The Best Sleep Tracker And Other Apps To Understand How You Sleep

Want to track your sleep so you can see how much deep sleep you get every night? Here are the best sleep trackers right now.

Updated: June 28, 2020

Insomnia affects 28% of the world’s adult population. If you’ve ever suffered from a sleep disorder, even temporarily, you understand how vital a restful night’s sleep is.

According to the manufacturers of sleep trackers and sleep tracking apps, their products help you to analyze your sleep patterns so that you can enjoy more restful, deep sleep.

Are they effective? Research seems to indicate that they are. But their effectiveness depends largely on their quality. With so many products available, determining which ones are well-made can be challenging. 

We know this from personal experience. We’ve tried many apps and many trackers. Some are a complete waste of time. Others are mediocre. It’s frustrating to invest time and money in a new device (or software) only to find it is ineffective.

Thus, to save you from experiencing the same frustration, we’ve compiled this list of the best sleep trackers. To narrow down the list further, we’ve stuck to wearable trackers and apps, rather than those for your bedside table. 


Fitbit Charge

What we like

  • Auto tracking means that you don’t have to set it when you go to bed
  • Monitors your heart rate
  • It has vibrational and silent alarms
  • GPS function
  • Syncs with Android, Windows, or iPhone devices for easy access to every metric you need
  • Five-day battery life
  • You can buy additional bands to change up the look
  • Tracks calories burned and your cardio fitness
  • Includes guided breathing exercises to help you fall asleep
  • Sends reminders to get you moving throughout the day

What we don’t like

  • The face is a bit bulky
  • Heavy sweating interferes with the ability to read the HR

Final verdict

This is an excellent option to improve sleep quality. It’s a durable device that provides several metrics in addition to sleep data. It’s competitively-priced, particularly when compared to the rings below. Overall, it’s well-designed and produced by a trusted brand. The problem with sweating is a little annoying, but it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.


Fitbit Versa 2

The watch comes with a tri-wavelength sensor giving it the edge when it comes to detecting sleep apnea.  For this reason, we voted it best overall. The price, in comparison to the rings that we reviewed, also tipped the scales in its favor.  

What we like

  • The battery lasts three or four days
  • Tracks sleep automatically
  • Simple to use with an intuitive design
  • Good value for money
  • You can store music on the device
  • Combination smartwatch and wellness tracker with an emphasis on wellness
  • Syncs with Alexa

What we don’t like

  • Looks very similar to an Apple watch
  • You must have a premium Spotify account to stream music
  • The Alexa integration could use some work
  • Smart wake function is still in development

Final Verdict

Overall, this is another winner from Fitbit. It offers excellent value for the money and is extremely accurate. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, this is the best model to buy. Even if you’re a bit tech-phobic, the intuitive design makes this an easy product to use.


Garmin Vivosmart 4

The smart design incorporates breathing exercises to help you relax and drop off to sleep. Overall, for the price you’re paying, it’s a good device to buy.

Why isn’t it at the top of our list? It doesn’t match the Fitbit in terms of performance because the app isn’t quite up to the Fitbit standard. Data lags occasionally mar the experience. 

What we like

  • Good price
  • Outstanding design
  • Suitable for a smaller wrist
  • Provides a good deal of data
  • Useful as a fitness and wellness tracker
  • Battery life of 5 to 7 days

What we don’t like

  • Data sometimes lags
  • App needs work

Final verdict

Overall, this is a reliable model that comes in at a reasonable price. The Vivosmart 4 would’ve come out on top if the app was better. For the average user, the data lags aren’t a dealbreaker. If you’re going to be using the app a lot, it might be worth looking at one of the Fitbits instead.


Withings Steel HR Sport

It provides basic stats, but not the level of information that you get from most of the other models on this list. Considering that the price points are similar, this was disappointing. Still, there’s a lot to be said for this watch. 

What we like

  • Great looking chronograph style
  • Can function as a traditional watch
  • Monitors a range of fitness metrics
  • Comfortable to wear
  • You can set the alarm to vibrate
  • Works in the office, at the gym, or for casual use
  • Durable
  • Close to Fitbit in accuracy

What we don’t like

  • We’d like to see more insights
  • Might be too basic for the price

Final Verdict

We debated on whether or not to include this on our list. For the average user, there are plenty of features. However, this model might be disappointing if you’re accustomed to using something like an Apple Watch. The overall classic look of the watch, however, prompted us to put it on the list.


Xiaomi Mi Band 4

It does tell you whether you slept well or deeply, but it doesn’t go into nearly as much detail. It can detect disrupted sleep, for example, but can’t tell you much about your different sleep cycles.  On the plus side, it’s easy to use with a simple app. 

But what you lose on features, you gain on battery life. With a battery life of 20 days, this budget option obliterates the others on this list. 

What we like

  • Inexpensive
  • Provides basic fitness tracking
  • Easy to read data and screen
  • Battery life of about 20 days
  • Heart rate tracking and alerts

Cons

  • Very simple
  • Basic insights only

Final Verdict

Will it be the last tracker you ever buy? Probably not, but it’ll do an excellent job in the meantime.


Oura Ring

If you’re a gadget freak, you’ll love the Oura. The only reason that we marked it down was the hefty price point. 

What we like

  • The sleep readiness score feature is unique
  • Measures overall sleep, sleep efficiency, and tranquility
  • Measures how long it takes you to fall asleep
  • Body temperature measurements
  • Heart rate measurements
  • Respiratory rates
  • Number of steps taken, and calories burned
  • 5 to 7 days of battery life

What we don’t like

  • Expensive
  • Perhaps too much information for the average user

Final Verdict

We love everything except the price. The app is really cool and the data you get is outstanding, so keeping track of your sleep actually becomes quite interesting. Having said that, it’s damn expensive.


Motiv Ring

What we like

  • Measures your HR
  • Keeps track of calories burned
  • Indicates activity intensity and number of steps taken
  • Measures sleep duration
  • Particularly suitable for restless sleepers
  • The streamlined design makes it low key

What we don’t like

  • Might get in the way during weightlifting
  • Sometimes the signal can be spotty
  • Costly

Final Verdict

We like the Motiv ring, but we prefer the Oura. Considering that the price point for both is about the same, we’d rather choose the more feature-rich Oura. 


Best Sleep Tracker Apps (iPhone and Android) 

Illustration of a smart phone.

If you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a tracking device, an app offers an affordable, but less accurate alternative. As long as you have a reasonably good smartphone with a decent microphone, these apps work fairly well.

The downside is that running them drains your phone’s battery, which isn’t a huge deal if it’s plugged in. You also won’t get all the benefits of a traditional fitness tracker. The upside is that you pay a fraction of the price of a dedicated device. 

If you’re battling with a temporary bout of insomnia, paying a few dollars a month for an app makes sense. 

Here are two of our favorite options. Neither is perfect, but both rate highly in terms of usability and usefulness. 

Sleepscore

Sleepscore is reasonably-priced, and you can save more by signing up for the annual subscription (sleepscore labs). It’s primarily designed for iPhone 6 and up but works on some Android models too. We recommend trying out the free version to see how well it works on your phone. It’s pretty accurate and gives you actionable tips for improving your sleep. 

Sleep Cycle

Sleep Cycle works well on both iOs and Android operating systems. It comes in second to Sleepscore because it doesn’t provide quite as much data. It seems reasonably accurate but doesn’t tell you how long you spent in each sleep stage. 

On the upside, you can use the free version for as long as you like. If you need a basic app to help you nod off or wake up, it’s a good choice. Access to the more advanced features, such as being able to track how your habits influence your sleep, is only available on a premium subscription.

Sleep Tracker Buyers Guide

Illustration of someone giving money.

Knowing how to sleep better, starts with understanding how much sleep YOU as an individual need. The best way to do that is by using a wearable sleep tracker or smartphone app.

But where do you start? How much should you spend and what features do you need to worry about?

This buyer’s guide will help you to make a final decision by looking at some important things a sleep tracker should have, like blood oxygen levels, a sleep schedule, breathing rate, sleep diary and overall sleep tracking data that you can analyze each day to find that perfect sweet spot.

How do sleep trackers work?

A sleep tracker may use several forms of technology to monitor your sleep stages, sleep cycles, and sleep duration.

The most basic models monitor how much you move while you’re asleep. More sophisticated models monitor your heart rate and brain waves to more accurately determine what stage of your sleep cycle you’ve entered. 

How accurate are sleep trackers?

How accurate these devices are in tracking your sleep depends on the quality of the underlying technology. The cheaper the model, the more inexpensive the underlying technology used. While the most basic models can provide some information, that information is quite limited.

Note: The more basic models monitor your movements during sleep. As you move differently in different stages of sleep, this can be an effective measure. If you’re in a very deep state of rest, for example, you don’t move much.

The issue with these basic devices is that they don’t take your heart rate or brain wave activity into account. While they provide an idea of how you sleep, you don’t get the whole picture.

Newer devices gather data from several different sources. They combine numerous metrics, such as your heart rate and brain activity, to create a more accurate picture overall.

It is difficult to gauge how precise these devices are, even those with the most advanced technology. Generally speaking, even the cheapest models will benefit you if you act on the information that they provide.

An expensive sleep tracker is little more than a fun gadget if you don’t make any lifestyle changes. If you’re genuinely interested in improving your wellness through these devices, they’re a worthwhile investment. 

Wearable vs. Non-Wearable

Illustration of a smart watch.

With the technology on the market today, choosing either option will benefit you. You would think that a wearable device would be more accurate, but that’s not always the case.

A high-quality non-wearable can, for example, use radio waves to measure your heart rate and brain activity. 

Compared to a low-quality accelerometer that measures any form of movement you make, radio waves provide a more accurate picture of your sleep patterns. 

As long as you stick to a reliable brand, either option works. Choose the type that makes you most comfortable. Not everyone wants to wear a watch or ring to bed.

Non-wearables may use a pad that you place on your mattress or use radio waves to gather data. Some of the smartphone apps that we tried asked us to put the phone on the bed at night. For active sleepers or people with partners, having something on the bed isn’t ideal.

Both options have pros and cons, so it’s worth doing a little research into what using a device entails before you make a purchase.

Wearables

Wearables tend to be more versatile because you can use them during the day as well. A smartwatch, for example, will track your overall activity during the day, your heart rate, and a lot more besides. If you’re an ardent exerciser trying to improve your activity levels, a wearable could work well. 

The downside is that the wearables battery must be charged regularly and could die on you during the night. Moreover, you might not find it comfortable to wear them to bed. 

Non-wearables

Non-wearables are less versatile but have their advantages. They may prove less expensive because they have simple featurexs. They generally don’t require charging, and there’s no device to wear during sleep. 

On the downside, if you sleep with a partner, it’s difficult to get accurate readings. Another disadvantage is that power outages can cause the device to die on you during the night.

How To Use And Read A Sleep Tracker

Illustration of a data set.

Using a sleep tracker is usually pretty simple, depending on the device you choose. It’s merely a matter of checking the instructions on optimizing usage if you’re using a dedicated tracker. Most people will be able to intuit how to use these devices. 

Many of these devices partner with apps on your smartphone to help you understand the data collected.

It’s merely a matter of seeing how long you slept, how much time you spent in each sleep cycle, and checking the improvements that the tracker suggests.

It becomes a little more complicated if you’re using a multi-functional device like an Apple watch. With more features, there’s a lot more to learn. Device manufacturers do, however, provide copious instructions on how to use the specific devices and YouTube videos fill in the rest. 

Interpreting the data is usually quite simple. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Sleep Habits: Monitoring your sleep over a few days can help you work out what lifestyle habits are tripping you up.
  • Interrupted Sleep: The devices will inform you if your sleep has been interrupted during the night. This interruption could be due to something simple, like restless leg syndrome, or something more complex, like sleep apnea. If your sleep is constantly interrupted, you should see your doctor.
  • Sleep Stages: Understanding which sleep stages your body moves through at what time helps you optimize waking time. Waking during a deep sleep cycle leaves you feeling groggy. Waking after such a period is complete allows you to wake feeling more refreshed.

Benefits Of Using A Sleep Tracker

Scientists currently recommend that you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night to promote optimal health.  Whether you need more or less depends on your body.  You might even need 9 hours a night while your friend functions just fine with just 6 1/2 hours.  

Illustration of a heart with pulse rate.

Using a sleep tracker helps you determine what your sleep patterns are. It gives you personalized information that can help you to optimize your sleep cycles. 

The information can help you identify factors that you might not have suspected of having an influence. Too much cardio before bedtime, for example, can keep you alert. Likewise, different foods have a disparate impact on how people sleep.

With a suitable sleep tracking device, you’re able to identify what factors influence your sleep. You can then make appropriate changes for improvement.  

Devices with smart alarms can take things one step further and wake you at the optimal time. With such devices, you set the latest time that you want to wake up.

Most important: The device monitors your sleep patterns during the night to determine when you’ve completed a full sleep cycle. 

When you’re nearing your set wakeup time, the device will wake you before you enter the next cycle. It sounds counter-intuitive, but getting a little less sleep prevents grogginess because it prevents you from waking during a deep sleep stage.

How Sleep Tracking Works

You’ve probably heard the buzz words activity tracking, movement tracking or even sleep analysis. But what do they actually mean and why are they important?

Let me explain:

Trackers using actigraphy measure how much you move. Actigraphy is a conventional technology used in wearable devices. With sleep tracking devices, the amount that you move is an indication of how deeply you’re sleeping.

When you’re in the deepest phase of sleep, you barely move at all. Actigraphy uses an accelerometer to measure movement. An accelerometer could, theoretically, measure your heart rate. How effective this form of measurement is for narrowing in on your heart rate depends on how sophisticated the accelerometer is. 

The downside of this tech is that it can’t distinguish between movements like breathing patterns or tossing during sleep. Modern technology, like ECG or photoplethysmography, is more effective at determining sleep phases. 

An accelerometer is a type of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology. The configuration of the MEMS technology is what makes it so useful here.

Within an accelerometer, the electrical circuit is suspended between two plates. When you move, the gap between the two plates changes, allowing the sensor to determine the rate at which you’re moving. The circuit then converts this measurement into an electronic signal. 

Combining this technology with heart rate or brainwave monitoring takes things up a few notches.

Measuring your heart rate variability in conjunction with your movements like respiration rate, provides a more accurate picture of how well you sleep. Devices able to do so are more accurate than accelerometers on their own. 

There are a few ways to measure heart rate: 

  • Photoplethysmography: These devices use light to determine the rate of blood flow
  • Bioimpedance: These devices measure electrical activity through the skin
  • Ballistocardiography: Such devices measure the contractions of the heart
  • Non-contact sensors: These devices use radio waves to detect the heart rate and can also detect breathing and movement

Warning: Apps on your smartphone won’t be able to get an accurate reading like a wearable device would.

Electroencephalography measures the brainwaves. Measuring brainwaves is an effective way for a device to determine what stage of sleep you’ve entered. More expensive wearables might incorporate similar technology.

Conclusion: Are sleep trackers worth it?

From a psychological aspect, they may help put your fears about not getting enough sleep to rest.

We generally tend to underestimate the amount of sleep that we get by a lot. You might, for example, think that you lay awake for hours, when, in reality, you’ve drifted into and out of a light sleep stage or experienced REM sleep. 

So, using these tools can ease the anxiety associated with not getting enough sleep. Reducing stress, in turn, makes it easier to sleep the next night. So you could look at it as a placebo effect.

Physically, some devices contain features that make it easier to fall asleep like calming music. Devices lacking such features are still useful because they identify factors that make getting a good night’s sleep more difficult.

Sleep apnea, for one, is difficult to diagnose without the use of technology because the patient doesn’t remember waking during the night. 

Is it worth buying a sleeping tracker or using an app?

A good sleep tracker should help you improve your sleep. A cheaper device will provide some benefits, but it’s worth spending a little more to get better results. 

If possible, it makes sense to get a device that monitors your heart rate and brainwave activity. You’ll have a better chance of saying good night to insomnia with such devices.

As with any health monitoring tool, however, the effectiveness depends on the changes that you make yourself. There’s little point in having all this information available if you don’t act on the data.