Wearable Tech

How to turn your Apple Watch into a sleep-tracker

A Fitbit can track your sleep, so why not Apple's smartwatch? Turns out it can. Here's how to make it happen.

apple-watch-theater-mode.jpg

Put your Apple Watch into Theater Mode before you go to sleep.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

I'm tired a lot these days, and during my last physical, my doctor asked if I was getting enough sleep. Why, of course I'm getting enough... hmm, wait a second, am I?

There's a related question: Am I getting good sleep? Well, I have an Apple Watch, and it can track my steps, heart rate, time spent standing and all that, so maybe I'll just start wearing it to bed and get some answers.

Whoops. Turns out the Apple Watch doesn't do sleep-tracking -- not out of the box, anyway. But there are many third-party apps that can fill in this gap, keeping tabs on how long you sleep and how well.

The bulk, the brightness and the battery

Before we dive into the apps, let's look at a few key considerations. The first is that you'll need to wear your watch to bed, which can pose a couple problems. Never mind that it's a little uncomfortable until you get used to it; there's also the matter of the watch face lighting up when you make any upward arm movements. And if you think that face isn't bright when it's pitch-black, think again.

The fix: Turn off the Wake Screen on Wrist Raise feature, which you can do by pressing the crown, then tapping General > Wake Screen. Yes, you'll have to do this every night, then re-enable it again in the morning. Update: Several readers wisely pointed out a better option, which is to simply swipe up and tap Theater Mode. Doing so disables raise-to-wake as well as notifications.

A little tougher to manage is the battery issue. My watch usually has only about 30-40 percent remaining at the end of the day. If I don't top it off, I'll wake up to only about 10-15 percent remaining -- not nearly enough to get me through the day.

The fix: When you wake up in the morning, toss the watch on the charger while you shower, eat breakfast and so on. After 30 minutes or so, it should be have enough juice for the next 24 hours. Alternately, consider charging it while you're getting ready for bed, reading or whatever. The only catch is you have to remember to put it back on before nodding off.

Sleep-tracking apps

sleep-watch.jpg

Sleep Watch is a good app, but it's the most expensive, and its sleep-activity graph isn't very helpful.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

For the past few nights I've been fiddling with three sleep apps for Watch OS. There are others, certainly, but I feel these are pretty representative of what's out there. Here's a quick overview of each:

AutoSleep ($2.99, £2.99, AU$4.49)

Tracking sleep means wearing your watch to bed, right? Not necessarily: AutoSleep works even if you don't wear it some nights. When that happens, it starts tracking your hours as soon as you put the watch on the charger, then stops when you put the watch back on in the morning or you first use your phone.

Of course, that's just time tracking; the real benefits come from wearing your watch. When you do that, the app measures sleep hours and quality, restlessness, heart rate and more. And then it presents all that data using Apple Health-style visuals.

Sleep Tracker ($1.99, £1.99, AU$2.99)

The least expensive sleep app (though only by $1) is also my favorite, if only because I find its presentation of sleep data to be clearer than that of AutoSleep. At a glance, you get to see how much light sleep you got, how much deep sleep, how long it took you to fall asleep and so on.

Another perk: a "smart" alarm can wake you up when the app detects you're in a light sleep phase, as opposed to your bedside alarm that might wrestle you from a deep slumber -- and leave you feeling angry and groggy. (No? Just me?)

Sleep Watch ($4.99, £4.99, AU$7.99)

Proof positive that the most expensive option isn't always the best, Sleep Watch handles the basics -- sleep tracking, heart-rate reporting and so on -- but falters a bit in the depth and presentation of data.

For example, the Sleep Activity graph uses a series of gradated bands to indicate your restless versus restful sleep. It's not particularly intuitive to look at it, and when you tap it, thinking perhaps you'll get expanded or more detailed data, the app pops up a lengthy text description of the graph. TL;DR.

There's also a section called 3-Day Sleep Charge, which is presented as a "fun way to track your sleep debt." But most sleep experts believe you can't "catch up" on lost sleep; it's better to sleep the same amount every night. So the very notion of this feature is flawed.

Sleep Watch simply doesn't go as, er, deeply into your sleep habits as other apps, and therefore I recommend trying the others first.

Have you found an Apple Watch-friendly sleep app you like better than any of these? Tell us about it in the comments!