In a perfect world, everyone would sleep well, night after night. But in reality, many of us struggle to get the zzzs we need. That's where using a sleep tracker can come in handy.
Whether in the form of an app, wearable device or under-the-mattress pad, a sleep tracker works by detecting movement and, in some cases, measuring other biomarkers like heart rate while you sleep. Using that information, it can assess your overall quality of sleep, specifically noting how much time you spend sleeping (as opposed to tossing and turning) and how your body cycles through the various stages of sleep.
The field of sleep trackers and monitors is broadening all the time. With that in mind, we've selected the standout devices available now, according to market research. And, with the help of Philip Cheng, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center, we'll provide guidance around what, exactly, you should look for when shopping for a sleep tracker of your own.
1. Best Overall: Muse S
Intended to help you fall asleep and track your sleep once you're out for the night, the Muse S headband is one of the most sophisticated sleep devices on the market. It helps usher you to dreamland with immersive soundscapes and a comfortable design. Meanwhile, it measures your breath, heart rate and brain activity to gauge the quality of your sleep.
Users get the data the headband collects — and journal about their sleep sessions — on the Muse app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.
While the Muse S offers some of the most in-depth information on sleep activity, it comes with a high sticker price.
Buy it: ChooseMuse.com; Price: $349.99
2. Best on a Budget: SleepOn Go2Sleep
A more affordable but still high-performing sleep tracker, SleepOn's Go2Sleep device monitors heart rate and blood oxygen while you slumber, then provides a thorough analysis of your sleeping habits through its accompanying app. Despite its in-depth data collection, the Go2Sleep wins extra style points for how lightweight and subtle it is for a wearable sleep tracker.
This device goes beyond the call of a regular tracker and also alerts the user to abnormalities that may be cause for concern — say, if blood oxygen levels drastically change during the night (a possible sign of sleep apnea).
Buy it: SleepOn.us; Price: $99
3. Best App: Sleep Cycle
This app doesn't require additional devices aside from your phone, and it's free to download. Simply place your phone on your bed or nightstand and read the app's findings on your movement, wakefulness and overall sleep cycle the following day.
The free version of Sleep Cycle offers sleep stats and data graphing, alarm melodies and, for iOS users, integration with Apple Health. Users can opt into a premium subscription for $39.99 and enjoy more in-depth analyses on their long-term sleeping patterns as well as notes on how such factors as caffeine intake, exercise and the weather affect their sleep.
See more options in LIVESTRONG.com's guide to sleep apps.
Download it: SleepCycle.com; Price: $0–$39.99
4. Best Wearable: Fitbit Versa 3
This smartwatch from Fitbit stands out in the crowded field of wearable activity trackers for its ability to distill complex information on your heart rate and time spent in light, deep and REM sleep into a digestible, daily sleep score, which you can get through the Fitbit app or on the device itself.
Even some of the more practical features on the Fitbit Versa 3 prioritize a good night's sleep: Its smart wake capabilities gently wake users with a vibrating alert, while its sleep mode silences alerts and keeps the watch's screen dark.
Buy it: Fitbit.com; Price: $229.95
5. Best Under-the-Mattress: Withings Sleep
Sleep tracking mats that sit under your mattress can be more appealing than wearable devices because they're easy to set up and don't rely on you remembering to put something on before bed. In addition to these general advantages, Withings Sleep, specifically, offers users information on their sleep cycle, heart rate and snoring, delivering a succinct sleep score in the corresponding Health Mate app.
Withings Sleep is also compatible with smart home devices, meaning you can set your home's light and temperature settings to correspond with your bedtime.
Buy it: Withings.com; Price: $99.95
6. Best for Runners: WHOOP
This lightweight wrist strap is intended to be worn 24/7 in order to deliver thorough, up-to-date info on the wearer's activity, sleep and, most importantly for runners, recovery.
WHOOP collects data such as sleep stages, disturbances, heart rate and efficiency, all with optimizing the wearer's athletic performance in mind. Through its in-app sleep coach, WHOOP can recommend how much sleep the wearer needs and how they should improve their quality of sleep in order to get closer to their goals.
Buy it: WHOOP.com; Price: $30–$324
7. Best for Improving Sleep Quality: Sleepio
If you're interested in not only tracking your sleep but making slight improvements to it, Sleepio's service is worth a try. Using a questionnaire to gauge the user's current sleep issues and goals, Sleepio creates a custom program intended to address those concerns and make strides toward better shut-eye.
Users track their progress using a sleep diary and check in regularly with Sleepio's virtual sleep expert through the corresponding app. It's compatible with iOS, desktop and wearable activity tracking devices.
Buy it: Sleepio.com; Price: $5–$249
What to Look for in a Sleep Tracker
Cheng says to keep an eye out for these attributes:
1. Heart Rate Monitoring
Ideally, your sleep tracker of choice should glean its analyses from more than just your movements throughout the night (more on why that is below). It's especially helpful if it offers heart rate monitoring, Cheng says, because this info can help the device better determine when you're asleep. Trackers that also measure breathing and respiration will be even more accurate when gauging sleep patterns.
2. Brain Activity Tracking
Sleep trackers with this capability are harder to come by (our best overall pick is one of the few that comes with it), but Cheng says this feature can be very useful in painting a full and accurate picture of the user's sleep health.
A more practical concern is how you feel using the device. If you choose a wearable tracker that feels cumbersome or tight while you sleep, you won't want to use it. If possible, try it on in-store before making your final purchase, or make sure it has a reliable return policy if you're shopping online.
What to Avoid in a Sleep Tracker
On the other hand, Cheng says these qualities should be a deal-breaker:
1. Only Movement Tracking
Devices that base their analyses solely on movement are not going to be as accurate as ones that measure other types of activity, Cheng says. This is because, quite simply, the user can be awake but laying very still, and a sleep tracker that lacks features beyond motion detection might not be able to differentiate that state from actual sleep. In turn, it will provide them with imperfect information about their sleep.
2. Poor Battery Life
Yet another logistical feature to be aware of. Cheng points out that it's important to use a tracker that won't lose its charge in the middle of collecting data. It may sound obvious, but it bears mentioning that a device that dies in the middle of the night will not deliver correct information.
What Else to Know Before You Buy
While a sleep tracker can help you reach a specific, incremental sleep goal like increasing your sleeping time from eight to nine hours per night, it can't solve all of your problems, especially if they're on the more severe end of the spectrum.
For example, if you're dealing with insomnia or consistently having trouble staying asleep, Cheng recommends getting in touch with your doctor or a sleep specialist.
"That's not to say that the tracker wouldn't help," he says. "But, in that case, you're going to want to have some professional consultation to see what are some goals you want to be aiming for, or what's realistic for where you're at."
If you decide to seek professional care, consider bringing your sleep tracker (or a PDF of its analysis) to your appointment. That kind of information can actually provide your doctor with further insight into the issues at hand and, in turn, get you a little bit closer to a good night's sleep.