Tech for your connected self

Catching zzz's: How Garmin's new sleep tracking smarts stack up

We find out if you should be excited about the Fitbit-rivalling sleep features

Garmin has sports tracking well and truly sorted, at least for running, cycling and swimming, but over the last few years the company has been playing catch up in the fitness tracker realm.

Something people clearly care about is sleep tracking – particularly when it comes to getting more comprehensive picture of your health. If anything, sleep management and quality matters even more for someone that's training for a big race or goal. Startup Whoop places a big emphasis on sleep for its wearable that's favored by a number of professional athletes, so why should Garmin be any different?

Essential reading: Fitbit's new sleep features explored

Garmin is trying to improve on all things sleep. After announcing a partnership with the University of Kansas Medical Center to get more insight into the disorder sleep apnea, it also recently announced a bunch of improvements to offer more data and insights into your zzz time through your wearable.

Owners of newer Forerunner and Vivoactive Garmin sports watches – namely the Vivoactive 3, Forerunner 645, Forerunner 935, Vivosport, Vivosmart 3, Vivomove HR, Vivoactive 3 Music, and Forerunner 645 Music – can now all benefit from these new features, after a software update was rolled out to add them in.

We've been putting the new sleep features to the test on a Forerunner 935, to see what Garmin is bringing to the bedroom – or wherever you choose to get some nap time.

All in the app, not on the watch

It's important to mention that all changes that you can actually see, happen inside Garmin's Connect smartphone app. You won't see any new data screens on your sports watch or fitness tracker because the sleep tracking part is still all about doing this automatically when you're ready to go to bed. Once you've synced your Garmin to the Connect app, simply dive into the Sleep screen and you'll see the new data.

That doesn't mean that the hardware is not playing its part in these changes though. Along with recording heart rate and using the accelerometer motion sensors in the watch or tracker to activate sleep tracking, sleep monitoring now also pulls in heart rate variability measurements to offer deeper sleep insights. This measurement has until now been reserved for stress tracking and providing a Stress Score on compatible Garmins.

Sleep stages

Catching some Z's with Garmin's new sleep tracking features

Once you've negotiated your way to your sleep tracking data (try the drop-down menu in the top left corner and then select Health and Sleep), you'll probably be drawn to an icon displaying the breakdown of your sleep.

Previously, this breakdown was filtered by light and deep sleep and time spent awake. Now Garmin has sought to seek parity with Fitbit's sleep tracking and has added in an average REM score. What is REM? We explain it all in more detail in our sleep metrics guide, but it's essentially to do with the period of a sleep cycle that tends to occur in the latter part of your sleep and is often the more dreamy part of your sleep session.

It's believed that not getting a good amount of REM sleep can impact on how refreshed you feel when you wake up, and can even lead to sleepiness during the day. So having this data at hand does have its uses. It's the heart rate variability measurements that are enabling Garmin to generate this REM sleep data.

So on the screenshot above, I can see that I managed just shy of two hours of REM sleep, with the accompanying graph giving me a better idea of when that REM sleep occurred during the entire sleep period.

The other aspect of sleep that Garmin shows you is movement, which was already available to users. Essentially this is how much you budge or are interrupted while you are trying to get some shut eye. What you get is a graph of sleep duration showing spikes when there has been a high level of movement. Again, this is nothing particularly groundbreaking to see here, nor is there any attempt to correlate the data with the sleep stages data.

Where are the insights Garmin?

I had hoped that with Garmin adding these new advanced sleep tracking features, it might also take the opportunity to flesh out one of the features that still feels a bit untapped on Connect – and that's Insights.

This is where Garmin analyses your data and will point out things like days where you've met your step goal or notices when you go above or below your target fitness goals.

Some sleep insights would be great here, particularly in the way of how it's impacted by any activities or exercise logged in the app.

Catching some Z's with Garmin's new sleep tracking features

Fitbit dishes out helpful insights from your sleep data

Unfortunately, there's been none of that for me (so far), having used the new features for more than a couple of weeks. Hopefully that'll change, but I definitely would appreciate some of the insights that Fitbit offers (example above) into the impact of sleep in recovery from runs or swims for instance.

Verdict

I think it's fair to say that these so-called 'advanced sleep tracking' features are less advanced, and more seeking parity with what's already on offer from other wearables, specifically Fitbit and Polar.

While it's welcome to get a more comprehensive overview of your sleep, there's little in the way of helping users interpret this data which feels very much a first generation wearable problem.

As already mentioned, Garmin is playing catch-up with others as far as fitness tracking is concerned. It's good to see that it's trying to match what Fitbit and offers are offering, but Fitbit's obsession with sleep goes beyond simply recording the data.

The next step for Garmin is to bring those actionable insights, which I have no doubt that people who take their sports tracking seriously (like me) will lap up when it does deliver them.


What do you think?

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