The Optimized Gentleman

Are Sleep Trackers Accurate For Measuring Sleep Quality?

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With the overabundance of sleep trackers on the market, the world’s recently witnessed a blossoming interest in using them. Their main purpose is to track how many hours of sleep we get every day and the details of our unique sleep cycles.

Especially in recent years, many of us have grown concerned about our sleeping habits. Mainly because nearly one in three people complain of not getting enough sleep, (especially adults)!

But, how accurate are these trackers, lots of men committed to health and fitness like to use? Are they even accurate or helpful in the first place? Let’s put an end to these lingering questions.

The Short Answer

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If you’ve wondered whether sleep trackers actually work, or are accurate enough to rely on, the answer is… well, not really. Sleep trackers are only accurate ~78% of the time in tracking how long you spent sleeping. And only ~38% of the time when telling you how long it takes to fall asleep.

These statistics are based on a comparison with polysomnography tests, used to diagnose sleep disorders. These odds of tracking success aren’t too great – but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them!

They can be a pretty good starting point to catching more, and higher-quality, shuteye. Let’s learn more about where and how these inaccuracies could happen…

Are Sleep Trackers An Accurate Tool for Men?

While we’re grateful to sleep trackers for bringing our attention to the importance of sleep and getting enough of it… We still need to pay equal attention to whether these trackers provide us with real value.

And the first part of that, is to consider whether these sleep trackers are accurate.

The Skepticism Around Their Accuracy

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There have been long-standing doubts about the accuracy of sleep trackers. To understand why that is, you must understand how sleep trackers work.

In a nutshell, they use algorithms to “estimate” your sleep duration by monitoring your body movements – determining the time you spent awake, versus what time you spent sleeping.

Other trackers operate by analyzing heart rate changes during your sleep. This helps pinpoint the time you spent in each sleeping stage.

Other Factors Sleep Trackers Use:

  • detecting noise using built-in microphones (when it’s quiet, you’re probably sleeping),
  • respiration tracking for snoring, and
  • variations in heart rate, light sensors, and even temperature (using thermostat features)

Simply put, it’s been concluded that apps and devices can’t possibly track sleep, just by monitoring heart rate and body movement. The accurate way to do so, is to monitoring brain activity instead.

Accordingly, since you wear the sleep tracker on your wrist, and since it’s only human nature to move frequently during all stages of our sleep, our body movements aren’t sufficient to provide detailed insights into our sleep stages. Not to mention, countless sleep trackers aren’t able to distinguish one sleep stage from another based on just movement and motion.

Lastly, the precise algorithms manufacturers use to make sleep predictions and provide insights aren’t made available to the public. This makes it quite challenging to give a clear-cut answer on whether the insights we receive are actually valid.

A Few More Factors That Could Trip Up Sleep Trackers:

  • A partner or sibling’s movement,
  • Natural sleep movements could be mistaken as wakefulness,
  • Disturbed sleep could be mistaken as wakefulness,
  • Even just laying in bed could be mistaken as sleep,
  • Calm, deep breathing could be mistaken as sleep,

Do you see where the skepticism is coming from?

These examples and more are precisely what led to a lawsuit against Fitbit in 2012, revealing that the company’s trackers overestimate sleep by more than an hour, which makes a lot of difference!

That said, sleep trackers with heart rate data are generally slightly more accurate than those without, because heart rate does fluctuate throughout the different sleep stages. However, the research is still limited in this area. The idea that the differences between sleep trackers are immense, also doesn’t help give a one-size-fits-all answer.

To be fair, you’ll find that all manufacturers are exerting tremendous effort to ensure data accuracy and testing the devices in sleep labs, in order to validate the data against clinical standards. While yes, the technology is progressing and improving, the discrepancy between results is still very large, and the overestimation and underestimation continue.

Why Is Sleep Data Important, Anyway?

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While the issue of sleep trackers not being accurate can be a bummer, the natural question that follows is whether or not it’s a big deal.

The reality is, that regardless of whether they provide accurate data or not, sleeping isn’t just about how long you sleep or how many hours you spend in each sleep stage – it’s more complex than that.

Let’s say you spend less time than you should in the REM stage…

How can you dictate how much time to spend in REM and not, in light sleep? Is it really in your control? At the end of the day, the data you get from sleep trackers isn’t actionable – therefore, using them – there isn’t as much you can do to improve your sleep quality.

How Sleep Trackers Can Make It Worse:

If anything, the results of using sleep trackers can be the exact opposite of improvement.

For some men, such sleep data can lead to anxiety and obsession over it. This is doubly true if you come from a statistics, or engineering background!

A 2015 study found that since the use of wearable sleep tracking devices, more people have been “self-diagnosing” with sleep disturbances, based solely on their sleep data – seeking treatment!

So, in fact, knowing your sleep data can sometimes lead to more sleep issues, because of all the “sleep-related” obsession and anxiety that come with it. There’s even a term for that: orthosomnia.

Here’s how that can happen:

  • Checking the data too often,
  • Comparing the data with “averages” & “standards”,
  • Feeling that you’re getting enough sleep but finding that the data says otherwise,
  • Trusting the data over your own instincts,
  • Becoming preoccupied with sleep optimization, leading to insomnia,

Related Sleep Tracker Questions

Do Sleep Tracking Apps Really Work?

Similar to sleep trackers, sleep-tracking technology apps collect data based on your body movement through motion-sensing technology. Therefore, the data isn’t too precise, (especially if you shift around a lot while sleeping!)

How Do Sleep Trackers Know When You’re Asleep?

Several factors come into play for sleep trackers to conclude that you’re asleep. The main one is body movement.

Using actigraphy or accelerometry (the same tech your phone uses to guide you on Google Maps or rotate to landscape mode), sleep trackers measure your movements, because we all tend to be more still when sleeping.

How Does the ‘Smart Alarm’ Feature Work?

This feature wakes you up (by vibrating on your wrist) during the lightest stage of your sleep.

However, for it to work, you must determine the timeframe during which you want to wake up (based on suggestions from insights on your history and heart rate data) it’ll proceed to buzz you.

In Conclusion: Should Men Be Tracking Sleep?

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So, at the end of the day, should you use sleep trackers to track your sleep?

Our suggestion is YES… but to a certain extent.

Don’t rely on your sleep tracker’s data for total accuracy – instead, use it as a reference point! We’re not saying sleep trackers aren’t useful – quite the opposite, actually.

They should instead as as a light benchmark.

The silver lining is that sleep trackers have enabled us to understand the importance of quality sleep. And to get a heads-up when our sleep schedules are irregular. Or maybe even prioritize more sleep (to a reasonable extent) when needed, which is something we often neglect to do in today’s hectic world.

At T.O.G., we get it. We know you’ll be working tirelessly on your purpose. But grabbing enough quality sack time is essential for full mental and physical recovery!

If used moderately, sleep trackers can lead to enhanced sleep behaviors and meaningful connections with our bodies. This is great for those wishing to establish a better sleeping routine. Plus, we’re sure these trackers will continue to be upgraded until they’re 100% accurate and reliable.

However, if you’re a guy with sleep disorders, or suffer from poor sleep… or have any other mental health condition – we’d genuinely advise you to steer clear of sleep trackers.

Overusing them, in your case, could lead to increased anxiety and insomnia. That’s been the case for even men without sleep issues, so you don’t want to heighten your chances of obsessing over it.

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