How sleep trackers can improve your bedrest

What's the best way to use fitness trackers to get a better night's sleep?

The best sleep trackers
(Image credit: Canva Photos)

Most of today's top fitness trackers and fitness watches offer sleep tracking functionality. Whether you're a Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch or Oppo Watch person, you'll be able to record how well you've slept over the course of the night. 

Most commercial fitness trackers break things down into simple scores, like the ratio of time spent awake, in light sleep and deep sleep. That's all well and good, but how can you actually use this information?

To start with, there's no qualms about accuracy. Commercially-available fitness trackers like those from Garmin are "closer in approximations to self-reported sleep outcomes than a previously sleep research-grade device" according to a study from the University of Nebraska. Which means the tool on your wrist is as good a fitness tracker, or better, as the ones used by actual scientists to monitor sleep in clinical studies. 

So, one of the best ways to look at your sleeping patterns is to keep a food diary for a week and compare the results with your sleep tracker. Did you have a large pizza and a few beers on a Friday? 

You might have slept worse because of it: alcohol not only interferes with our sleep, but it also acts as a diuretic, which can drive us to need a wee in the middle of the night. Likewise for stimulants like coffee and soft drinks: in the evening, we often forget drinks like cola contain caffeine.

On the other hand, if you ate a healthy dinner and a glass of water, or drank a herbal tea before going to bed, your fitness tracker might show you slept better. By identifying potential cause-and-effect relationships in your diet, you can begin to "hack" your diet to produce better sleep. 

Woman reading in bed before going to sleep

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The same applies to your exercise schedule. Does your fitness tracker report more, or less sleep if you exercise in the evening compared to the morning? A report from Harvard University suggests that you can exercise in the evening as long as you avoid vigorous activity for at least one hour before bedtime. 

You can begin to conduct little experiments on yourself with this data, designed to identify the different things interfering with your sleep. Whether it's a late cup of coffee or time spent scrolling on your phone, by recording your habits and comparing them to your sleep tracker's data, you'll be able to identify what's interfering with your bedrest. 

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