Sleep. Those lost hours fascinate us, and the insights offered by sleep monitors and fitness trackers give us new ways to think about how well we're resting.
Scientists have been mapping our sleep patterns for years and agree that good diet, low stress and plenty of exercise can help us sleep better. But in a constantly connected world filled with deadlines, dramas, snoring loved ones and screaming children, getting a good rest can be nigh on impossible.
So can connected technology come to the rescue? We've tracked down the very best in sleep technology, and tested five sleep tracking devices that promise to make your nights longer, mornings easier and even tackle snoring partners. These are the sleep trackers that made the cut.
The Aura is a complete kit for those who regularly suffer from poor sleep – but it's good even if you just fancy a gentler way to drift off and wake up. It works by tracking your sleep patterns and then waking you up during your lightest sleep phase, thereby trying to prevent bear-with-a-sore-head syndrome.
The visible part of the system is a strange-looking bedside lamp that monitors your sleeping environment (noise pollution and temperature) while soothing you with new age sounds and gentle, slowly fluctuating light patterns. Meanwhile, a thin sensor pad under the mattress monitors your sleep patterns throughout the night and sends all the data it collects – heart rate, motion and respiration – to the bedside lamp device which then calculates the most efficient time to gently rouse you from slumber. It also helps you fall asleep by emitting a red glow and playing your choice of music or radio station – both of which gradually fade out.
Essential reading: Sleep monitors explained – rest longer and feel better
Dedicated iOS and Android apps let you visualise your sleep patterns and program preferred light sequences and music. The Aura, one of just a handful of sensor-equipped sleep trackers, works much more efficiently than the surfeit of wristband versions out there, but then it is a lot more expensive. Still, the Aura's accuracy makes it worth checking out, and we found that the light effect does help with drifting off. Note that the lamp can be bought with or without the sleep tracking pad – get them together if you want to monitor those zzzs.
Read our in-depth Withings Aura review for more.
S+ by ResMed
Like the Aura, the S+ is a pretty large device that sits on your night stand to track your sleep – but unlike the Aura, nothing sits under your mattress. Instead it uses sonar, and those ultrasonic pulses can see straight through your blanket (and PJs) to monitor the movement of your chest as your breathe your way through the different stages of sleep.
Our testing has shown the accuracy isn't always spot-on when it comes to picking up movements. Where it excels is in its sleep coaching, asking you to tell the app how much caffeine you've had, how stressed you've been, and other factors that may affect your sleep. This then feeds into the sleep tracking data, helping ResMed to coach you with better context. We also found the 'Relax to Sleep' function, which sounds with your breathing to help you drift off, to work well.
It can also use your respiratory rhythm to match the tempo of music it plays while lulling you to sleep. However instead of using the speaker on the S+, it actually plays out of your phone so you'll need the handset nearby. That shouldn't be a problem if it's already charging on your night stand.
Read our full S+ sleep tracker review for more.
Sense with voice
Sense is a sleep tracker that, rather than strapping to your wrist, clips onto your pillow instead. The Pill unit detects the amount of movement you make during the night and the processing is done by the unit pictured.
It receives the information from the Pill and collates it together with environmental factors for a complete profile of your nightly routing and sources that might be affecting it. We've spent some time with the original sense, which tracked temperature, ambient light and noise, but the new Sense with Voice also keeps an eye on carbon dioxide levels, UV light, volatile organic compounds, barometric pressure and light temperature.
No points for guessing the new model also lets you use voice to set alarms and get sleep reports. While the features are great, we were a bit disappointed with the data presented after use in the first version. Hopefully that's better in the new model.
To learn more about the original, read our full Sense sleep tracker review.
Withings Steel HR
Most of the very best sleep trackers come in either band form or a device that sits on your nightstand. But what if you wanted something that looked a little more traditional, like a hybrid watch? That's where the Withings Steel HR comes in.
The Steel HR's automatic sleep tracking is one of the device's strong suits. In fact, it's so strong that it still worked well even if the heart rate tracking during sleep was a bit iffy. Unlike other automatic sleep trackers, the sleep and wake times were spot on, too.
Read our full Withings Steel HR review to see how the rest of it shapes up.
Beddit Smart 3
Based on something health professionals call ballistocardiography (BCG), the third generation Beddit Smart ultra-thin sensor tucks under your bed sheets and gathers data on sleep quality, duration, heart rate and respiration rate. The Beddit 3 adds automatic sleep tracking that no longer relies on the GPS, but uses pressure sensors to detect when you're in bed.
The sensor itself sits under the top sheet of your bed and is covered in fabric, making it easier to keep it in place without having to stick it down. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy to connect to your smartphone, which harvests the data and gives you a report in the morning. We found the Beddit 3 to be impressively accurate in our testing, picking up most bouts of restlessness and elevated heart rate. It also fed back useful tips we could apply to improve our sleep.
Read this: The best sleep tracker apps for Apple Watch
Perhaps above all, we liked how little input it needed. As long as it's plugged in, all you need to do each night is go to bed. All the tracking is synced with your smartphone, without you having to press anything or open any app.
The Beddit 3 is also integrated with eClinicalWorks and Healow, an electronic healthcare record service with more than 115,000 physicians across the US. For an additional cost you'll be able to get a two-week report from Beddit providing all the nitty gritty details of your sleep habits that can be shared with a healthcare professional.
Among the fitness trackers, Misfit Ray beats out a lot of the competition when it comes to sleep monitoring accuracy. Like the Withings Aura, the Ray is fairly accurate even on the wrist, although it's certainly not perfect.
Features are slim, but it's good at telling when you've nodded off pretty much immediately – and when you've woken up. There are also timed sleep sounds on the app and a smart alarm.
Read our full Misfit Ray review to see how the fitness tracker shapes up for sleep tracking.
Fitbit Charge 2 / Fitbit Alta HR
Fitbit is going big on sleep, and two of its best devices are very good choices if you're looking for a wrist-worn tracker. Both the Fitbit Alta HR and Charge 2 support Sleep Stages, so they can track whether you're in light, deep or REM sleep and give you actionable insights the next morning on how to improve your sleep. Plus, you can benchmark your results against people of a similar demographic.
If you need a lot more detailed metrics on your activity beyond sleep, the Charge 2 is the model you're going to want to go with. It's got support for things like VO2 Max, cardio fitness level and Relax guided breathing. If you need something a lot more simple and a good deal slimmer, there's the Alta HR, which also happens to be Fitbit's best-looking device. When it comes to sleep though, both do the same.
Misfit Shine 2
With virtually all fitness bands already boasting a sleep tracking mode it can be difficult to choose one that does it better than the rest. They all offer very similar motion sensing, REM sleep phase tracking and a host of graphs and tables keeping you informed, but for sheer comfort while you sleep the Misfit Shine 2 is hard to beat.
Almost impossibly small and light, it can be worn on your wrist, as a pendant or clipped onto your pyjamas, and most importantly you won't notice it's there. Plus with no bulky edges you'll not roll onto it or catch your partner with it.
Read our full Misfit Shine 2 review for more.
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