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5 Ways to Track — and Improve — Your Sleep

·Special Contributor, Yahoo! Tech

Sleep: It seems instinctual, but recent data shows we are getting worse at meeting our basic sleep needs. To address this problem, a slew of new devices quantify how much and how well we sleep. By tracking and analyzing patterns, they promise to help us alter our habits and improve our sleep.

How well do these devices actually work, and which will best fit your personal needs and preferences? I tried five representative sleep-tracking products.

The Basics
All the sleep trackers I tried cover the basics: when I went to bed, how long it took me to fall asleep, how often in the night I woke up, how long I slept, and when I got out of bed. Although some were less sensitive to nighttime waking than others, all the devices track and categorize sleep as light sleep or deep sleep, with some of the more sophisticated devices also capturing periods of REM sleep.

1. Jawbone UP24, $129
The Jawbone UP24 is a fitness tracker you wear on your wrist that also tracks basic sleep functions. All this data is transferred to a phone app or webpage that graphs sleep patterns. Of the devices I tried, it was the most basic in what it quantified. On the positive side, it’s a tool that many people already own.

One of the first things I noticed when I started using the UP24 was how erratic my bedtimes were. Lack of consistency leads to poor sleep habits, and it was no wonder it often took me a long time to fall asleep.

The UP24 is a Bluetooth device that wirelessly connects to your phone. Other, cheaper bands may require manually plugging them into your phone to transfer data. For the price, this product is a good choice for beginning a sleep regimen.

2. Basis, $199
The Basis is also a fitness tracker you wear on your wrist, and it also syncs wirelessly with an app on your phone. But it offers a few added features that make it a good choice for the restless sleeper. In addition to the basics, it tells you your heart rate while you slept: a good indicator of overall fitness and health.

But more importantly, it tells you how many times in the night you tossed and turned. I was shocked that my number averaged around 30 times a night. You may be wondering, “Why fixate on how badly you sleep?” But by tracking your sleep, you can isolate specific problems, test a change in behavior, and quantify how much of a difference it makes. I tried a thinner pillow and got my toss-and-turn number down to around 22. Knowledge is power!

On the downside, the $149 Basis I tried was pretty chunky, and a couple of times it got uncomfortable in the night. The company has a new Basis Peak model that’s a little thinner, but these are still wearable devices, which may be a deal-breaker for some sleepers. (The new Basis Peak is $199 and is the product I linked to above.)

3. Beddit Sleep Strip, $149
Beddit is a strip that sticks on top of your mattress, underneath your fitted sheet. It wirelessly connects to your phone and reports on basic sleep information, but adds in heart-rate and breathing rate.

How it really distinguishes itself, though, is by reporting your snoring: when you snored, and for how long. I love this because I am accused of snoring like a trucker (an accusation I mightily refute), and on the first night I used Beddit, it reported I snored for only 10 minutes — HA! Vindicated! But then on the second night, I’d had two glasses of wine and my snoring increased to 22 minutes. Oh, well. But again, knowledge is power; on a night of good vino, it’s, “Cheers, and here are some earplugs, honey.”

One note: Sleep apnea runs rampant in my family, and we believe it killed my grandfather. So I want to emphasize that in no way is the Beddit’s snore report a substitute for a conversation with your doctor if you think you have sleep apnea. In fact, all the companies who make these sleep trackers assert that their products are not substitutes or even akin to a sleep clinic, but rather ways to see how lifestyle changes affect your sleep on an everyday basis.

4. S+ from ResMed, $149
The S+ is a wireless tracker that sits on your bedside table to monitor your sleep habits. It reports breathing rate and heart rate. But it differentiates itself in its analysis of deep sleep, REM sleep, and light sleep. 

ResMed not only rates the overall sleep quality but tells you what percentage of recommended deep and REM sleep you get — kind of like learning what percentage of the Recommended Daily Allowance of a vitamin you’re getting.

I also really liked the S+’s Mind Clear feature, a nice add-on for those who suffer from insomnia. If I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep, it’s often because I suffer from monkey-brain: recursive thoughts of what I need to do, someone I’ve no doubt offended, or overarching anxieties. The Mind Clear feature in ResMed lets you type out or record a voice message listing the things that are keeping you awake. I have found this freeing, and it often allows me to go back to sleep more easily.

5. Sleep Number Bed SleepIQ, $999
If you are in the market for a bed and are considering the Sleep Number beds, their built-in sleep tracking is a nice feature. It creates two accounts, one for you and one for your partner. It has incredibly detailed sleep information including heart rate, breathing rate, and movement.

What distinguishes the SleepIQ system is that it allows you to compare your sleep patterns to your partner’s. This can help show how different bedtimes and rising times, along with restless sleep on the other side of the bed, may affect your own sleep.