Sleep monitors explained: Rest longer and feel better

Are you normal? We interpret your sleep data so you can rest easier
Sleep monitors explained

Whether you're using a Jawbone UP3, Fitbit Blaze or a dedicated sleep monitor like Beddit, everyone's looking for a better night's shut-eye.

But what does all the data mean? How much deep sleep do you need? And should your graph really look like that? Relax – we've spoken to a sleep expert and got it all figured out.

How does it work?

Virtually every fitness tracker has the ability to map your shut-eye. They work by continuously monitoring your movements during sleep – known in professional sleep circles as actigraphy – and assessing sleep-wake cycles to see whether you're in deep or light sleep.

Sleep monitor - Get more deep sleep

This information is then presented to you the next morning; usually as a graph on your smartphone app. Most monitors will give you a calculation estimating how many hours of each type of sleep you've enjoyed and also how often you woke up.

Essential reading: The best sleep monitors and trackers

Alternative trackers such as the SleepRate also use your phone's microphone to record any loud noises during the night to help explain why you woke up while the Beddit Sleep Monitor uses a ballistocardiography (BCG) sensor tucked under the sheets to track sleep quality, duration, heart rate and respiration rate.

While not as accurate as professional sleep monitoring equipment, or lab tests, fitness bands can help paint a clearer picture of your own sleep cycles.

But what is good sleep?

While most of us still think of 'getting a solid nine hours' as having enough sleep, this doesn't take into account the number of times you wake up or how much time is spent in each sleep cycle.

A good night's sleep consists of around five or six sleep cycles. One cycle consists of the following:

Stage 1 – The drowsy, relaxed state between being awake and nodding off.

Stage 2 – A deeper sleep where your body temperature cools a little and you become disengaged from your surroundings.

Stages 3 and 4 – These are 'deep sleep'. It is very hard to wake up from deep sleep because this is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body. It is also the part of sleep where your body rebuilds itself, restores energy and hormones are released. This is the good stuff!

After deep sleep, we slip back into Stage 2 for a few minutes before entering 'dream sleep' – known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each cycle lasts around 1.5 hours and we need to experience all four stages in order to wake up rested.

What does a good night's sleep look like?

Sadly there's no such thing as a perfect sleep chart, but if you sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed your chart will almost certainly show a steady wave of peaks and troughs.

According to sleep monitoring app SleepCycle, a good night's sleep will show sleep cycle peaks and troughs lasting for around 90 minutes. Notice that for every cycle the person goes into less deep sleep, this is typical for a normal sleep graph.

And while a few drinks can help you fall asleep faster you can see from this graph you'll probably have a lot less deep sleep, be restless and wake up earlier than usual.

Sleep monitor - Get more deep sleep

But as Professor Colin Espie, world sleep expert from the University of Oxford and Chief Clinical Officer at Sleepio explains:

"Each fitness monitor varies in the activities it monitors, the methods used to record them and the feedback given on the data collected. You may have to become your own detective to discover how the tracked data correlates with how you feel during the day and any factors that affect your sleep."

How much sleep is healthy?

Espie continued: "The number of hours' sleep you need is as individual as your shoe size. Don't assume you need the often-quoted seven-to-eight hours - in fact a shorter sleep may mean a better quality sleep."

The secret, according to the professor, is "discovering the sleep that you personally need, and then making that your sleep pattern."

Essential reading: Our full Beddit Sleep Monitor review

To gauge just how much shut-eye you need, it is worth analysing how you feel on different amounts of sleep. Do you wake up drowsy after nine hours and struggle to drag yourself out of bed, or are you more productive with an earlier start to the day?

As a general rule however, newborn babies need roughly 12–18 hours, kids could do with 10–11 hours, teenagers (contrary to popular myth) only need around 8.5 hours while adults manage on 7–9 hours a day.

How can we get more deep sleep?

Sleep monitor - Get more deep sleep

According to Professor Espie "there are many small, practical steps you can take to make your day more sleep-friendly, from getting some exercise to cutting down on caffeine after lunch." But he recommends developing your own "personal wind-down routine."

Ideally this would consist of "an hour to an hour and a half before you go to bed when you don't do any work, avoid any 'stimulating' activity such as strenuous exercise, turn off any electronic devices and give yourself time to relax."

Easier said than done, especially if you like a night out and/or box set binges, but enjoying better sleep takes practice.

  • As unrealistic as it sounds, try and get to bed by 9:30pm at least twice a week. It will help pay off your sleep debt and make work more productive.
  • Avoid the lie-in at weekends as your internal body clock (circadian rhythm) doesn't stop for Saturdays. Force yourself out of bed and you'll sleep better during the week.
  • Call last orders at the bar at least three hours before bed time to give your body time to process the alcohol. If your blood is clear of alcohol, you'll sleep more soundly.

How can you sleep more soundly?

"A reliable schedule is a critical part of being a healthy sleeper," suggests Professor Espie. "You should make the time to have a wind-down routine to help you relax before bed, and put your day to rest. Aim to stop your work/activity at least 60-90 minutes before bed, and keep your bedroom dark to help signal the body that it's time for bed."

"Give your mind something to focus on; one technique that's proven to work is using imagery. Imagine a scene that is calming and relaxing like walking through a favourite park or sailing in a gentle breeze – something that is engaging rather than exciting to the brain."

If you're unsure what to do with your sleep data, apps such as Sleepio sync with data from devices such as the Jawbone UP to help build a weekly plan – using CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) techniques – to help train your mind and body into sleeping better.

How can you fall asleep faster?

Worrying about not sleeping, the to-do list waiting at work or the state of your bank balance will keep even the heaviest of sleepers awake at night, but how can you get to sleep quicker? Follow these tips for a better night's kip:

  • Bedtime routines aren't just for toddlers; a relaxing bath or listening to soft music can help you prepare for sleep.
  • Turn down the thermostat as it is easier to sleep soundly in a cooler room.
  • The more you exercise, the more likely you are to improve your sleeping patterns.
  • Eat pumpkin seeds; they contain high amounts of zinc, which can help the brain convert tryptophan into serotonin which helps you sleep easier.
  • Don't drink caffeine after lunch and go easy on the alcohol.
  • Turn off your tablets as light from gadgets can inhibit and delay the production of melatonin, making it more difficult to get to sleep.

Be sure to check out our best sleep trackers and leave your own experiences in the comments.


Shop for recommended sleep trackers on Amazon

Withings Aura
Withings Aura
$285.07
Beddit
Beddit
$149.99
Misfit Shine 2
Misfit Shine 2
$99.99

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35 Comments

  • SadDay4Jrnlism says:

    I'm not sure if I've just read an serious attempt at journalism or the first draft of a high school freshman's composition paper. I came here looking for reviews of sleep monitoring devices, but I leave in disappointment. It's clearly obvious no one proofread this before posting and the grammatical errors are just too distracting. The content of this article/blog post/term paper/whatever barely speaks to the title for which it was written. Unfortunately it's less about explaining sleep monitors and more about explaining why I don't need them. Who needs expensive devices or apps with their pretty graphs when all I need to do is make a few lifestyle changes and record how I feel the next day? Sounds like what I really need is a journaling app. Hell, I could even do that with pen and paper. 

    By the way, there's no need to introduce the same guy twice in back to back paragraphs, especially when he's the only person quoted throughout this whole mess. Spend less time looking up fancy words in your thesaurus and focus on creating better quality content. This isn't the damn New Yorker. 

    • j.stables says:

      Just because you don't understand the words doesn't mean they're grammatically incorrect. 

      If you wanted sleep monitor reviews then try the following: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=sleep+monitor+reviews

      • smrodzik says:

        No; he actually has a plethora of errors in grammar and sentence structure. Just for the heck of it, I chose to edit a few of them to show you. I began editing and quickly ran out of steam on the effort. So this isn't complete. But read on to see why above reviewer was complaining. Thanks. Enjoy.

        Summary:

        The content of his article is good. And he has talent for writing. But indeed, he needs a serious editor. Or he needs to review some basics of sentence structure. Fortunately, he makes the same mistakes consistently. So this means he simply neglected to learn a few basic principles of sentence structure somewhere along the way.

        Here are the edits I would suggest. See below. My training comes from Duke University (undergrad) and a Ph.D. program as well.

        Note: I would edit some sentences further to simply them. But I kept my edits close to his original form to make it easier to see the original mistakes.

        In general, though, his sentences are simply too long. Each sentence should have one and only one point. And it should end on the most important word.

        _____________________________________________

        My Edits:  

        His words appear in quotes. My edits appear subsequently without quotation marks.

        “Relax – we've spoken to a sleep expert and got it all figured out.”

        Relax – we've spoken to a sleep expert and gotten it all figured out.

        *Tenses of verbs are not consistent in first sentence.

        “Alternative trackers such as the SleepRate also use your phone's microphone to record any loud noises during the night to help explain why you woke up while the Beddit Sleep Monitor uses a ballistocardiography (BCG) sensor tucked under the sheets to track sleep quality, duration, heart rate and respiration rate.”

        Alternative trackers such as the SleepRate also use your phone's microphone to record any loud noises during the night to help explain why you woke up. And the Beddit Sleep Monitor actually uses a ballistocardiography (BCG) sensor tucked under the sheets to track sleep quality, duration, heart rate and respiration rate.

        “While not as accurate as professional sleep monitoring equipment, or lab tests, fitness bands can help paint a clearer picture of your own sleep cycles.”

        While not as accurate as professional sleep monitoring equipment or lab tests, fitness bands can help paint a clearer picture of your own sleep cycles.

        Or

        Fitness bands aren’t as accurate as professional sleep monitoring equipment or lab tests. But they can help paint a clearer picture of your own sleep cycles.

        “Each cycle lasts around 1.5 hours and we need to experience all four stages in order to wake up rested.”

        Each cycle lasts around 1.5 hours, and we need to experience all four stages in order to wake up rested.

        Or because it’s really two sentences:

        Each cycle lasts around 1.5 hours. And we need to experience all four stages in order to wake up rested.

        “Sadly there's no such thing as a perfect sleep chart, but if you sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed your chart will almost certainly show a steady wave of peaks and troughs.”

        This sentence should be split up rather than made compound because it’s simply too long to read. But either way, it’s missing critical commas:

        Sadly, there's no such thing as a perfect sleep chart. But if you sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed, your chart will almost certainly show a steady wave of peaks and troughs.

        This one’s just a mess:

        “Notice that for every cycle the person goes into less deep sleep, this is typical for a normal sleep graph.”

        Notice that for every cycle, the person goes into less deep sleep. This is typical for a normal sleep graph.

        Same goes for this one:

        “And while a few drinks can help you fall asleep faster you can see from this graph you'll probably have a lot less deep sleep, be restless and wake up earlier than usual.”

        And while a few drinks can help you fall asleep faster, you can see from this graph that you'll probably have a lot less deep sleep, be restless and wake up earlier than usual.

        Or:

        You may think that a few drinks will help you fall asleep faster. But as you can see from this graph, drinking alcohol will make you sleep less deeply/more restlessly. And you’ll most certainly awaken prematurely.

        Here are more sentence fragments. This one doesn’t have a subject or predicate at all.

        “Easier said than done, especially if you like a night out and/or box set binges, but enjoying better sleep takes practice.

        Change to:

        This is easier said then done, especially if you like a night out or binging on boxed sets. But enjoying better sleep really takes practice.

        “As unrealistic as it sounds, try and get to bed by 9:30pm at least twice a week.”

        As unrealistic as it sounds, try to get to bed by 9:30pm at least twice a week.

        “Try and” is just poor grammar.

        More and more, I see the author doesn’t understand how to write a compound sentence. He needs a comma before the “and” each time.

        “Force yourself out of bed and you'll sleep better during the week.”

        Force yourself out of bed, and you'll sleep better during the week.

        Or:

        Force yourself out of bed. And you'll sleep better during the week.

        I could go on and edit the remainder fully. But I think you see the point. Enjoy.

        • p.lamkin says:

          You've got too much time on your hands. Go outside, see the world.

        • j.stables says:

          How come. You can only write. In very short sentences?

        • SJ. says:

          You should not start a sentence with a conjunction such as 'but' or 'and'. You do this frequently, yet it's grammatically incorrect. You have also used the term 'gotten' as a replacement for the word 'got'. This only applies in North American English. In the UK, the original author is correct and 'gotten' is not used at all.

          I agree that the article does not address what I expected from the title, however it was still somewhat interesting and certainly not deserving of the rewrite. People have different writing styles and as pointed out above, grammar and spelling vary from country to country even when using the same language. If you don't like it, just move on.  

    • Lemonjell says:

      Ouch, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed...probably should have taken the advice in this article into account...

      • Invocation says:

        There are grammatical errors though, he is right. places where I had to read sentances several times to figure out there were missing words or periods.

        • Lady_Astarte says:

          You had to read WHAT several times??!

    • BobH says:

      get a proper job and work in the day, not spending all of your time on the Internet (11.13). Then you would understand what the writer has written. Probably a lot of the mistakes are with the automatic spelling correction. If only you and others would read what you have written after there would be less mistakes in the modern world.

      A serious not an serious.

      Sleep monitors explained not reviewed.

      You obviously have a reading problem.

      From a retired 73 year old man.

      • EvilRobot says:

        i concur. However, you haven't used CAPS where usually required. You may get a scorn filled reply!

    • Rugito says:

      Wow gramma police... If you could comprehend the sentences then clearly it is not worth mentioning. Also how did you expect to change your sleep without lifestyle changes? Clearly the apps are meant for monitoring your progress. At least this blog puts out valuable content, all you have done is moan.

    • Sp7 says:

      I found exactly what I was searching for in this article. SadDay4Jrnlism get a life you troll. Know what you're searching for before you start bashing people. If you want a sleep monitor review the search 'Sleep Monitor Review.' This is clearly titled 'Sleep Monitors Explained' you moron. 

      Sure it could've been written better, but if you read above the level of an average 5th-grader you don't have to examine every single word to decipher the meaning. The fact that you took time to respond to this in the manner in which you did, makes me think you have some deep rooted personal issues, as well as too much time on your hands. Grow up and stop being a troll. 

    • Larien says:

      Dear "SadDay"

      It truly is a sad day to find your response to this article so full of anger and judgment.  What you need you won't find in any sleep monitor, although a good night's sleep is as good a place as any to start.  I enjoyed this article. It generally answered my questions concerning  how my monitor records and displays information as well as some general tips for improving my sleep habits. Personally, I can't imagine living day after day with the anger you carry. 

    • petapaints says:

      First off I thought SadDay4's comments were really harsh. I had understood the articles meaning but thought let's read on as to how it should be modified from a writing point of view. For me a revelation. Since school I have struggled with everything written. I went to primary school in Australia in the 60's where the look see method of reading was taught - no phonetics, no grammer, I was a hopeless speller and as I progressed through school the whole essay thing became a nightmare. My encounter with SadDay is the first time I've come across examples of punctuation Etc Etc before and after a 'real time' example despite seeking help.  (returned to study in my 50's signed up for tutoring at the help centre and after 12 months the tutor advised I pay my daughter to rewrite essays for me!!!!)

      So dear Mr SadDay, feel free to pick the above plebe for help apart or suggest a sentence writing for dummies book with more examples as my bucket list includes going back to uni and getting a degree but couldn't face it because of preparing/writing essays. 

      Ps some of the above I really tried to get right and other bits I left!!! Wo

    • giancarlo says:

      I'll try to make this as grammatically incorrect as possible, just to piss you off. Your an douche.

  • Rugito says:

    Wow gramma police... If you could comprehend the sentences then clearly it is not worth mentioning. Also how did you expect to change your sleep without lifestyle changes? Clearly the apps are meant for monitoring your progress. At least this person puts out valuable content, all you have done is moan.

  • LittleTee says:

    Thank you. A really interesting article. :-) 

  • Zenrider says:

    Very helpful article. I will experiment with the recommendations. It is the message that is being sought, for which I am very grateful. 

  • Radiatehope says:

    Thank you for this informative article. I found exactly what I was looking for. 

    I recently got a Garmin vivoactive, before that I've never monitored my sleep. I like seeing the graphs, data is important. I think I agree with you though, how I feel after I wake up.

    Thanks again!

  • Larien says:

    Dear Sad Day,

    It is a sad day to find your comments so full of anger and judgment. What you need you will not find in any sleep monitor although a good night's sleep is as good a place as any to start. I enjoyed the article. It generally answered my questions which is what I was looking for. I cannot imagine living day after day with the anger you carry.

  • Falk3 says:

    Just acquired the Ôura ring, which I have read provides the most accurate sleep measurement of the wearables today.  The app is detailed but easy to understand.  Overtime, the ring "learns" about you and makes recommendations for recovery and performance.  Very cool!

  • Jhawk44 says:

    While there are some obvious mistakes that a poor writer like me could pick up on, overall the article served its purpose for me.  For the first troll, if you came away from the article thinking that you probably only need pen and paper, not a wearable, that would mean the writer did an AMAZING job.  You read an article, made a deduction about your own life because of the content it contained, and have changed your own actions and lifestyle as a result.

    Thanks Chris!

  • Dalton says:

    Is this real life? 

    There is something to be learned from everything. Especially via sources that do not charge $$ for their information. 

    Be grateful 

  • WantTobeHealthy says:

    Just what I was after! Great info thanks :-)

  • anonymo says:

    Am I the only one that finds the first comment from "SadDay4Jrnlism" ironic? The use of "an" instead of "a". If you are going to bash on grammar you should probably check to make sure you don't have any mistakes. Hahahahahaaa....Check it out:

    "SadDay4Jrnlism says:

    I'm not sure if I've just read an serious attempt at journalism or the first draft of a high school freshman's composition paper. I came here looking for reviews of sleep monitoring devices, but I leave in disappointment. It's clearly obvious no one proofread this before posting and the grammatical errors are just too distracting." 

  • Twinertwin says:

    Sad day

  • AngelaT says:

    Thank you for all the info!T

  • Patto says:

    I agree with the editing police. I find it really annoying when I have to do the edits in my head simply because the writer lacks the necessary skills.  Chris can learn from this and become a better writer. Don't be afraid to help others lift their game, people.  The world is full of ordinary, let Chris be extraordinary if he wishes to and he can thank those who bothered to take the time to give him a nudge.

  • rockchick says:

    LMAO - Wasn't this supposed to be an article explaining Sleep Monitors, instead of an open invitation to attack grammatical errors and sentence structure??

    Oh no, a double question mark..... Call the police!!!!!!!

  • PixieSix says:

    I think you are all CRAZY! What the he**?? You came to this article looking for info about sleep trackers and crucified the writer of this free information for his grammar and punctuation? I like the response, "is this real life?". 

    I will give you my two cents (or is it sense? J/k).

    I have the Jawbone Up4. I have Narcolepsy and Klien Levin Syndrome. I sleep up to 20 hours a day and never feel rested because my sleep wake cycles are totally insane. I dream before I even close my eyes and after I've opened them upon waking in sleep paralysis. I get very little deep sleep (sometimes none or only mere minutes in a 10 hour + stretch). I have what the tracker determines are "wake ups" but they are automatic behavior, such as me sitting up and doing things in my sleep that we all normally do while awake. I use the fracker only as a tool to show me where the wake ups occur so I can go to that part of my video footage to see what I was doing. I also have a security camera that records me at night.

    I like the tracker that I have. However these are not entirely reliable. They are not an EEG and sleep doctors and neurologists will all agree that the tracker can't tell if you are in a certain stage of sleep simply by movement or respiration censors. Even if they tracked temp and pulse, they don't track brain waves which is the only way to truly tell what stages of sleep you are in at night. 

    I like mine because it gives me an idea of when I'm having automatic behaviors in my sleep that read as awake and I can also catch sleep attacks and know how long it took me to fall asleep. I'm happy with mine in combination with the camera. But like my neurologist said, my sleep specialist said and my PCP said, these are not accurate devices and if you were to bring the app in to them they would tell you a sleep study is the only way to get a good reading, and even those aren't 100%. 

    For me, it was worth the money, even before I got the camera. I have a bit of a unique case which makes me wish they did have more accurate devices. An be aware that the Jawbone is not waterproof or water resistant. It also tracks your steps and I'm disappointed that I have to remove it for work because it can't get wet. 

    So to the writer of this revie above, thank you! I'm sorry there are hateful people out there just being hateful. This is not an English class. But, to the grammar police...here, have fun with mine. Oh and here's my comment to you, find a hobby and stop wasting your life being cruel. 

  • SaySomthgUseful says:

    First, I'd like to thank Chris for this helpful article. I have been trying out various apps to help me learn about my own sleep patterns. Logically, I can't make correct and impactful changes unless I understand the issues first. I appreciate that his article included both information about various sleep monitoring options and tips for a better night's sleep.

    Secondly, I'd like to focus on some things Chris did in his article that were nice for a reader and his audience. These appear to have been overlooked by, or oblivious to, those that commented with criticism only. True critics must be capable of both influencing and inspiring the other person. They also balance their critique with good and bad. To do this, you must have character, grace and tact. It's apparent that some that chose to criticize here possess none of these. (Cough, cough...you know who you are.) Chris did something known as Information Mapping, which is actually a smart approach and a gift to readers. It allows you to skip, scan, and retrieve the portion you want or need. His use of sub-headers and grouping his content or points provides this. Also, I think he was thorough. He could have just explained how these monitors work and not offered any tips or help on how to make a few changes in your routine. But he didn't. He was thoughtful and intentful. (Ahem. Something critics overlook when they are fulfilling their own selfish need to pontificate, or seem important, versus truly desiring to help.)

    So, thank you again, Chris. We all make mistakes. And we shouldn't live or die by grammar or punctuation. Even your critics made mistakes. There are far greater problems in the world. And, we should simply be grateful for the internet, our freedoms, and that we can even read and write.

    I leave you with these....

    “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
– Benjamin Franklin

    “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
– Charles Schwab

  • Anj_Aradhya says:

    This write-up provides  a reasonable information to make aware of the sleeping patterns and what we should try to do to get a good sleep to wake next morning well rested. 

    I have correlated the observations with my own sleeping cycle patterns and found it comparable to what is described here. 

    The recommendations made here are truly worth following for developing a healthy sleeping patterns for a sleep that will give your body the most needed good rest.

  • Saracolleenstar says:

    Thank you for this article. I'm Canadian and for the past 14 years have taught, edited and written in US, UK and even AU English. It's hilarious to me when commenters on articles assume that they know the only acceptable way to write sentences, conjugate verbs, use punctuation and spell words in the world. Rules of English really do vary in different cultures and that is OK, Grammar Police! Just my two cents! :)

    • nico says:

      Hey sad day give the guy break .At least some of us were helped by his article . If all you want is a device there are sites for that . Stop lecturing us on excellent English grammar .Nobody asked you for it.This is about sleep and at least one person was on point with free tips . Not everyone is a University graduate or writing critic and we do not need to be to state our opinions.If you want to lecture go look for an English grammar job at a University near you .

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