I tried tracking my sleep using 3 free Apple Watch apps — and there was a clear winner
- The Apple Watch can't track sleep natively, but there are a host of third-party apps in the App Store that can turn your watch into a sleep monitor.
- Several of these apps provide basic functionality, like monitoring how long you've slept, the quality of your sleep, and your heart rate for free, but charge for more advanced features.
- Of the three free apps I tried to track my sleep, I found SleepWatch to be the most comprehensive.
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The importance of sleep cannot be understated. It plays a critical role in everything from our emotional state to how well we're able to focus throughout the day and our long-term health.
Thanks to the proliferation of devices and apps designed to monitor our sleep, it's easier than ever for anyone with a smartphone to keep track of sleep trends over time. Wearable devices like trackers and watches from Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin provide an even closer perspective on the quality and quantity of your sleep.
The Apple Watch, however, does not monitor sleep by default, a metric that rivals like Fitbit have long offered. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to measure your sleep using Apple's smartwatch. There are a variety of third-party sleep-tracking apps available in the App Store, many of which integrate with Apple's Heath app.
Although the Apple Watch can't monitor your sleep by default just yet, the company is reportedly planning on adding this feature in the future, as Bloomberg has reported. It's also worth noting that if you do plan to use your Apple Watch as a sleep tracker, you'll have to find an optimal time to charge it since many of these apps require you to wear the watch overnight. I found myself resting the watch on its charger during less busy times of the day when I wasn't active, such as during dinner or while sitting at my desk at work.
After spending the past few nights tracking my sleep with three free sleep-tracking apps, SleepWatch emerged as being my favorite. It provides a more in-depth snapshot of your sleep for free, while others charge for more than just the basic features.
Here's a closer look at the apps I tried and how they compare to other free sleep-tracking apps available in the App Store.
Our top pick: SleepWatch
When it comes to monitoring your sleep, SleepWatch goes beyond the basics. Unlike other apps on this list, it provides more personalisation and provides access to trends over time without requiring a one-time payment or subscription.
SleepWatch, which I used to track my sleep over the course of three nights, outlines each night's sleep in a dashboard that provides a wealth of statistics about how you've slept. Such data points include the exact time at which you fell asleep and when you woke up, the amount of sleep you got and how that measures against your sleep goal, and your sleeping patterns - i.e. how much time you spent in light, restful, or disrupted sleep.
It also breaks out how much time you spent in restful sleep, your average sleeping heart rate, and how much lower your average sleeping heart rate is compared to your waking heart rate.
In the morning, the app will also ask you how rested you feel so that you can track this metric over time as well. If you're feeling fatigued, you can also log this on a daily basis within the app. There's also a dedicated tab within the app where you can answer questions about any medical conditions that apply to you and sleep goals to personalise the experience.
There's also a tab for viewing sleep trends over time that's broken down by day, weekly averages, and monthly averages.
All of these features are available without upgrading to a premium account, making it noticeably more comprehensive than other free options. Upgrading within the app unlocks a feature called Sleep Report Card, which shows how your sleep compares to other users and provides advanced analysis among other features.
Pillow, another app I recently tested, can show how long you've slept, the quality of your sleep, the amount of time you spent asleep, and a breakdown of your sleep stages (i.e. light, deep, REM, awake). It also shows your average, maximum, and minimum heart rate during sleep. But its free offerings aren't nearly as comprehensive as SleepWatch's, which lets you see trends over time and personalises the experience based on how you're feeling and your health conditions.
Pillow also records sounds so that you can keep track of whether you've been snoring, but you'll have to pay to hear them and view overall trends and statistics over time. The one-time payment also gets you personalised recommendations on how to improve sleep, new modes for measuring naps, and additional alarm sounds and melodies among other features.
Sleep++ is a basic tracker that provides you with a look at your total sleep, how much of your night was divided between restless and restful sleep, the amount of time spent awake, and your best sleep window.
The app also sends a notification summarising the quality and duration of your sleep in the morning, allows you to set a nightly sleep goal, and can send you bedtime reminders. For a fee, you can strip out the app's ads.
While I appreciated the simplicity of the app during my time using it, Sleep++ feels bare bones in comparison to SleepWatch.
Other free sleep-tracking apps
Sleepzy is a hybrid of an alarm clock and a sleep tracker. You can set an alarm directly within the app and view statistics such as time spent asleep, the quality of your sleep, time spent in REM, light, and deep sleep as well as time spent awake, changes in heart rate, and time spent in bed versus your sleep goal. What also makes Sleepzy stand out is its ability to track sleep debt, perhaps providing more motivation to get to bed on time.
The app can also record any sounds you make throughout the night so that you can keep track of whether you're snoring. But like Pillow, you'll have to upgrade to a paid subscription to listen to these sounds, view more advanced statistics, and track your progress over time.
Sleep Cycle also provides a graph that depicts the quality of your sleep, the amount of time spent in bed, and how much time you've spent awake and in deep sleep compared to regular sleep. You can also set an alarm within the app, just like in Sleepzy. Sleep trends, however, are only available to premium users who pay per year. Unlike other free sleep-tracking apps, the basic version of Sleep Cycle does not measure your heart rate either.
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