How to Interpret What Your Sleep Tracker is Telling You

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Check out what you can learn from devices that help you monitor your sleep patterns.

There are so many sleep trackers on the market, but what do they measure, exactly, and what do those results mean? While many experts say that these sleep trackers are a waste of time, any device that makes you think twice about staying up late or teaches you more mindful sleep habits is not all bad. Learn how to make sense out of what many of the popular sleep trackers can tell you.

Sleep Habits: These devices record your total hours slept and analyze your patterns over time (often in graph form) so that you can get helpful insight into, say, whether you’re running on a sleep deficit. Trackers can make you more mindful about straying from your typical sleep schedule, such as during the weekends. And perhaps, for instance, you'll start to notice that you feel your best when you sleep from, say, 10:00pm to 6:00am, rather than from 11:00pm to 7:00am. Sure, you could record this information on your own, but trackers make it simple for you and help you look at your sleep data in various ways that are more visual and easier to digest. 

Interrupted Sleep: When you put a tracker (such as the Fitbit) on sleep mode and your body isn’t moving, the device says that you are completely asleep. If you’re going from a still state to a moving state, it will indicate a restless night’s sleep. This could signal a bigger sleep issue, such as restless leg syndrome, where your limbs jerk throughout the night, jolting you awake and interrupting your slumber. Or it may be a warning sign of sleep apnea, a serious breathing problem. If your device shows a restless night’s sleep, examine your bedroom and home to find out if there is a noise or light that could be waking you in the night, or talk to your doctor about potentially getting tested for sleep disorders.

Sleep Stages: If you wake up feeling exhausted every morning, even though you think that you’re spending enough time in the sack, the problem may not be lack of total sleep. The problem may actually be that you're waking up during the deep sleep stage, when you feel most groggy. That’s why devices such as Up by Jawbone (a bracelet) aim to measure your various stages of sleep, such as the amount of time you spend in light or deep sleep mode, and indicate whether your alarm is going off at the optimal time. These devices aren’t 100% accurate, but they’re a starting point. You can actually set the alarm on many of these devices for a certain window of time, and it will awaken you when you’re in the lightest stage of your sleep cycle, so you can get out of bed feeling more refreshed.