Fitness Trackers Raise Awareness But Don't Accurately Track Sleep

There is a growing trend of using fitness trackers to monitor all types of physical activity, and that even includes sleep patterns. While many of these devices monitor sleep patterns, there is still a certain amount of device error involved in the measuring of sleeping patterns. There are several popular fitness trackers including Fitbit Force, Jawbone UP, and Basis B1 all claim to measure sleep patterns. Sleep modes on fitness wristbands claim to measure length of sleep, amount of waking periods, deep sleep vs light sleep, and even measurement of REM sleep. A fitness tracker would be more effective if it could accurately measure sleep patterns but according some experts they “worry there may be a danger in consumers putting too much trust in these devices to accurately monitor sleep, especially users who have sleep disorders”.

The science behind these devices is based on the science used in a sleep lab test, which is called polysomnography. A 2011 study compared data from fitness trackers to data from a polysomnography test. An overnight sleep study is going to be accurate because it monitors brain activity, eye movements, muscle activity, and heart rhythm. Most polysomnography have 12 or more channels that get readings from different organs. When compared to one another, the Fitbit (although this was an earlier model of the fitness tracker) overestimated the time participants were asleep by 67 minutes on average. A study presented in November 2013 found that the Fitbit underestimated children’s sleep by 109 minutes. These findings may be opposite of one another but they support the hypothesis that fitness trackers do not measure sleep very accurately.

According to a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University Michael Scullin, because the devices cannot actually monitor all of the functions of your brain, “consumers should not expect that these devices will be able to distinguish between sleep stages because these devices rely on movements, whereas sleep stages are defined primarily by brain activity”.

For now, fitness trackers have not been able to match the science of sleep studies conducted at a doctor’s office. Scullin says, “I like that these commercial devices raise awareness of sleep health and sleep issues, but consumers who may have sleep disorders would be better off making an appointment at a sleep clinic than trusting the data obtain from these devices.”

If you suspect you have a sleep disorder or know you have one, a fitness tracker does not replace treatment or a sleep study. Contact FusionSleep today to get an accurate reading of your sleep and if you do have a sleep disorder it is important to get proper treatment.