The Apple Watch only gained the ability to track sleep natively in 2021 – years behind the likes of Fitbit and Garmin.
But in 2022, Apple added data on sleep stages, so it's now closer to its rivals than ever before.
It's still more simplistic, but there’s a lot to like – with some unique benefits to using the Apple Watch to watch over your rest.
We’ve been living with it for a couple of years – 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.
After the watchOS 9 update in 2022, you now get data on REM, deep and light cycles.
However, you won't find an in-depth analysis of how long it took you to drop off and it doesn't distill your rest into a single sleep score like Fitbit.
The Apple Watch focuses on tracking sleep duration, and behaviors you can control for a better night's sleep. This includes how consistent your bedtime and wake-ups are – something everyone can change.
The Apple Watch uses motion sensors and its 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.
Its 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.
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 – but you can check stats like blood oxygen saturation and heart rate during sleep in the Apple Health app, and keep an eye for any worrying trends.
Again, the likes of Fitbit, Withings, and Whoop make this a core part of the sleep-tracking experience. Apple, on the other hand, keeps things focused on duration and consistency.
What metrics does Apple Watch track?
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 the 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.
In watchOS 9, Apple introduced sleep stages data. Again, this can be viewed in the Apple Watch Sleep app on the device itself. Use the Crown to scroll down, and you can see Deep, REM, Core (light), and awake time. You can see how your body cycled through the stages and see the duration in minutes as well.
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.
You can also see your heart rate during bedtime and have a look at your low and high HR.
How to set up a 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 to 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 your 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
Within Bedtime mode you can also change how you’re woken up. And the Taptic silent alarm is one of our favorite Apple Watch features.
The default is to have no alarm, but you can set a silent alarm that 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.