After last week's consultation, I've been sleeping better. Dr Stern's analysis made me feel more at ease about my sleep quality, but also provided some action points for where I can improve.
This week I've been trying the ResMed S+, which is similar to the Withings Aura in that it sits on your bedside. But unlike the Aura you don't need to stick anything in your sheets; it monitors breathing patterns and body movement from afar, and uses this to determine your phases of sleep.
The tracking accuracy has been a little so-so, and I think this is down to the fact the positioning must be spot-on to get a precise reading. But where the S+ excels is in the coaching. Like the Beddit 3 it provides a 'sleep score' each morning, but more important it tells me where I'm going wrong (or right). This does mean having to interact with it before sleep, but the benefit is being able to tell it things like how stressed I was during that day, how much caffeine I consumed, and how much exercise I did - and this will feed into the data, giving richer feedback in the long run.
For example, on a couple of days it noticed I was getting less REM sleep than ideal and recommended I upped my activity. Indeed, on those days I admitted that I had been embarrassingly idle; the feedback felt relevant to my profile.
The other thing I like is the 'Relax to Sleep' function which synchronises a sound with your breathing to help you drift off. I went into this pessimistic, but it's proven effective in helping me fall asleep each night. As I mentioned last week, I've found background sounds to be effectively conducive to sleep, and ResMed's rhythms definitely seem to be working on me.
The ResMed app
This is going to be the final entry of my sleep diary - for a while. Over the past few weeks I've tried a number of devices to varying effect, and there are still some, like the Sense with Voice, that I still want to try. But I think it's going to take a lot more time to see if the results bear out.
It's difficult to apply too much scientific rigour to a test like this outside the confines of a proper sleep lab, but nonetheless I feel like I've made some decent headway. Taking into account the feedback I've been getting I've started going to sleep earlier and tried to keep my bedtimes more consistent. I've stopped spending so much time staring at graphs and much more time looking at what it all means. And I've made improvements to my sleep hygiene that have had a positive effect.
But above all, this diary has taught me about the disconnect between sleep tracking and sleep improvement. My tracker tells me I got eight hours and ten minutes of sleep last night. The night before was seven hours. Great. Have a cookie.
More sleep is generally better, but what caused me to lose out the night before if my bedtime was the same? What if I'm sleeping for eight hours but I still feel terrible? My tracker tells me I'm moving around a lot in my sleep, but it doesn't tell me why this is happening.
We're moving towards more meaningful fitness data, and tracking sleep is a big part of that. Look at Mio's PAI score or VO2 Max and you'll see that basic one-size-fits-all tracking is starting to look very old hat.
More sleep-boosting tech
- Counting sheep: The best sleep trackers and monitorsTake control of your sleep with these slumber supervisors
- This smart crib will your your baby to sleepIf that doesn't work, Snoo will try white noise
- 5 sleep trackers battle it outWe get some shut eye with a bunch of sleep monitors to see which is the best
- FitSleep reviewFitSleep needs some work before it can really help you catch those Z's
From trying a myriad of devices, it's clear that there's still a long way to go when it comes to measuring sleep, particularly on most wrist trackers. Even when they're at their most accurate, they're rarely providing the actionable feedback the we need to make a meaningful difference to our sleep habits. Unless all you want it something that reminds you to go to bed earlier, in which case fill your boots. For some people, gamifying the experience is enough, and that's perfectly OK if you understand that this is all you're doing. Basic accelerometer-based trackers can also make you aware of severe sleep deficit (assuming they're accurate), so I'm not dismissing them entirely.
But if you know you have a problem with sleep, or just want to start taking sleep more seriously, devices like the ResMed S+, Aura, Beddit and their ilk are where you need to start. You'd expect a dedicated device to be more accurate, but that's not why I think they're useful; it's because they push the graphs into the background and focus more on what it means, and over the last few weeks I've come to really question the value of sleep trackers that do little more than spit out numbers each morning.
However, it's also important to not go too far the other way and put too much onus on technology. Not only can this end up keeping you awake at night as it did me, but it can mean ignoring what your body is telling you. Plus, it's not one-size-fits-all, as Dr Zeitzer told me a few weeks back.
If I feel tired, I try to sleep, regardless if an app is telling my I shouldn't sleep for another half an hour if I want to wake up in a lighter phase of sleep. Because truth be told, whether I wake up in REM or deep sleep doesn't seem to make an ounce of difference to the rest of my day, and as Dr Zeitzer said, it may have little impact on anyone. But getting a good night's sleep unaffected by too much light, poor air quality, or severe restlessness, definitely makes a difference.
I wish I could tell you that after seven weeks I was getting amazing sleep - and with this one weird trick you could too! Some of these devices have certainly helped me improve, but I'm far from getting consistently brilliant sleep, and to keep improving I need to be proactive. Sleep trackers can guide me, but they can't add hours to my sleep if I refuse to make changes to my lifestyle. In the same way that tracking my calorie intake isn't going to help me lose weight unless I lay off the cake.
I wish I could also tell you I'd found the miracle device for sleep, but I don't see that happening any time soon. We're only just waking up to the importance of sleep, a realm that science still finds oddly mystifying. We know that without sleep we die, and we know it has some restorative powers on our bodies, but the exact ins and outs of why we need sleep remain elusive.
A device that can read your sleep stages as accurately as in lab conditions, can fully understand every aspect of your environment impacting your sleep, and that can understand what you personally need for a good night's sleep - that's the dream.