Tracking your Sleep

Feb 6, 2022

Dr. Darren Bowles

Can tracking your sleep change your life?

When you consider that nearly 30% of the population experiences significant disruption to their sleep on a weekly basis, it may be no surprise that this is a question being asked by a growing number of people. The 70 million Americans suffering from a sleep disorder before the COVID-19 pandemic count many more among their ranks, as recent global events have done nothing but stoke the flames of the sleep crisis.

Many of the millions of people suffering from a sleep disorder have turned to sleep trackers or wearable devices in an attempt to remedy their sleep, with an estimated 40% of people owning a wearable device in the Western World.

This is a fact that has not escaped the sleep industry, which is a behemoth valued at over 400 billion dollars. You may have noticed an explosion in the ‘sleep-tech’ space over the last 5 years, as apps and programs are attempting to revolutionize your sleep and covet your hard earned cash.

So are wearables up to the tall task of tackling the world’s sleep issues?

To best answer this question, let’s have a look at how sleep is tracked.

How is sleep measured?

The 1970’s saw the first wave of wearable sleep tracking. At this time, sleep was measured with a technique known as sleep actigraphy, and measurements were confined primarily to laboratory settings.

Sleep Actigraphy is the measurement of your movements as you sleep and, based on your movements, it attempts to conclude:

  1. When you fall asleep

  2. When you wake up

  3. How long you fall asleep for

  4. How often you wake during the night

But how do these compare to laboratory testing?

If you’re interested in your total sleep time (TST), then sleep actigraphy get it right about 90% of the time. However, if you're a poor sleeper waking up several times in the night, sleep actigraphy can be less than 50% sensitive when it comes to detecting your wakeful periods.

Thankfully, the world of sleep tracking is evolving and the ability of technology today far surpasses that of tech in the 70’S. You may have noticed companies like Oura, Whoop and Eight Sleep pioneering innovation in this space.

Along with sleep actigraphy, these new wearables are combining other metrics like your heart rate, breathing rate and HRV (heart rate variability) to hone in on the accuracy of sleep tracking and improve your sleep quality.

We dove into the metrics of sleep quality here - but, to recap, sleep quality refers to:

  • Timing Sleep Timing refers to matching your sleep with your natural rhythm

  • Sleep Latency How long it takes you to fall asleep once you’re in bed.

  • Sleep Waking The amount of times you wake up during the night.

  • Wakefulness The amount of time you are awake.

  • Sleep Efficiency The amount of time you’re actually sleeping.

  • Sleep Staging The amount of time spent in each stage.

  • Sleep Time The amount of hours/minutes you slept for.

Throw your Oura ring in a head to head with laboratory conditions (polysomnogram (PSG)) and chances are it will overestimate your deep sleep and underestimate the amount of times you wake during the night, but, on a higher level, it holds it's own against PSG in independent reviews.

If good enough is not good enough, you may find a solution in the MUSE S headband, which mimics the capabilities of an EEG by measuring your brain waves with in-built trackers.

However, you can still harness meaningful insights into your sleep with whatever your chosen device (within reason) is. Let’s talk more about this.

Is tracking your sleep beneficial?

This is a question on the lips of a growing number of wearable consumers

You slept for 6 hours last night. You got a sleep score of 60.... now what?

Simply wearing a sleep tracker and being aware of the information it gathers will not improve your sleep health. In fact, in many cases, it can do the opposite - as looking at the data with no context can cause considerable anxiety. You may even know of some people who suffer from a condition called ‘orthosomnia’, a condition classified as an unhealthy obsession with sleep.

So what do you do with the information you glean from your wearables?

Answering this question is exactly our goal at Cambrean. At Cambrean, we know that measuring your health data introduces opportunity to bring in meaningful intervention. Cambrean aggregates your data, contextualises your data and generates meaningful insights - making Cambrean your vehicle in moving away from asking Why? to understanding exactly How.

What wearables measure sleep?

What you put in, you get out.

Although usually said in the context of grabbing life by the horns, this mantra is commonly repeated throughout the wearable world.

It is imperative that you know what you want to get out of your tracking device and what you’re willing to spend to get it:

  • Interested in total sleep time and want a built in, on demand ECG? Withings may be your best option.

  • Want a sleep tracker with the capabilities of a mobile phone? Galaxy Watch / Apple Watch may be your best bet.

How to improve your sleep?

We’ve covered the basics of improving your sleep in our blog - How to hack your sleep.

Some of our favourite ways to improve our sleep include:

  1. Avoiding Social Jetlag

  2. Keeping last meal 3 hours before sleep

  3. No screens 30 minutes before bed

If you’re interested, take the next step. Aggregate all your data in Cambrean and get the insights you need to unlock your health.