Apple Watch sleep tracking review: How to use it for better sleep

Pared back sleep tracking is focused on improving your slumber
Apple Watch sleep tracking guide
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The Apple Watch only gained the ability to track sleep natively in 2021 – years behind the likes of Fitbit and Garmin. And true to form, Apple’s take on sleep monitoring is different to nearly every other wearable out there.

Yes, it’s far more simplistic. But there’s still a lot to like, and some unique benefits to using the Apple Watch to watch over your rest.

We’ve been living with it for a number of months – here’s everything we’ve learned and you need to know about the Apple Watch and sleep tracking.

If you're looking for more traditional sleep tracking, there are plenty of third party Apple Watch sleep apps that will offer something akin to Fitbit – check out our complete guide.

Apple Watch sleep tracking compared

In direct comparison to the likes of Fitbit, Withings and other wearables, Apple’s sleep tracking is undeniably basic.

There’s no sleep stage tracking of REM, deep and light cycles, nor is there in-depth analysis of how long it took you to drop off. It also doesn't distill your rest into a single sleep score like Fitbit.

Why? Because Apple says that stuff isn’t really directly improvable by users, thus not useful to know – and it has a point.

The Apple Watch therefore focuses on the tracking of sleep duration, and behaviors you can control for a better night's sleep. That included consistent bedtime and wake ups, and ironically, spending less time with your devices.

The Apple Watch will motion sensors and accelerometer to monitor your rest, and while that may seem insanely retro, it works. We’re continually comparing and testing the best sleep trackers, and the Apple Watch is up there with the most accurate devices in terms of tracking sleep duration.

We've used it extensively, and crucially, it does get that sleep duration figure right. Many smartwatches will offer a sleep duration that's eerily close to your time in bed, while the Apple Watch is sensitive enough to discount wake ups ad disturbances to give you an accurate sleep duration figure.

It's figures are in the same ballpark as Fitbit and Whoop – two of the leading sleep trackers from our testing – and accuracy is one of the Apple Watch's strengths in this regard.

As mentioned, there's no breakdown of the sleep stages, which can be wildly different across devices – and impossible to validate outside of a sleep lab.

The Apple Watch also uses the heart rate sensor to track blood oxygen and heart rate, this isn’t factored into the assessment of your sleep. You'll need to head over to Apple Health to see the different metrics recorded during sleep.

What metrics does Apple Watch track?

Apple Watch showing sleep duration

When you wear your Apple Watch to bed you'll see a decent amount of data in the Apple itself. You'll need to head to Sleep app on the Watch itself.

You’ll see your previous night’s sleep duration, with a small graphic that outlines any wake ups.

You’ll also see a summary of sleep duration and consistency over the past 14 days and, when you’ve got a few nights of sleep under your belt, the Apple Watch will tell you if your sleep duration is increasing, decreasing or consistent.

Apple Watch Health app sleep

You can also view sleep data in the Health app.

In the Sleep section you can see sleep data by week and month, and cycle back through time. This will also show your average time in bed and time asleep for the period.

The iPhone will also estimate time asleep if you weren’t wearing your Apple Watch based on its usage. However, it stops tracking when your wake time kicks in, which makes the data look a little same-y.

You can also see heart rate during bed time and have a look at your low and high HR.

How to set up a sleep schedule

Apple Watch sleep schedule

As we mentioned, the primary aim of the Apple Watch is to help you prepare for a good night’s sleep. And for those looking to get more rest, sleep hygiene is one of the most important factors.

While that can be environmental (sleeping in a dark, cool, quiet room) it also means winding down before bed without screen time, and having consistent bed and wake times. And this is a particular focus of the Apple Watch.

The iPhone and Apple Watch both have a feature, which lets you set sleep and wakeup times for each night of the week.

Half an hour before this time your iPhone and Watch go into a pared down Bedtime mode, where the screen dims and notifications are muted so you can start to decompress and chill before bed.

To set this up you need to go to the Health app on iPhone.

How to set up Bedtime for Apple Watch

1. Open the Health app

2. Head to Browse and choose Sleep

3. Scroll down to Full Schedule and then edit, or choose Add Schedule

4. Use the slider to choose your bedtime/wake up pattern which defaults to 8 hours

You can change the goal in the schedule menu under Sleep Goal.

Waking up with Apple Watch

Waking up with Apple Watch

Within Bedtime mode you can also change how you’re woken up. And the Taptic silent alarm is actually one of our favourite Apple Watch features.

The default is to have no alarm, but you can set a silent alarm which rouses you using the Apple Watch’s Taptic engine or a standard audio alarm.

When you edit the Schedule just scroll to the bottom and choose Wake Up Alarm. Toggle this on and then tap Sound & Haptics.

Rather than a mechanical buzzing, the Apple Watch gently taps you awake on your wrist. It's a much gentler way to wake up, and don't disturb your partner.