Sleep. Those lost hours fascinate us, and the insights offered by sleep monitors and fitness trackers is part of their appeal.
Scientists have been mapping our sleep patterns for years and agree that good diet, low stress and plenty of exercise can help us sleep better, still in a constantly connected world filled with deadlines, dramas, snoring loved-ones and screaming children getting a good kip can be nigh on impossible.
But can connected technology come to the rescue? We've tracked down the very latest in sleep inducing technology - and even tested five sleep tracking devices first hand that promise to make your nights longer, mornings easier and even tackle snoring partners. These are the sleep trackers that made the cut.
The Aura is a complete kit for those who regularly suffer from poor sleep. It works by tracking your sleep patterns and then waking you up during your lightest sleep phase, thereby preventing bear-with-a-sore-head syndrome.
The visible part of the system is a strange-looking beside lamp that monitors your sleeping environment (noise pollution and temperature) while soothing you with new age sounds and gentle, slowly fluctuating light patterns. Meanwhile, a thin sensor pad under the mattress monitors your sleep patterns throughout the night and sends all the data it collects – heart rate, motion and respiration – to the bedside lamp device which then calculates the most efficient time to gently rouse you from slumber.
Essential reading: Sleep monitors explained - rest longer and feel better
Dedicated iOS and Android apps let you visualise your sleep patterns and program preferred light sequences and music. The Aura, one of just a handful of sensor-equipped sleep trackers, works much more efficiently than the surfeit of wristband versions out there, but then it is a lot more expensive. Still, the Aura's topnotch accuracy (it was number one in our testing) makes it worth checking out.
Among the fitness trackers, Misfit Ray beats out its elder sibling the Misfit Shine and its Jawbone UP3 competition with the best sleep monitoring abilities. Like the Withings Aura, the Ray is fairly accurate even on the wrist. Features were slim - there's no REM tracking and it doesn't differentiate for moments in the night you randomly wake up, but it's able to tell when you've nodded off pretty much immediately. There are also timed sleep sounds and a smart alarm.
S+ by ResMed
The S+ is a pretty large device that sits on your night stand to track your sleep without ever having to touch you. It uses sonar, and those ultrasonic pulses can see straight through blanket (and pj's) to monitor the movement of your chest as your breathe your way through the different stages of sleep.
It can also use your respiratory rhythm to match the tempo of music it plays while lulling you to sleep. However instead of using the speaker on the S+, it actually plays out of your phone so you'll need the handset nearby. That shouldn't be a problem if it's already charging it on your night stand.
Sense is a sleep tracker that, rather than strapping to your wrist, clips onto your pillow instead. The Pill unit detects the amount of movement you make during the night and the processing is done by the unit pictured.
It receives the information from the Pill and collates it together with temperature, ambient light and even noise as well for an almost complete profile of your nightly routine and sources that might be affecting it.
The idea is that Sense will then be able to figure out what you need to change in order to get a better night's rest. While the features are great, the data presented after usage isn't the best.
Beddit Smart 2.0
Based on something health professionals call ballistocardiography (BCG), the second generation Beddit Smart ultra-thin sensor tucks under your bed sheets and gathers data on sleep quality, duration, heart rate and respiration rate. It will then automatically track your sleep, without having to be told when you're in bed, which goes a long way to taking the fuss out of sleep tracking.
The Beddit sensor slips under the top sheet of your bed, and uses Bluetooth Low Energy to connect to your smartphone, which harvests the data. Beddit says that the Bluetooth connection will be made automatically when your smartphone is placed within range.
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock
Tuck your smartphone (iOS or Android) under your bed sheet and Sleep Cycle uses the phone's accelerometer to keep tabs on your nighty activity and wake you during your lightest sleep phase. A whole lot cheaper than a dedicated sleep tracker – and a whole lot more limited – but the phone still collates bags of data and gives you a good overview of your sleep patterns.
Set your alarm as usual and the app uses the sleep data to choose the best time (within a 30 minute window) to wake you up. It won't completely eliminate the shock of the alarm in the morning, but it will wake you during lighter sleep, which should help reduce the foggy morning feeling.
The bevy of biosensors on the Jawbone Up3 mean that sleep tracking is one area it should excel. The company claims that by monitoring a user's heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature and galvanic skin response, it would be able to tell the difference between REM, light and deep sleep in better detail than rival devices.
With virtually all fitness bands already boasting a sleep tracking mode it can be difficult to choose one that does it better than the rest. They all offer very similar motion sensing, REM sleep phase tracking and a host of graphs and tables keeping you informed, but for sheer comfort while you sleep you'll not find better than the Misfit Shine.
Impossibly small and light, it can be worn on your wrist, as a pendant or clipped onto your pyjamas and most importantly you won't notice it's there, and with no bulky edges you'll not roll onto it or catch your partner with it.
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