There are so many fitness trackers on the market today that provide consumers with data on their sleep activity, but not many of them go the extra step of providing an interpretation of the data or a direction in which to go in order to improve upon the sleep that you’re getting. Though it may be interesting to see how many minutes you slept without turning over or what the temperature was in your bedroom while you slept, what is most important is to know what to do with the information that has been gathered. Sleep experts say that in the cases of almost all of the trackers and apps that are out there, the information that’s provided is generic at best, but there are steps you can take and outside information about yourself that you can combine with the data in order to give yourself a good sense of your sleep health and what you need to do to improve it.
Start with the data itself. Different devices provide different information, and most collect their data based on either the number and amount of motion that they detect and biophysical data such as respiration, skin temperature and heart rate. This data is what tells you whether you were awake or asleep, still or tossing and turning. Most of the sleep trackers will give you a sleep efficiency score that breaks down how much time you spent asleep as a percentage of the overall time that was being monitored.
Once you have collected this data, it’s time to combine it with the other information about yourself, your habits and your life that are not being picked up by the monitor. How do you feel? What did you eat or drink during the day? What’s the environment like in your bedroom? Did you exercise during the day? According to Dr. Robert Oexman, the director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Missouri, the three key factors that you need to analyze are your behavior, your environment and your sleep equipment.
Behavior includes what you’ve eaten, what you’ve done during the day like exercise, and what time you go to sleep and wake up. It also includes the habits that you may have developed such as reading emails from your cell phone or playing video games on your laptop right before bed. Environment is about the amount of noise or light in your bedroom and how cool or hot it may be. Equipment is all about the bed, pillow, sheets, even the pajamas that you’re wearing.
Starting with equipment, it is important to ensure that you are sleeping on a mattress that is providing you with good support and on a surface that is extremely comfortable and relaxing for you. Though individual preferences and needs change based upon sleep position and physical conditions, it is important to look into this aspect of your surroundings to ensure that you are giving yourself the best possible change at good quality and quantity of sleep. If you haven’t replaced your mattress in several years then you should investigate purchasing a new one, especially if you are experiencing pain or soreness when you wake up in the morning.
As far as your environment and behavior go, the specific things that you want to pay attention to are the sounds and lights entering your room, as well as any foods and drinks that you are taking in and the times at which you are ingesting them. Certain foods are better at promoting sleep than others, while drinking caffeine or alcohol or taking in any nicotine can have an extremely negative effect. It is also important to note whether you are consistently sticking to a bedtime and awakening routine, whether or not you are spending time in front of an electronic device right before bed and whether you are exercising during the day. The question about exercise needs to examine not only whether you are doing it, but at what time and intensity level.
Once you’ve taken note of all of this information, it’s time to make comparisons and determine whether there are any correlations. If your sleep efficiency score was higher on one day than another, take a look at what you ate that day, what time you exercised and how intensely, whether you had caffeine and at what time you had your last cup. All of this information can be winnowed down in order to find consistent correlations over time.
Some of the applications and devices that are available on the market may make some of these correlations for you. For example, Jawbone UP has a special coffee app that will take that aspect of your routine into account and let you know whether your caffeine intake is having an impact, as well as what to do about it if it is. The secret of determining what you can do to improve your sleep quality lies in collecting as much information as possible over as long a period of time as possible – the more data that you have and can compare, the more effectively you will be able to identify and eliminate things that are having a negative impact on you, or to make adjustments that allow you to continue enjoying things that give you pleasure.
One thing that is extremely important to remember when analyzing the information provided by sleep trackers is that everybody is supposed to move around a bit while they’re sleeping. Though a sleep monitor will likely interpret every one of your movements as a negative, our bodies need to move around a bit during the course of the night – otherwise we would wake up in pain and possibly even suffer from bed sores. Stillness is not a goal, but getting a good quality of sleep is.