Sleep tracking apps gain popularity, benefits outweigh drawbacks


Nitya Thakkar

There are currently many sleep tracking apps available for free or purchase. Additionally, certain smartwatch brands, such as Fitbit and Apple Watch offer sleep tracking features.

On average, humans spend one-third of their life sleeping, yet approximately one-third of adults do not get enough sleep. Often disregarded as important in many people’s busy and active lives, sleep plays a vital role in physical and mental health.

Many stages encompass one’s sleep at night. REM sleep, which typically occurs later at night, has been shown to be important for memory and mood. During this stage, dreams are more vivid, heart rate is elevated and breathing is faster. REM sleep is supposed to make up 15-25% of night’s sleep. Light sleep typically makes up 40-60% of your night and promotes mental and physical restoration. Lastly, deep sleep, which comprises 15-25% of one’s sleep, helps with physical recovery and aspects of memory and learning.

Until recently, gaining insight into the various stages of sleep one cycles through has been near impossible; however, the creation of new technology through the form of sleep tracking apps has helped users gain knowledge about their sleep patterns.

Numerous apps are currently available for free or purchase that aim to track one’s sleep and provide better insight into how well one sleeps. Some examples include Sleep Cycle alarm clock, Calm, Headspace: Meditation and White Noise Sleep Pillow Sound. Many sleep tracker apps work by asking the user to place their phone near their bed, and then the apps track movements and sound to determine their sleep stages. Furthermore, smartwatch brands such as Apple Watch and Fitbit often offer sleep tracking capabilities that rely on heart rate to pinpoint one’s sleep stages during the night.

Sleep tracking apps offer many benefits, such as knowledge about what time the user actually falls asleep and how restless they are at night. However, there are drawbacks to using these apps. Due to their inability to monitor much more than breathing patterns, movement or heart rate (a feature only plausible with some devices), the data can often be inaccurate. Additionally, the sleep data from a user could be sold to larger big-data companies, bringing up questions regarding privacy. Despite their limitations, sleep tracker apps offer an opportunity for users to gain better insight into their long-term sleeping patterns and adjust their habits to attain more restful sleep.