Second coming of sleep tracking: Why sleep wearables mean business in 2020

Sleep tech is set to shake off past problems
Second coming of sleep tracking
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Sleep tracking is having its second coming in 2020 - and it's set to become one of the most exciting areas in wearables and medical tech.

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When fitness tracking first landed from the likes of Jawbone and Fitbit back in 2012, it was one of the key areas of interest for those looking to quantify their lives.

Promises of insights into those unknown hours spent in bed were tantalising prospects – especially for those who struggle to sleep, or spend days feeling unnaturally tired.

Essential reading: Best sleep trackers 2020

Clinical mental health therapist and sleep specialist Natalie Pennicotte-Collier told Wareable that bad sleep was a "handbrake on your emotional wellbeing” – and there’s now optimism that wearables can go beyond tracking sleep and actually helping users improve it.

Not living up to early promise

Second coming of sleep tracking: Why sleep wearables means business in 2020

Early sleep tracking tech just didn’t match up to the promise. In fact, the idea of gleaning data on sleep stages, depth and quality simply from movement in our wrists from accelerometers almost seems ludicrous looking back.

But sleep tracking is back with a vengeance. Heart rate sensors (and algorithms) now offer data-driven insights into what our bodies are doing while we sleep.

Fitbit has made great strides with its Sleep Score feature – and now Withings is following suit with the same features (with the same name). We’ve also been impressed by Whoop, which is using sleep to guide recovery for pretty hardcore athletes and those training hard in the gym.

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And now the rise of SpO2 sensors can take a look at the oxygen in our blood streams too – and that’s driving the next evolution of night-time data.

Sleep apnea

Second coming of sleep tracking: Why sleep wearables means business in 2020

The first area that’s going to make headlines is sleep apnea – so expect to hear plenty about that in 2020. Sleep apnea a disorder that affects an estimated 22 million Americans, but the kicker is that most don’t know they suffer with it.

Wearable companies have developed the means to alert users to sleep apnea via measuring blood oxygen – although few have got to the stage of FDA approval for that specific feature.

Thus, Garmin and Fitbit include blood oxygen sensors in many of their devices, which monitor levels while you’re asleep.

However, these stop short of an alert that says “hey, you might have sleep apnea”, generally thanks to a lack of FDA approval.

This was the crux of the Withings ScanWatch announcement at CES, and the company hopes to have approval for its sleep apnea tech in Q2 2020.

However, given that it’s not managed to have its ECG tech approved on the Withings Move ECG from Q2 2019, the company either has inside information or extreme optimism.

Enter Apple?

Second coming of sleep tracking: Why sleep wearables means business in 2020

The lack of a dedicated sleep apnea feature and forcing users to interpret raw blood oxygen data somewhat limits its usefulness – but expect that to change through 2020. Especially if Apple jumps on board.

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It’s thought that Apple has had an SpO2 sensor in the Apple Watch from the beginning – but it hasn’t yet leveraged the data either.

Let’s not forget that the Apple Watch doesn’t yet track sleep natively – although there are third party Apple Watch sleep tracker app – and it's the main feature we’re expecting to land, either from watchOS 7 or The Apple Watch Series 6.

But it’s not just all about sleep apnea.

Fitbit has also introduced snoring alerts – a unique insight into what we’re doing during our sleep.

Sleep headbands – and guided journeys

Second coming of sleep tracking: Why sleep wearables means business in 2020

And brands like Kokoon and Muse have also turned their attention to sleep – both using head-mounted devices with headphones, which are more about getting to sleep than the quality thereof.

The Muse S was a particularly interesting new product from CES, which takes the idea of sleep metrics and uses them to help you get to sleep – rather than report on it.

The guided sleep journeys are audio meditation experiences, which change based on brain activity, heart rate and movement. The sounds adapt to your body state, helping you relax before drifting off.

CES also saw the Philips SmartSleep Deep Sleep Headband 2 – which has much the same sell, albeit with a more medical slant.

Sleep is set to be a major part of the wearable story in 2020 - so watch this space.