The Apple Watch Series 5 may not have brought the native sleep app we've been waiting for, but you can still get the same functionality using Apple Watch sleep tracking apps.
The beauty of the Apple Watch is that there's a rich ecosystem of third party apps, which expand the feature set beyond the standard watchOS experience. So although Apple hasn't natively added sleep tracking, there's no shortage of apps to fill the void.
We anticipate the Apple Watch Series 6 - expected to arrive in September 2020 - will be the first of the series to automatically track sleep, but, for now, there's a raft of free and paid-for third-party to try out.
Apple has enabled the sleep tracking experience to be a little easier. You'll want to use Theatre Mode to stop the screen illuminating when you're in bed, and Do Not Disturb has a handy "until morning" setting, so you won't be rudely awakened in the night. Just swipe up on from the bottom of the Apple Watch screen to find those.
However, the challenge is finding time in your day to recharge your Apple Watch, given it only has a single day of battery life.
Free (in-app purchase for premium): Download Pillow
The first thing that struck us about Pillow was how vibrant it looked, but it's not a bad little sleep tracker, either. But to get the most out of the app you'll want a $27.49 a year premium subscription (or $4.99 per month).
It uses a combination of movement, sounds and heart rate to follow your patterns, and presents the data in gorgeous, easy-to-read charts.
The graphs are really clear and detailed, with more of a focus on sleep stages than Autosleep.
It tracks deep, REM and light sleep, time in bed, and crucially, the time actually sleep ‚Äď which many trackers actually overlook. It then will deliver a sleep quality score, and track your heart rate through the night.
Like the two options up top, you can now also automatically track your sleep, letting you see your sleep reports and analysis when you wake up, including sleep breakdown and stats - like time spent in bed.
Premium features also get access to the Sleep Lab, which offers all kinds of insights into your sleep profile.
We actually found PIllow a lot lighter on raw data than cheaper alternatives such as Autosleep ‚Äď however, you do get what you pay for. The sleep algorithms are a lot more detailed, and the sleep score and time asleep was more inline with Fitbit and Withings. Essentially, this means you're going to get a much harsher appraisal of your nightly rest, and that's more likely to help you make a real positive difference to the way you feel.
$3.99: Download AutoSleep
This is our favorite of the bunch, as it stands. As the name suggests, AutoSleep's key feature is that it works automatically, unlike many of the other sleep tracker apps that require you to tell them when you're getting into bed.
AutoSleep takes the thinking out of the process, but it's also good when it comes to accuracy. When put up against a dedicated sleep tracker, it produced close results, but you can tweak the sensitivity for better accuracy. If your Apple Watch dies during the night or you get squiffy results, you can easily discount a night from the results to stop it mucking up your averages, which is nice.
Users of Apple Watch will feel immediately at home, and Autosleep apes the Activity Rings you'll find on your smartwatch.
We were impressed generally with the sleep and wake up times from the automatic tracking, which even expensive dedicated sleep trackers can often get wrong.
Among the stats is the duration of sleep, a sleep rating, readiness score. It will also report the amount of deep sleep and keep tabs on your nightly heart rate. We did find that deep sleep recorded higher than Fitbit or Withings ‚Äď and then Autosleep was a little generous with our sleep quality. It's better suited to those looking to get that 8 hours a night and create good habits, than really get granular about sleep science.
We also liked the Sleep Bank, which keeps tabs on your week's sleep, and tells you whether your accumulated rest is above or below your goal. That makes it useful for catching up on rest if you had a bad night, or allowing you an extra hour in front of the TV on the weekend.
Autosleep also excels in terms of tracking bedtime consistency, which is one of the key factors of improving your rest.
Free: Download Sleep++
Sleep++ is one of the most popular Watch sleep apps on the App Store, with one of its biggest selling points being its simplicity. Sleep++ is a free app with no paid subscription tier, so it's nice not to be constantly bugged into paying money ‚Äď however, data is bare bones compared to others in the test.
The app is incredibly bare-boned, showing you a start button, stop button, and a little blue chart to display your sleep patterns. And that's it. It will track automatically, and you can quickly make adjustments if you need to.
Like AutoSleep, it can also write your sleep data to Apple Health and will automatically log sleep when activated on the companion iPhone app.
We found Sleep++ to be too simplistic, and it doesn't really compare to the data you'll get from a Fitbit or Withings sleep tracker.
The graph isn't hugely insightful in terms of sleep stages, and the presentation isn't great. You do get some top-line stats, which as duration, restful, restless time awake and the period of best sleep. However, we found the data to be pretty rose-tinted, and the data on sleep quality didn't compare to the likes of Autosleep or Pillow.
One thing we did enjoy from Sleep++ was the long term trend data, and this is presented nicely. You can see your typical night's sleep, sleep duration and it will spit out a bedtime consistency score. As we've said, getting to bed and waking up at the same time every day promotes better quality sleep, so for a free app, this is a really useful metric to focus on.
4. Sleep Watch
Free: Download Sleep Watch
Another on-watch app for tracking bedtime slumber, Sleep Watch automatically keeps tabs on the time, heart rate and stages of your sleep.
It looks for dips in your heart rate that the makers suggest correlate with more restful sleep, and will give you a score based on the quality of your nighttime hours.
You'll also get daily briefings and sleep trends over time, making it a powerful app for Apple Watch users, with even more advanced tracking options, like heart rate variability, sleep dip, most of which are explained fully when you take out a premium subscription.
Many of the reports are behind the paywall ‚Äď that costs $4.99 a month or $29.99 a year.
Sleep is ranked as disrupted, light or restful, which we assume is deep and REM combined. It offers a percentage that you can work to improve. So there's plenty of good actionable data, it's just not presented as clearly as Pillow. There's also tons of data on HRV, heart rate which is great if you want to get scientific, but there's an element of data overload.
We'd still argue that sleep here isn't judged as harshly as Fitbit and Withings sleep data - and a disrupted night's sleep that only scored 65%-70% on those apps was awarded 94% of our sleep goal in Sleep Watch.
5. Sleep Cycle
Free (premium for extra analysis features) | Download Sleep Cycle
A totally different take on a sleep tracking app, Sleep Cycle puts the focus on waking up, rather than time spent asleep. It aims to bring the smart alarm feature found on many fitness trackers to the Apple Watch, which wakes you up in a lighter stage in your sleep cycle, making for a much gentler morning.
You set an alarm range, rather than a single time, and when Sleep Cycle deems you in a ready state, it will gently buzz. if it doesn't, you just get woken up at the end of the time range.
You can also snooze from the wrist, or take advantage of an intelligent snooze feature which lets you have a few extra minutes in bed.
The app has been re-released for Apple Watch after a hiatus, and the company says more features are coming ‚Äď including anti-snoring tools.
If your sleep issues are more about waking up than drifting off, Sleep Cycle is well worth a try.
You also get access to sleep analysis and tracking, that keep tabs on sleep stages and quality, and the graphs are nicely presented. Premium ($29.99) also offers insights on trends, snore detection, sleep sounds, and even a notes system which aims to help you correlate behaviors that affect sleep.
$2.99: Download HeartWatch
HeartWatch is a neat app that really digs into your heart rate data, and provides alerts if it notices any unusual, potentially concerning, activity.
It also tracks your sleep, overlaying the HR data on top, so you can see your waking and sleeping heartbeat, and how they compare to your regular beats.
The iPhone app could do with being a little less cluttered, but, if you're particularly interested in the relationship between your heart rate and sleep, this is a great little app. We've found accuracy on it to be pretty good, too.
7. Sleep Pulse 3
$3.99: Download Sleep Pulse 3
Sleep Pulse 3 is a fully-featured sleep app for your Apple Watch that does most of the work itself.
It'll track your heart rate and motion, and there's a sleep view you can take a look at when you randomly wake up in the middle of the night. This will show you your resting heart rate, as well as how long you've been sleeping.
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There are also ways to track naps and record sleep talk. Best of all, all the sleep analysis is done right on the Watch, not on your phone.
It's also been updated to better work with the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5, too, so it's better optimised for those bigger screens and pairs with Apple's Infograph and Infograph Modular watches faces, letting you see recent sleep data from your watch face.
8. Sleep Tracker by Sleepmatic
$1.99: Download Sleep Tracker
If Sleep Tracker looks familiar, it's because it does. It looks almost exactly like Fitbit's sleep interface, and the app - by Sleepmatic - is unapologetic about it all.
It sells itself as Fitbit sleep tracking for Apple Watch, though there are some differences. You're not going to get REM sleep here, but you will get automatic sleep tracking for both overnight sleep and daytime naps.
Plus, you can see how much sleep you got last night in a handy complication.
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