular sleep schedule – it calculates your average sleep time and wake time)
  • Interruptions
  • Average sleep heart rate

My ‘sleep score’

The Health Mate app that connects to Withings watches gives you a sleep score based on all the statistics it measures. My average score is 84. Despite scouring the internet, I haven’t been able to find out what is a ‘normal’ sleep score!

Why did I start sleep tracking?

I actually didn’t intend to start tracking my sleep. I thought it was a bit pointless because you know how you slept when you wake up. But I’d bought myself a fitness tracker watch to track my steps and the watch had the sleep tracking functionality built in so I thought I might as well give it a go.

And guess what – I was hooked! I loved waking up to see how well I slept and I found it really interesting to see what I could do to improve my sleep.

Sleep tracking watches for new parents

I actually found my sleep tracking watch to be really useful as a new parent with a young baby. I would often be half asleep as I did those sleep night time feeds but my watch would record them all and I could see what times I woke up to feed the baby.

What did I find by sleep tracking?

My sleep is much better when I’ve exercised

OK, this is one I think we all already knew. In January I committed to daily exercise and my average sleep score in January was 7 points higher in January than it was in December! We all know this, but seeing the stats there in black and white is a huge motivator to do more exercise.

Going to bed earlier doesn’t necessarily help me sleep better

If I go to bed really early, I actually get less sleep. I end up reading or scrolling through my phone or generally faffing about, so I end up going to sleep much later!

Reading before bed doesn’t help me sleep better

There’s the assumption that doing something mindful and wholesome like reading before bed will help you sleep better. I actually end up going to sleep much later when I read before bed because I’ll end up staying up for an extra hour when I can’t put my book down! Reading also doesn’t have any impact on the depth or duration of my sleep.

This doesn’t stop me reading before bed but I thought it was worth noting if you’re looking for advice on how to sleep better. Reading before bed doesn’t help everyone!

Being told I slept well can make me feel better, even if I don’t feel like I did

Some mornings I’ll wake up thinking I had a terrible night’s sleep. Then I’ll check my app and it’ll tell me I slept well and – even if I felt tired and groggy 2 minutes earlier – I’ll instantly feel better!

I don’t sleep as well when I’m not in my own bed

This one isn’t a huge surprise but it’s really clear that I don’t sleep well when I’m on holiday or staying at someone else’s house. I don’t even sleep particularly well when we go to our caravan.

I go to sleep much later than I think I do

If someone asked me what time I go to bed, I’d tell them it’s 10pm. But, according to my app, I rarely fall asleep before 11.15pm.

My sleep score doesn’t change when I’ve got up in the night with the kids

Interestingly, my sleep score doesn’t alter much if I was up in the night with one of the kids. Which is a relief because we have three young children and either Sam or I are up most nights with one of them!

I spend 50% of my sleep time in a deep sleep

Now I don’t know if this is an inaccuracy from my watch or I’m an incredible sleeper! 

Apparently, the average adult only spends 1-2 hours a night in a deep sleep, but for me it can be up to 4 hours. I definitely do know I’m a good sleeper and it takes a lot to wake me up but without trying some different sleep tracking devices I can’t say for definite how accurate this is. 

I’m consistent with the time I go to bed and get up

The sleep experts say that consistency is key when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. There is such a thing as ‘weekend sleep hangover’ when you’ve slept for longer at the weekend and you disrupt your weekday sleep pattern. It can then take a few days to get back into your weekday pattern, which we then ruin again when Saturday comes back around. I almost always go to sleep around 11pm and get up between 7-8am.

This is mostly due to having kids and it isn’t something I consciously do to sleep better but I know it helps. I’m always tired at 11pm so I never lie awake in bed because I’m not sleepy!

It’s important to look at the data and think about the bigger picture

It’s all well and good to look at the stats but the numbers alone don’t tell you a lot. If you want to improve your sleep then it’s important to regularly analyse the numbers and consider all the factors that could lead to certain results.

It’s more fun to track your sleep if you sleep well!

One of the reasons I’ve tracked my sleep for so long is because I usually sleep well. It’s like getting a little pat on the back every morning as my app rewards me for sleeping well again.

If you sleep badly then I imagine that it would just be quite depressing.

Tracking your sleep can motivate you to make changes to improve your sleep but, for the majority of us, we already know what we need to do. 

I’m addicted to tracking my sleep!

I can’t stop. If I have a shower before bed I sometimes forget to put my watch back on and I’m always gutted that I’ve missed a night of tracking my sleep!

Final thoughts on sleep tracking

I find sleep tracking really interesting and, overall, I find my watch is a fairly accurate representation of my night. Of course, without being monitored by professional equipment it’s impossible to know how accurate our sleep tracking devices are. And even then, who would sleep well while connected to scientific devices!?

More than anything, it makes me feel good to know that I’m sleeping well and checking my sleep score each morning feels like a little pat on the back!

If you’re interested in finding out about your sleep then I wholeheartedly recommend it. I also recommend the Withings Steel HR for a stylish sleep tracking device that doesn’t look too sporty!

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