Sleep trackers put to the test

Sleep trackers are supposed to help you to analyse and improve your own sleeping patterns. But how do these gadgets work and what functions do they have?

01.09.2020 Lara Brunner 5 minutes

How do sleeping trackers work?

Sleep trackers are often used as a bracelet. They record how often someone moves and how their heart rate changes. This data is combined and then used to determine the duration and quality of sleep. The information collected can often be looked at and analysed via a smartphone app or on a desktop computer.

What can a sleep tracker do?

Sleep trackers can identify based on the data collected how long somebody is in the respective sleep phases. They distinguish between the following phases:

  • Light sleep: small movements
  • Deep sleep: practically no movements, regular heart rate
  • REM sleep: almost no movements, slightly elevated and strongly fluctuating heart rate

If, however, only movements are recorded, it is therefore only possible to distinguish between light sleep and deep sleep.

Important: the records are not error-free. If a person goes to bed and practically doesn’t move, a sleep tracker could determine that the person has already fallen asleep, even though the person might still be listening to an audiobook.

What is the purpose of using a sleep tracker?

Sleep is extremely important for your well-being. Bad sleep affects your state of mind, performance and also health. Thanks to sleep tracking, it is possible to identify certain disruptive factors.

If you change your sleeping patterns, thanks to the sleep analysis, you can find out if these changes have a positive or negative impact on the duration and quality of your sleep.

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Five sleep trackers put to the test

Many fitness trackers have an integrated sleep tracking feature. Read here about the functions they offer. You can find detailed information about sleep tracking and about the individual trackers on the manufacturers’ websites.

The Fitbit trackers automatically detect when you fall asleep. During the night, they measure your heart rate and how often you move. Based on these findings, the bracelets can record how long you are in the various sleep phases (light, deep and REM sleep) and how often you wake up during the night. Based on a graphic in the app, you can then see at what time you were in which phase.

Fitbit’s personalised sleep plan can help you to get into the habit of having regular sleep and wake-up times. In the evening, the reminder function helps you to stick to regular bedtimes. It is also possible to set an alarm with silent vibration.

Thanks to the fact that the data received is reconciled with Fitbit’s sleep database, you get personalised findings on your sleeping patterns. How much sleep do you get compared to other people your age? How can you improve your sleep quality?

Models: Fitbit Alta HR™, Fitbit Charge 2/3/4™, Fitbit Blaze™, Fitbit Versa Lite ™, Fitbit Versa™, Fitbit Versa 2 ™, Fitbit Ionic™

Fitbit: Sleep better by Fitbit (in German)

Thanks to a 3D acceleration sensor, the Polar’s fitness bracelets automatically detect when you fall asleep and wake up again. The app shows you how often you woke up during the night. Based on these interruptions, the actual sleep duration and continuity are then calculated. Sleep continuity is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. The values for different nights can thus be compared. In addition, you can rate your sleep on a scale of one to five.

Thanks to the overview, you can analyse your sleeping statistics and intensively examine your sleeping patterns. You can set yourself a target. After every night, you will then get feedback on whether or not you have met it. You can also programme an alarm in the associated app.

Models: Polar A370, Polar M430

Polar: Polar Sleep Plus™

The Withings trackers record how long you are in the light sleep phase and the deep sleep phase during the night. Sleep disruptions are also noted. A graphic shows you what percentage of the recorded sleep duration you actually slept. Based on sleep trends, you can analyse your sleeping patterns and optimise sleep quality. A value is assigned to every night which is calculated based on the sleep duration, interruptions, regularity and rest.

To ensure that you wake up at the most optimal time, certain Nokia bracelets have an integrated intelligent wake-up function. Before going to bed, you can specify when you have to get up at the latest. The tracker then detects when you are in the most optimal phase for being woken up. This should make getting up easier for you.

Models: Steel HR, Move

Withings: Health trackers by Withings

Thanks to the Huawei tracker’s sleep monitoring function, you know in the morning how much time you spent in the deep sleep, light sleep and REM phases respectively. This data is clearly displayed in the app. Based on your data, you will receive tips on how you can improve your sleeping patterns by adjusting your sleep duration, diet or training schedule.

The tracker’s display normally lights up if movement is detected. However, this function is disabled when you are sleeping. This means that you are disturbed less. You can also set an alarm. Within a 10-minute window, the tracker detects if you are in the process of waking up or have just completed a deep sleep phase. You are thus gently woken up with the help of a vibrating alarm.

Models: Huawei Band 2/3/4 Pro, Huawei Fit, Huawei Talk Band, Huawei Watch GT, Huawei Watch GT2, Huawei Watch GT 2e

Huawei: Wearables by Huawei (in German)

Sleep tracking is activated by pressing a button or entering the bedtime. A sensor registers the movements, heart rate and heartbeat variability and records the sleep duration. The following morning, a diagram shows how many hours you spent in the respective sleep phases. The exact sleep and wake-up times can help you to develop a regular sleep rhythm. Every time you wake up, you can specify how you are currently feeling.

Models: Serie Garmin fenix 5 Plus, Garmin Venu™, Garmin vívoactive/vívosport/vívosmart/vívomove HR, Garmin Forerunner 645/935

Garmin: Advanced sleep monitoring in Garmin Connect (in German)


Most sleep trackers record how long you are in which sleep phase. Most devices can be connected to a smartphone via an app. This provides you with an overview of your average sleep duration and your sleep rhythm. Certain trackers also have a wake-up function.

Don’t focus too much on this analysis. This information about your sleep behaviour might be interesting, but you have to factor in a level of inaccuracy. In order to professionally monitor your sleep, more data is required. In a sleep laboratory, for example, brain and muscle activity, eye movements, breathing, snoring, heart rate, leg movements, body position and oxygen levels in your blood are all measured.

If sleep problems are impacting your daily life and reducing your performance, you should visit your GP. They will discuss your options with you in a consultation.

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