Tracking Sleep with an App

How to improve your sleep with an app

Teeth brushed? Check. Pillow fluffed? Check. Electronics turned off? Maybe not all of them.

If you monitor your sleep with a sleep tracking device, you might be breaking the cardinal rule of electronics in the bedroom, but for a good cause, right? Only if you’re actually getting better sleep because of it. Every morning, you can check the app tied to your sleep tracker and see a bunch of data. But numbers don’t instantly lead to better sleep. Here’s what you need to know in order to use that fancy app to improve your healthy sleep habits.

Best Apps to Help Sleeping
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Understand how sleep apps work

Search “sleep” in your smartphone’s app store, and you’ll scroll forever. Most of the sleep apps that can actually track your sleep are those tied to fitness wearables, like the wristbands that can count your steps, calories burned and more. When you sleep with a wearable on, it sends data to the app on your phone or computer. But there are also apps connected to sleep-specific wearables, apps that get data simply from placing your smartphone on your bed, and those that integrate with smart beds.

Read the data carefully

The only way any of these apps can help make a difference is if you actually look over the data each day from the night before. Make sure it’s accurate and adjust accordingly. Why might it be inaccurate? Well, most devices track sleep by movement. Hit the sack early and watch three hours of Netflix before dozing off, and many sleep apps will give you credit for sleeping while you binge. Dr. Anthony Warren, sleep researcher with BreatheSimple, notes that those that also use sound to monitor sleep can be thrown off by a partner’s snoring, as well as their movement. So to get an accurate read on your sleep data, be sure the numbers seem to line up with reality.

How to Improve Sleep with an App
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Track your behavior data, too

Your app can crunch your biological data, but you’re the one who knows when you’ve had an afternoon coffee, an evening glass of wine or a fight with your spouse. If you want to make sense of changing sleep data, keep track of any behavior you engage in during the day that could affect your sleep.

Look for patterns

Now that you’re awash in numbers, play data detective to sleuth out what’s going on with your shut eye. Are you up too late on Sundays with work anxiety? Is your Saturday cocktail tripping your weekend sleep? These and other patterns can help clue you in to things you might need to adjust in your sleep routine. Maybe you need to schedule a massage on Sundays or skip the weekend cocktail.

How to Use a Sleep App
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Track sleep while away

Turn off your work email while you’re on vacation, but not the sleep app. One great thing about using a wearable sleep tracker is you can find out how well you sleep away from home. If you sleep really well in a hotel, that may tip you off about what changes you may want to make to your regular sleep environment.

Compare yourself—to a degree

Finally, most apps compare your data to thousands of other users and rank your sleep patterns accordingly. It’s fun to know if you get more sleep than 90 percent of other 35-year-old women who are tracking theirs—or you’re more restless than most. If it turns out you’re sleeping better than most, but still feel sleepy, it might be time to turn to a professional for help. But it’s important to remember that everyone has unique sleep needs, so don’t make huge changes based on comparison data alone.

While there are plenty of different sleep apps out there, and they work in many different ways, often the most important factor in using them to improve your sleep isn’t a feature of the app, but you. Track and analyze your data carefully, make smart changes, and a sleep app can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.

Written by Jennifer Nelson

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