Just as fitness trackers have become ubiquitous on wrists across the U.S., more and more people are now implementing sleep trackers in an effort to understand and improve their sleep habits. One survey found that 28 percent of participants utilized a mobile app to track their sleep, while another (less formal) survey found that 73 percent of respondents who track sleep do so using wearable tech.
But even though consumer awareness of sleep trackers is on the rise, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what these tools can and cannot do. So let’s clear a few things up. Once you have a better understanding of the potential benefits and limitations of sleep trackers, you’ll be more equipped to decide whether and how to implement a tracker in pursuit of better sleep.
Sleep trackers can come in several forms, from wearable trackers, to non-wearable technology (aka “contactless” trackers, which can take the form of everything from pillows to mattress covers to standalone monitors), to smartphone apps (which may be standalone or partner with wearable trackers). No matter the form, sleep trackers aren’t the end-all be-all of sleep health. But they can offer a number of benefits:
Bottom line? Because sleep trackers increase the odds that people will, well, track their sleep, this also increases the likelihood that sleep will remain top of mind. This means people are more likely to pay attention to their sleep habits, identify issues as they arise, and (ideally) make lifestyle changes that may enhance their chances of enjoying sound, consistent sleep.
Sleep trackers can make it easier to track your overall sleep patterns, which can encourage a healthier lifestyle and help you make sleep a priority. That said, there are also several limitations of sleep trackers:
Because of these limitations—most notably the lack of diagnostic capabilities—in 2018 the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released a position statement asserting that consumers and doctors should not utilize these tools for diagnosing sleep disorders. The statement also notes that very few trackers are regulated or scientifically validated.
None of this is to say that sleep trackers are useless. As noted above, they can be very effective in helping people prioritize and better understand their sleep. But it is still important to be aware of their limitations. By knowing the benefits and drawbacks of these tools, you can put them to the best possible use for you.