Do sleep trackers really work?

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Sleep— we all know it restores energy, helps manage appetite, protects against illnesses, and is generally essential for all-around good health. And yet, research shows that nearly half of Americans are regularly affected by lack of sleep. So what gives?

For me, like lots of women, nighttime procrastination is a real problem. I know that I need to get to bed, and yet, I just want to watch one more episode of Mozart in the Jungle, or check my Instagram feed one last time, or… you get the idea.

Then, at the Bulletproof Biohacking Conference last fall, I met a representative from Beddit, a company that makes sleep trackers. I was intrigued, if a bit skeptical. What was I supposed to do with all the feedback? And did I have to wear anything? (I’m just not into the wearable devices.)

Turns out, with Beddit you don’t need to sport anything on your wrist or head; you simply attach the device to your mattress and link it to your smartphone. I couldn’t think of any excuses. I figured it was worth a shot.

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The pros

There’s a lot to like about Beddit ($119, For one, it’s really easy to use. You download the free app and attach the thin, flat sensor to your mattress under the sheet (and mattress pad, if you use one). It’s as simple as placing a sticker. When you’re ready to hit the hay, you open the app and press “sleep.” The app indicates that it’s tracking you, and you’re off to dreamland.

In the morning, Beddit will wake you up if you like. There’s a regular alarm (you can even set a backup, and a backup to the backup) and a “smart” alarm, which will rouse you up to 30 minutes before your desired time but during a lighter sleep stage, so (in theory, at least) it’s easier and less painful to wake up.

Once you’re conscious you press “I’m up,” and the app gives you an overall score for the quality of your sleep, as well as other data such as your average heart rate and respiration. It also makes observations about variations in your heart rate, anomalies in your respiration, and how long it took you to doze off.

I had always assumed that I wasn’t a great sleeper because I didn’t feel as rested as I wanted to. But over the last two weeks, I’ve learned that I’m actually a great sleeper. My “sleep efficiency” is consistently in the 90s. Check me out—woot woot!

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I think in the past I simply wasn’t spending enough hours in bed. And that’s one problem Beddit has helped me solve surprising well.  The fact is, I hate waking up to a low score (especially since the number of hours of sleep I log is completely within my control)—and that, it turns out, is enough motivation to get me into the sack at a decent hour.

It sounds crazy, but using the tracker has cured me of my bedtime procrastination habit.

The cons

Beddit does have some flaws. The sensor’s accuracy could be better. There was one night when I had some trouble falling asleep and read in bed for a while. I even remember thinking that my score in the morning would be woefully low. But it wasn’t. Since I was fairly still while reading, the tracker had assumed I was out, and actually complimented me on falling asleep so quickly.

The other nitpick I have is that the app’s tips are not the greatest. Some are downright unhealthy (like suggesting you down a soda when you’re not able to nap); while others are more akin to warnings than advice (“Sleeping less than seven hours per night is associated with being overweight and having diabetes.”)

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The bottom line

If you have serious insomnia, or issues like snoring or sleep apnea, you probably need more help than Beddit can offer. But if you’re a pleaser like me—and can see yourself actually improving your sleep hygiene in pursuit of a higher score—then this tracker could help you finally get the rest your body craves.

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