Do sleep tracking devices really work and help?


You might have heard the phrase, “there’s an app for that.” Since apps (short for applications) first came onto the scene in 2008, there have been thousands (and thousands… and thousands) of apps created for pretty much every reason imaginable.

Many apps are, of course, are simply distracting and are nothing more than a great waste of time (I’m looking at you, Candy Crush). Others, however can be useful and life changing. For example, there are medical apps that help track blood pressure, apps that help with financial budgeting, or ones that actually help a person increase their productivity.

Somewhere in the grey zone between useful and useless you can find a variety of sleep tracking apps. What exactly are sleep tracking apps, you ask? Let’s get into it.

Sleep tracking apps utilize your phone’s monitors, like the built in accelerometer, to track movements and behaviour to analyze your sleep cycle. It claims it can tell when you are in deep sleep, or REM, versus a lighter sleep stage.

The app then uses the information in a couple of ways. First, most have a built in alarm that will only go off if you are in a lighter sleep stage, so that you are not disturbed from REM sleep. This is meant to improve the quality of sleep a person gets.

It will also compile the information and send it to you in the form of graphs and charts each morning. In turn, you can see long-term patterns over time like when exactly you sleep deepest, or if your sleep was disrupted throughout the night. The idea is that the more information you have, the better it is. And with that, you can make adjustments to your sleep habits so your rest is the best it can be.

Some sleep tracking apps include even more features, like a white noise function if you need that kind of background sound to help you fall asleep in the first place. Others provide space for journal entries so that you can jot down your dreams or your worries to help put your mind at ease if stress is a factor in keeping you awake.

The question is, does this kind of technology help or hinder a person’s sleep?

If you are having trouble sleeping, it might seem reasonable to dig deep and find out as much information about your sleep patterns and habits as you can. The best and most accurate way to monitor your sleep would be to go to a lab and let scientists do their thing. But this is not an option available to most. So, why not check to see if a sleep tracking app is worth your time (and money).

Do remember, however, that increased screen time is often associated with lower sleep quality, and keeping your phone by your head at night can be more distracting than helpful. Also, information overload can make a person feel overwhelmed and lead to feelings of anxiety.

Sleep tracking apps are not medically sound methods of curing sleep disorders, but they are fun to experiment with. If you do decide to try one, take the information you get with a grain of salt. The data is not scientifically sound nor is it 100 percent accurate. But if it helps you rest deeper and sleep more soundly, app away!