How Do Sleep Trackers Work and Can They Help to Boost Sleep Quality?

The importance of quality sleep is something that has recently become a hugely important topic, as science and medicine have started to understand the implications poor sleep quality can have on our health and longevity.

Improving sleep quality can have huge mental and physical benefits, however, it can be difficult to know the extent of your problem without a tool to measure and track your own sleep quality.

Thankfully, there has been a huge advancement in this field and modern smartphones and applications have paved the way for a far better understanding of our individual sleep habits and have helped many people get control of their sleep and start improving their quality of life by actively working on this aspect of their health.

While we’re starting to understand our sleep more, however, many people don’t understand sleep trackers or how they work which can make using them difficult and cause people to mistrust or resist using these devices and apps.

In this guide, we’re going to look at the various different types of sleep trackers and how they work, to help give you a better understanding of how to use them to improve your own sleep.


Various formats of sleep trackers, smartphone and sleep tracking device on table

The first thing to note is that sleep trackers can come in many different packages. There are applications on your smartphone that use the microphone of your device to track your sleep, while there are also smartwatches and even medical devices that all have different methods for measuring your sleep.

In this guide, we’re going to look at several of these as well as the methods they use to measure your sleep quality.

Heart Rate and Respiration

Some sleep trackers are able to use your heart rate to detect the different phases of sleep, from REM sleep to deep and light sleep phases, as there are perceptible changes that occur while you sleep that you are not aware of yourself, but that can be monitored and give a good idea of how your sleep is structured and what may need to be changed or fixed.

While both heart rate and breathing rates can change a lot during sleep they are often correlated with different distinct phases of sleep and as these are unconscious changes, it’s possible to track them quite predictably over the course of many weeks and build a fairly consistent picture of your habits.

Respiration monitoring is particularly important as it can diagnose issues such as sleep apnea and snoring which can be potentially life-threatening in some cases, or a huge disturbance that will massively affect your quality of life in the long term.


The most common type of sleep tracker are accelerometers that are small motion detectors, and they simply measure how much you move around while you sleep.

Movement can be a good indicator of sleep quality and the phase of sleep you are in, and the time between movement and how much you move around can provide a lot of data for a sleep tracker to use and can provide a stark picture of your sleep cycle and health.

The data is collected and then analyzed by an algorithm that estimates the sleep you’ve gotten in terms of length and quality.

The only issue with these is that they aren’t super reliable and can find it difficult to track sleep stages accurately, so for a clearer picture of your sleep cycle a combination of other monitoring types should be used in conjunction with accelerometers to get a more accurate representation.

Environmental factors

A lot of sleep trackers use microphones to monitor the noise you make while you sleep, and use this to monitor sleep quality. The majority of sleep monitoring done using smartphones uses this technique.

If you’re moving a lot in your sleep, this kind of tracker can pick up on that and the microphone can also monitor your breathing, as well as detect snoring, sleep apnea and disturbances and breaks in your sleep such as waking or sleep talking.

Some sleep trackers even use thermometers to make sure the temperature of your bedroom is suitable for comfortable sleep.

This type of sleep monitoring can be really helpful in giving a clear picture of how deep and restful your sleep is, but there are limitations and again, these systems aren’t totally accurate and can find it difficult to track specifics accurately.

These type of apps and devices mostly help you to start taking control of your sleep and paying more attention to how you can improve your sleep, usually this is achieved by setting regular hours of sleep to build a good circadian rhythm, as well as other good habits like avoiding unnatural light before bed and giving yourself plenty of time to relax and sleep.

Other features

Many sleep trackers offer additional features that can help improve your sleep such as custom alarm and waking routines that are much more gentle and relaxing than a standard alarm system.

There are even sleep trackers that can help you to relax and notify you when it would be a good time to start getting ready for bed, to give ample time for sleep.

Sleep trackers that use your phone allow you to listen back to recent recordings of your sleep so you can hear for yourself and check for issues or concerns you may have which can bring great peace of mind and help you to diagnose potential issues to bring to your doctor.

Overall sleep trackers are incredibly useful devices and are constantly advancing to become even more accurate and helpful, particularly for those who struggle with insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, or night terrors.