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How to Use a Sleep Tracker to Improve Your Sleep Tonight


If you’re struggling to sleep at night, watching the hours tick by can be torture. You might count 7 hours to go before you need to get up for that big meeting in the morning, but after lying awake and anxious you only have 5 hours to sleep. Give it a little longer and then, with horror, you realize only 2 hours of sleep are now in the realm of possibility.  

Introducing a sleep tracker can reduce or eliminate that dreaded clock-watching at night. The device can take over, telling you how much you’ve slept and a wide variety of data indicating your sleep quality. We’ll cover what a sleep tracker measures, why you may want to use one and how to track your sleep. 

What is a sleep tracker?

A wearable sleep tracker on a woman's wrist showing her heart rate.

Andrey Popov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

A sleep tracker is a device that measures when and how well you sleep. They tend to be devices you strap around your wrist, clip onto your pillow or even sit next to your bed at night. Some examples of sleep trackers include Garmin, Apple Watch, Oura Ring or sleep apps like SleepScore or SleepWatch.     

Sleep trackers can record metrics related to your sleep, like how long you’ve been asleep and overall sleep quality. Some even track external factors such as the amount of light in the room or the room temperature, which can affect sleep. You might also find devices that help you enter activities that impact sleep, like caffeine consumption. 

Benefits of a sleep tracker 

  • Track sleep patterns: Monitor your sleeping habits, such as when you usually fall asleep and wake up. 
  • Understand how well you’re sleeping: Sleep trackers can measure how often you’re hitting phases of deep sleep, whether you’re tossing and turning or how many times you wake up in the night. 
  • Track your sleep environment: If you have a device that measures light, temperature or other factors of the environment, you can work on adjusting your sleeping area for more quality sleep. 
  • Keep track of what is affecting your sleep: Entering lifestyle factors like caffeine consumption, eating schedules or even stress levels can give you insight into why you might not be sleeping as well.  
  • Set alarms in time with your natural sleep rhythm: Some sleep trackers allow you to set an alarm that syncs with your natural sleep rhythms so you’re waking up during lighter periods of sleep.
  • Reduce sleep anxiety: You may sleep better knowing a device is tracking any potential issues rather than putting pressure on you to keep track of your own insomnia symptoms. 

5 steps to tracking your sleep

Apple Watch Series 8 next to Oura ring on a blue patterned background

The Apple Watch and Oura ring both track your sleep.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

To make sure you’re getting the most out of your sleep tracker, below are some tips on how to use it properly.   

1. Wear your device each night 

Make it part of your nightly routine to use the sleep tracker. It might be easy to forget at first or assume you only need it on nights when you’re struggling to sleep. But using it every night can help you record long-term data that reveals patterns showing what is helping you sleep and what is getting in the way.   

2. Place it correctly and keep it secure  

Make sure to follow the instructions on how the sleep tracker should be used. Many are wearable devices on the wrist. Make sure it is secure so it records accurately. Some attach to the pillow, so make sure it’s well attached to the pillow. Some even sit beside the bed, but make sure you’re putting it close enough to the bed.  

3. Program in any data the device asks for  

Read the instructions to see what the device automatically tracks and what you need to enter. You may have to manually enter sleep time and awake time, for instance. You might also have to enter data from your daytime routine or record other metrics like stress levels. Try to be as complete as possible so you can get the most accurate analysis of your sleep patterns.    

4. Work with the alarm settings 

As mentioned above, some trackers allow you to set an alarm that works with your natural sleep rhythms. If the device allows you to wake up when you’re in a lighter sleep stage, you might consider setting the alarm. The idea is this alarm schedule makes it easier to wake up.    

5. Keep a log of your sleep data or look at the long-term analysis on the device  

To get the most out of the device, make sure to look at patterns in your log for several days, weeks or even months. Sleep trackers tend to keep track of your sleep data and show you patterns over time right on the device or app. By monitoring this data, you can identify patterns that disrupt or help sleep.   

6. Get a design that works for you 

Many sleep trackers secure to the wrist. However, wearing a device on the wrist can cause discomfort for some people. This is especially true if you sleep in a position where your arms are placed under your body or the pillow. Similarly, if you toss and turn a lot at night, a device that clips to the pillow could easily slip off. For some cases, it might make more sense to choose a tracker type that sits next to the bed at night.   

Does tracking sleep improve sleep? 

It’s important to remember that sleep trackers themselves will not cure any sleep problems or even sleep disorders. 

What a sleep tracker can do is give you insight into how you’re sleeping and potential causes for sleep disturbances. It could turn out that whenever you drink caffeine, for example, you tend to wake up more frequently. The sleep tracker could give you the hard data to show that’s a potential explanation for what’s happening. You can then limit caffeine intake or try drinking it earlier in the day. The sleep tracker might also tell you if that adjustment led to fewer sleep disruptions at night.     

If adjusting your sleep habits doesn’t help, no matter how many better sleep tricks you use, you will still need to consult with a doctor to make sure you’re addressing any underlying problems that are leading to sleep issues. You can also share the sleep tracker data with your doctor. 


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