Apple WatchOS 7 sleep tracking: What it can and can't do
I've been sleeping with my Apple Watch and learned some things.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
First of all, don't update to the WatchOS 7 public beta if you can help it. Betas are experimental, it needs iOS 14 public beta to also be installed on your iPhone and Apple's final version of WatchOS 7 should be here in the fall, maybe in a month or so based on previous years. I tried the beta on an Apple Watch Series 5.
But I was curious to sleep with the Apple Watch, because I've tracked my sleep before. On Fitbits, on the Oura ring, with bed devices, with Withings and more than I can count.
This tracking has limits. Much like what Apple's Kevin Lynch told me in June, WatchOS 7 sleep tracking is more about bedtime awareness and total time in bed. Along with that, there are wind-down and bedtime reminders.
Watch this: First take: WatchOS 7 public beta
Setting a sleep schedule feels familiar
Setting up sleep tracking feels very much like an extension of the years-old iOS feature inside the Clock app that allows bedtime reminders and triggers a yellow shift in the light from your phone's screen to enter a wind-down experience.
Sleep schedules get set up on the Apple Watch, or in Apple's Health app. I picked eight hours, spinning the clock around so my bedtime would be midnight, waking at 8 a.m. I work from home now and the kids aren't in school.
The Apple Watch dims and becomes bedtime-watch at night
I realized, as it was time for bed, that the watch screen was really dim, like the Watch Series 5's ambient always-on display mode, but all the time. It looks like a basic watch face, shutting down complications and other details. Tapping and turning the crown brought me back to other features if I needed them... but I liked the idea here. Also, a dimmer, more low-key watch can mean saving battery life, which is smart anyway.
I get a gentle tapping alarm on my wrist
In the morning, the Apple Watch thumps with a wake-up alarm. I feel it like a steady tap. I think I missed the first few minutes it was going off. It offers a snooze option, which I use. It reminds me of silent alarms I've used on Fitbit and even Pebble way back. I love the idea as a way I won't wake up the family if I have to get up early, but I wish the pings were a little more... pingy.
Morning gives me a little wake-up screen
I like the new greeting display, which shows battery life, time and weather. It's a smart dashboard sort of look and it reminds me how much battery is left. After wearing it for a full day the day before, 26% was better than I expected.
I have to pick a new time to charge
Now that I'm not charging the watch overnight, when do I charge? It usually takes about an hour or so. I forgot my first day and the remaining battery life crept until 2:30 p.m. before going dark.
The day-plus battery on current Apple Watches just doesn't feel like enough. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see an extended-battery Apple Watch this fall, maybe even with enhanced sleep tracking sensors.
You could loop in more advanced Apple Watch sleep tracking apps
There are, to be clear, more complex third-party sleep apps for Apple Watch. Apple points to these as ones you could use to enhance your analysis. However, I'd prefer Apple just did it and kept it all in the self-contained ecosystem. I'm not wild about adding extra apps with other authorizations when it comes to health tech.
It's mostly a bedtime reminder and I wonder when more will happen
Just a few days in, the sleep feature seems about as straightforward as I expected. And as bare-bones. Being aware of sleep schedules is helpful and I love the system's new powering-down and wake-up pings, which feel like necessary parts of making the Apple Watch a wear-to-bed device. But the battery life of the Apple Watch doesn't feel ideal at all for sleep tracking and I'd like to see more analysis than just total hours and minutes in bed. Maybe something will come with the Apple Watch 6. Maybe Apple is going to announce a sleep study to pursue future features. But so far this feels like one shoe dropping in a larger Apple sleep tech solution.