From apps to ‘smart mattresses’, fitness tech expert Kieran Alger reviews the latest sleep gadgets to monitor and enhance your shuteye recovery.
A decent night’s kip is the foundation of fitness. Scrimping on sleep is not only a wrecking ball for your all-important recovery, but studies show that lack of – and poor quality – rest plays havoc with your fat-controlling hormones, damages your ability to make smart decisions about things like diet, and leaves you performing well below par for your next workout.
Taking sleep seriously can boost the body’s restorative functions, such as muscle growth and tissue repair, and getting sufficient zeds can positively impact learning, memory, mood and motivation.
But how do you know whether you’re getting enough hours? Or the right mix of deep and REM sleep to reboot body and mind? These latest sleep trackers can help you get a better handle on your bedtime habits.
MF BEST BUY:
Withings Sleep Mat
From £99.95, withings.com
If you prefer to sleep starkers, this tool lets you keep things free and loose. Unlike most wrist- or head-based wearable sleep trackers, the Withings Sleep Mat slips conveniently under your mattress to monitor sleep, heart rate and breathing, without you really being aware it’s even there.
If you’ve got a slatted bed, you will need to find a way to create a flat surface – for example, resting it on a piece of MDF – so the pressure sensors work properly, but once it’s in place you can forget about it.
Hyper-sensitive pressure sensors in the mat monitor micro movements to pick up your bedtime routine, sleep cycles and how much time you spend in the deep, REM, and light sleep stages. You also get respiration rate, wake time and the time it took you to haul yourself out from under the duvet.
All the data syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth to the neat and easy-to-decipher HealthMate app. Each morning, you get a handy sleep score out of 100, based on how long you took to get to sleep, how long you slept, the depth of your slumber and any interruptions. And in case someone hasn’t already mentioned it, it’ll also tell you if you snored like a giant.
While some sleep trackers stop there, the Withings goes further, providing a programme of tips you can use to improve sleep quality. This includes sleep hygiene habits, such as introducing regular bedtimes, getting your head down before midnight where sleep quality is highest,
and eating earlier.
From £174.50, polar.com
As serious about recovery as it is about training, the Polar Ignite puts sleep – and how well you’ve recharged overnight – firmly at the heart of its tracking skills.
You get sleep and wake times, total duration and sleep quality, while a ‘Sleep Plus Stages’ feature breaks down how long you spent in each REM, deep and light stage, and counts your total sleep cycles. Everything happens automatically and each morning you get a simple score based on the amount, solidity and regenerative effect of your night’s slumber.
Heart rate, heart-rate variability and breathing rate are also used to assess how well your autonomic nervous system has bounced back overnight, so you can see not just how long you slept, but also whether you’re recovered on a deeper level. Those insights are even used to power a workout tool that suggests how hard to train based on your night-time restoration.
A slimline tracking mat that hides between the mattress and the bottom sheet, the third-gen Beddit provides detailed sleep tracking – including heart rate, breaths per minute and snoring detection – as well as measuring things that can impact sleep quality, such as room temperature and humidity.
Sleep results are delivered each morning via an app on your phone or Apple Watch, and visual trend charts help you identify things like regularity of bedtime, which could be hampering your shuteye. There’s also a handy tips section for sleep-related advice.
A sleep-enhancing aid rather than a tracker, you can buy or rent a Pebble to place under your pillow (or pillows if you have two) to help you drop off faster and improve the duration and quality of your sleep.
It works by emitting low-level electrical signals with a voltage of around a tenth of a digital analogue watch – and a very weak magnetic field – that encourages the brain to relax and sleep. The brain is initially prompted with 20 minutes of relaxing alpha frequencies to help you nod off, followed by four cycles of delta frequencies to help your deep-sleep stages.
The EMFIT QS+Active non-contact sleep tracking solution tracks sleep stages (light, deep, rapid eye movement) and breathing rates each night, but is popular among professional sports teams for its deeper recovery insights.
While most other trackers use resting heart rate and movement as the primary identifiers of sleep quality, this mat uses heart-rate variability (HRV) to monitor how the body recovers from strain, and provides feedback on whether to train hard or go easy. Roughly speaking, the higher the HRV, the more able the athlete is to perform without risking injury.