If you’re interested in bulking muscle, you should be interested in your general health – and that includes sleep. Even if you are just here to bulk muscle, you can do that more effectively if you get a good night’s sleep. Are you getting a good night’s sleep? How good is it? How would you know? Sleep tracking can answer all of these questions – and more.

But, what exactly is sleep tracking? How does it work? And, most importantly, how can it work for you? Let’s find out.

Sleep tracking is a study of how long you sleep and what the quality of your sleep is like. You can do this, to some degree, without using any fancy tech at all. 

For example, you can track when you go to bed (but not exactly when you fall asleep) and when you wake up. You can also track, in vague qualitative terms, how good your sleep actually is. Of course, if you share a bedroom, your chambermate(s) might be able to give you a better idea of how well you slept – whether you were snoring, moving around, or even talking in your sleep.

This might be good enough for you. However, some people like to be a little more precise. Technology-facilitated methods of sleep tracking are more precise, more quantitative, and make it easier to do things like track trends over time. Many sleep-tracking apps also help you achieve better sleep hygiene for a better night’s rest. But, we’ll get into that more later.

Sleep tracking can help you learn more about how sleep affects your workout (and other activities). You can also use sleep tracking to learn what works for you in terms of getting the best night’s sleep possible.

5 stages of sleep infographic

How Does Sleep Tracking Work?

There are two main technologically facilitated methods of sleep tracking. Both essentially allow you to do what used to require a lab visit and access to specialists. Which one works better for you largely depends on how you prefer to interact with your tech.

Wearables

Smart watches and wearable fitness trackers use a variety of methods to estimate your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and more. Combined with other sensors, they can tell you more about some workouts, like how many calories you’ve burned, the distance you’ve run, &c. However, heart rate and blood oxygen level are enough to reveal quite a bit about your sleep.

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When you sleep, your heart rate slows and your breathing gets deeper. This shows up on sleep tracking software as a higher heart rate and a higher blood oxygen level. However, your sleep works in cycles during which these biometrics fluctuate. As a result, sleep trackers can estimate how much time you spent in each stage of sleep to estimate the overall quality of your rest.

Because such widely available hardware can collect and interpret these insights for you, many smartwatches and fitness trackers have this functionality. However, Apple really pioneered and perfected the process. If you want to learn more about exactly how it works, Apple is a good place to start. Just remember that other wearables and sleep tracking apps work differently.

If you already wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker, explore its apps and utilities to see whether it has a sleep tracking function or whether one is available. Some wearables can’t gather enough information on their own, but accessories and special software can allow them to work for sleep tracking.

Hubs

If you aren’t a wearable tech kind of person, you still have options when it comes to sleep tracking. Other smart devices can work as sleep trackers by monitoring the level of motion and noise in your environment – provided that you have them on and enabled in the room where you sleep.

Technologically speaking, these solutions work a lot more like the analog model of asking your chambermate how your sleep went. These devices don’t check your oxygen levels and heart rate, they just guess how good your sleep was based on how much you moved around and how much noise there was in the room. Kind of like the night-cam in “Paranormal Activity.”

If you would rather get this kind of information from a significant other, roommate, or sibling, you’re not alone. There are concerns out there regarding robots watching you sleep. But some people aren’t bothered by this kind of thing, and we’re not here to tell you whether or not you should be.

Google brought this method to life in the Nest Hub 2 but, again, if you have different hardware, look into whether it offers similar solutions. Just maintain that how exactly it offers those solutions might be a little different.

Pros and Cons

Generally, wearables give you more control over your digital life. Through the sleep tracking apps on wearables, you can usually also do things like silence your mobile phone, which is potentially one of your biggest sleep disruptors. Wearables will also give you more accurate and personalized results if you do share your sleepspace with someone else. 

On the other hand, hubs tend to have greater control over your physical environment. If you manage sleep tracking through a hub, you may also be able to use that hub to control the lights and temperature in the room, which is a lot for a smart watch to take on. Further, hubs are usually smarter than smart watches and may be able to give you more information and advice.

For most readers, the make-or-break factor will probably be which of these options you’re already using or have the most access to. If you already have a hub that’s well and good, but a half-way decent fitness tracker with sleep tracking features can cost half as much and might be something to consider if you’re looking to make a purchase.

Sleep hygiene chart

How to Work it

No matter what method you choose (wearable, hub, or human consult), sleep tracking doesn’t do much good if you don’t use the data. But, how do you use your sleep data to improve your day? There are a couple of answers to that.

Planning Your Day

If you didn’t sleep well, you might want to use that information to adjust your routine and your workout. Sleep isn’t just a mental activity, it is also the time when your body is most active in repairing the daily wear-and-tear on your muscles.

You might be able to get through your day and your workout after a bad night’s sleep with a few cups of coffee, but that might not be what is best for your body.

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The reverse of this is also true: seeing how your day goes and comparing it to data from your sleep tracking apps can help you to see how the sleep you get affects your day.

Planning Your Night

If you understand your sleep, you can sleep better. The art of making sure that you get the right amount of sleep at a high enough quality is called “sleep hygiene.” There are some basic rules of sleep hygiene that seem to be true for everyone. 

For example, did you know that you get better sleep if you regularly fall asleep and wake up at a consistent time? Or that even though alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, too much can decrease the quality of sleep that you get? 

Other elements of sleep hygiene are more individual. For example, some people sleep better with white noise or soft music and others don’t. Some people find that reading in bed relaxes them, others find that it just keeps them stimulated. You don’t need a computer, just experiment with this kind of thing and find out what works best for you, but they sure help.

Some sleep tracking devices and apps will make recommendations on how you can improve your sleep through a combination of accepted sleep science and personal data interpretation. Whether you or an app came up with the changes to your routine, sleep data over a period of time can help you to better understand which ideas work and which ideas don’t.

Embrace Your Other Tech

Even if you don’t have a hub, even if you don’t have a smart watch or fitness tracker, search every screen device that you own for sleep settings. Computers, mobile phones, even televisions often have “sleep modes” that silence alarms, gradually reduce media volume, kill blue light, and more.

These settings can greatly improve your sleep, particularly if you use a lot of tech and particularly if you tend to use it late at night.

Fitness people (and everyone else) tend to focus most of their attention on the time that we spend awake. That’s not a bad play, but you need to remember that the time that you spend asleep is just as much a part of your wellness as the time that you spend at the gym.

Whether you use a hub, a wearable, a chambermate, or just your own brain and a notebook, sleep tracking can help you to get the most out of your nights so you can get even more out of your days.