Not everyone is lucky enough to get 8 hours of quality sleep every night. If you aren’t waking up feeling refreshed, a sleep tracker app can provide insights on why and help you work towards improving your sleep quality.
How Do Sleep Tracking Apps Work?
Sleep trackers work by using your smartphone or smartwatch to measure several data points. The smartphone apps have you plug in your phone before you doze off, then set it either on your nightstand or on your bed so it can easily track movement and audio. Apps on a wearable (like Fitbit or Apple Watch) track movement and audio as well as your heart rate, and they do so with more accuracy and precision.
Movement is the most important metric these apps track, and over time there will be enough data to display your average sleep patterns and, in turn, some insight into your sleep quality. While sleeping, we move less overall, but we still twitch occasionally and change positions. Sleep trackers are more effective on wearables, as movement is detected with more accuracy and precision through the device’s accelerometer and actigraphy, unlike a smartphone, which only has an accelerometer.
One Quick Note…
Sleep tracking apps are not a substitute for professional medical advice and are only intended for supplemental use. If you believe you have serious sleep issues, talk to your physician about undergoing a professional sleep study or other options.
What to Look for in a Sleep Tracking App
While each of these apps uses your smartphone or wearable to gather data about your sleep patterns, each has their own approach as well as other unique features. Before we look at them individually, here’s what to expect:
- Accurate Metric Tracking: The best sleep tracking apps use a wide variety of metrics to gain the most information they can. The three main metrics are movement, heart rate, and snoring, but they can also track when you fall asleep, how long you sleep, when you enter different stages of sleep, and whether you wake up during the night. Some trackers even make notes about environmental factors like the temperature or ambient light level in your bedroom.
- Easy to Interpret Data: Because sleep trackers aren’t everyday items, they have to keep things simple so anyone can understand them. Data should be presented to you with simple charts or paragraphs you can understand at a glance, like how long you sleep each night on average, whether you’re getting enough REM and deep sleep, and whether or not you snore.
- Actionable Advice: Identifying potential issues is only half the battle; these apps should also tell you what to do with the data it provides you. Do you need to go to bed earlier? Change what side you sleep on to stop snoring? Keep your room cooler at night time? By knowing what problems you may have and having a plan of action for fixing them, you can be on the path to getting a better night’s sleep.
- Helpful Extras: How and when you fall asleep and wake up are also something these apps should address (and they do). Some also offer tools like relaxing music, bedtime stories, and even optimally timed alarm clocks to help you do both with more ease.
Best Overall Sleep Tracking App: SleepScore
SleepScore (Free) wants to help you improve your sleep, not just track it. Through the app, you’ll set sleep goals (like staying asleep longer, or feeling more energetic when you wake up), and in turn, it offers realistic helpful advice for achieving those goals. SleepScore gives you, as its name suggests, a sleep score from 0-100 based on multiple factors, with the aim of increasing your number until your sleep improves. The app is available for iOS and Android devices, and it uses your phone’s contactless sonar technology to capture your breathing rate and movement.
The free plan does a good enough job tracking your sleep and providing an optimized alarm and a seven-day sleep history, but if you want to get the most out of the app, consider upgrading to the premium plan ($5.99/month, or $49.99/year). This gets you a more extensive sleep history, personalized recommendations, sleep insights, and other features. SleepScore even has a section within the app dedicated to recommending expert-curated products to help you get a better night’s sleep—like pillows and a snoring solution—that helped others with a similar sleep number to yours.
SleepScore offers helpful tips on how to fall back asleep if you happen to wake up during the night. Likewise, its Smart Alarm feature helps you wake up refreshed at just the right time in your sleep cycle so you’re not left feeling groggy all day. Fun daily polls let you answer sleep-related questions, and see how other users in the SleepScore community answered. Overall, SleepScore is a well-rounded app that provides interesting insights into how you sleep and how you can improve the quality of your sleep.
Best Premium Sleep Tracking App: Sleep Cycle
Sleep Cycle ($29.99/year) is all about helping you get the best night’s sleep possible. Not only does it track various points of data regarding your sleep patterns and habits, it also goes to great lengths to help you fall asleep easily and wake up gently at the optimal time based on where you are in your sleep cycle. It tracks your sleep merely by laying on your nightstand—no need to place it under your pillow or bed sheets like other smartphone apps.
The app offers relaxing stories and sounds to help you fall asleep faster and easier, with options like ocean sounds or bedtime stories. And while you’re asleep, Sleep Cycle takes note of metrics like how long you slept, if you snored, and more. All of its graphs are colorful, easy to understand, and fun to read. You can also review the past day, week, or month at a glance.
Sleep Cycle finds the optimal time at the end of your fifth cycle to wake you up with a gentle morning alarm (you can choose one from over a dozen high-quality, pleasant options), and its smart home integration means you can pair your Philips Hue bulbs, which will mimic the sun with a gradual brightening of your bedroom. The app includes a mood tracker, backs up your sleep data online, and lets you make notes about your day regarding exercise, diet, weather and anything else that could have an impact on how you might sleep.
Best for Galaxy Watch Users: Sleep as Android
Sleep as Android ($9.99) is a comprehensive sleep tracker for Android smartphones and Samsung Galaxy Watch users. The Galaxy Watch does have native sleep tracking through the Samsung Health app, and it monitors light, deep, and REM sleep cycles. However, Sleep as Android is a nice alternative if you want features that are more robust and accurate.
The smartwatch version of the app has a clean modern interface and plenty of features that make it easy to use. It uses motion detection to track how long you slept, whether you snored, if your sleep cycles were irregular in any way, as well as your light, deep, and REM sleep. Because it spends all night tracking your sleep cycles, Sleep as Android is then able to find the optimal time during your fifth light sleep cycle to gently wake you from sleep. The alarm clock features pleasant nature sounds (like the sea or a storm), and it offers similar nature sounds as lullabies to help you fall asleep (or, okay, you can opt to use your favorite Spotify playlist instead). It also integrates with Philips Hue and other smart bulbs via IFTTT, if you want your bedroom to gradually become brighter as the morning progresses.
One of Sleep as Android’s best features is its oversleeping prevention tool, which requires you to solve a CAPTCHA puzzle or shake the phone in order to turn the alarm off. This isn’t a default feature, but if oversleeping is something you struggle with, it’s great to have the option to toggle it, as it is in most cases, just enough activity to wake your brain up for the day. It also tracks sleep talking and snoring, and can help you prevent jet lag with LED light flashes if you’re going to be traveling, so you can get a good night’s sleep wherever you go.
Best for Apple Watch Users: Pillow
If you want to track your sleep using your Apple device, Pillow (Free) is the best app to do so with. Though it also works for iPhones, you’ll get the most out of the app if you use it on your Apple Watch, so it can track your movements, heart rate, and audio (you know, the snoring or sleep talking that you totally don’t do even though your partner says you do). Pillow is also making many of its premium features temporarily free (which normally cost $4.99/month or $27.49/year) due to COVID-19, including all three nap modes, heart rate analysis through Apple Health resource comparisons, and all of its sleep aid content.
Pillow has an engaging colorful interface that’s easy to use—just wear your Apple Watch to bed and it takes care of the rest. Plus, it automatically syncs your data with Apple Health. In addition to tracking sleep metrics, the app also lets you log your mood when you wake up, so it can provide personalized sleep improvement tips.