Once upon a time — a very long time — I used to sleep well. After too many restless nights, I decided something needed to be done. I changed my diet, my exercise routine, and a lot more to try and figure out the problem, but without any hard data it was all speculation. A few key pieces of technology helped me figure out what I was doing right and wrong, and how pretty much anyone can do it, too, for practically no money.There are plenty of opinions about how you can sleep better, and most of them are probably right for someone, but it’s hard to know which ones are right for you with all the variables in the mix. You could pay to spend a night or two at a sleep clinic, but that’s going to cost you quite a bit and it’ll never feel like you’re sleeping at home. Seeing as you can’t watch yourself sleep, however, that was pretty much your only option until recently. Now there are a few sleep tracking tools that actually provide you with a pretty good picture of what’s happening while you’re unconscious. While these tools may not be as detailed as a sleep clinic, they can give you a good overview of how restful the night was and you can use this information to figure out what causes sleep problems for you and how you can have a more restful night. I tested four different sleep tracking products that ranged from free to almost $US200, all of which are sufficient for the task. I’m going to walk through how they worked for me and what I learned, and then we’ll talk about using them to figure out how you can sleep better.
The Sleep Tracking Tech
I tried four different sleep trackers which can be split into two pairs: smartphone apps and dedicated sleep tracking gadgets.
The Cheap Method: Sleep Tracking Apps
While the apps don’t differ much, Sleep Bot Tracker offers slightly more analysis than Sleep Cycle (like sleep debt calculations) and a few added features (such as a homescreen widget and multiple alarms). Sleep Bot Tracker can also completely silence your phone while in use, which is a big help. (Trust me, it’s not fun waking up to a vibrating pillow.) That said, they both get the job done for either no money or hardly any at all.
The Slightly Better Method: Sleep Tracking Gadgets
The Wakemate is the cheaper of the two because you’re essentially paying for a wristband and nothing else. To use all the functionality it provides, you need an Android phone or tablet, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. You wear it around your wrist at night, set an alarm on your phone (if you want to), and sync up the data in the morning. It’s very easy to use and you only have to charge the battery (via USB) every few days. When you sync your data with your smartphone or tablet, the free Wakemate app uploads that data to their servers where you can log in and view a detailed analysis of your sleep.
The Zeo is more expensive (by $US130) because you get everything in the box. It comes with a very nice alarm clock that also charges the sleep tracking headband you wear at night. The clock saves your sleep data on an SD card automatically and you can use the included card reader to transfer the information to your computer for further processing. When you wake up in the morning and take the headband off, you can just place it on top of the clock and magnets will hold it on the charging platform.
Both devices offer alarms that attempt to wake you up when its sensors detect you’re in a lighter phase of sleep, track your motion and activity during the night, and provide a detailed analysis of that data through their web site. The difference that mattered the most to me — and what I think will matter most for the majority of people — is that the Wakemate is worn on your wrist and not around your head. While the Zeo is more comfortable than you’d expect, you can only be so comfortable with a plastic device strapped to your head. The Wakemate sits around your wrist and I found very pleasant to wear at night. It was the first sleep tracker I tested and I continued to wear it while testing the others because, after a while, I felt like something was missing when it wasn’t there. The Wakemate also transferred its data wirelessly to my phone, which is a device I already knew how to use. While the Zeo isn’t complicated, it still has a slight learning curve. You also probably don’t want to take a large clock with you when travelling. The Wakemate will fit in your pocket.
While both devices were perfectly serviceable, the Wakemate was more comfortable, a little easier to use, and a lot cheaper.
How to Actually Use Tech to Improve Your Sleep
These devices will give you a good overview of how you slept but they can only tell you so much about how to improve. You have to be proactive in using the data to figure out what’s working for you and what isn’t. I tried a lot of different things and was surprised by what I learned.
How can you figure out what you need to do?
Tag Your Sleep
Figuring Out What Tests To Try
The important thing is that you put in the (minimal) effort to track your efforts and try many different things — even things that may seem irrelevant, like altering the temperature in your bedroom. While I’m still continuing to collect more data to find the perfect environment and situation for my perfect night sleep, I’ve already learned a lot of useful information in the past five weeks. It takes patience and a bit of work, you can use these tools to help solve your sleep problems so long as you’re willing to take the time.