How Do I Track My Sleep Schedule?

December 18, 2023 · John Gallagher

How Do I Track My Sleep Schedule?

We live in an era where optimizing your health is more than just a trend — it's  a lifestyle. In 2022, the market for vitamins and minerals alone reached $39.4 billion valuation. America’s renewed focus on mental and whole-body well-being is a welcome shift, but one aspect of your health is still often overlooked: sleep.

Just as you might track your diet or exercise, tracking your sleep schedule can offer invaluable insights into improving your overall health. After all, sleep is a fundamentally important ingredient in protecting your memory, stabilizing your mood, regulating your digestive system, even healing wounds.

How should you track your sleep? What sleep metrics are worth tracking? Let’s dive into the best ways to track your sleep patterns — and how you can use those insights to improve your overall health.

Why Should I Track My Sleep Schedule?

Sleep is a vastly underrated process your body relies on for repair and recovery. When you’re fighting an illness, sleep can help your body overcome the infection. After a workout, sleep helps repair muscles and promote growth. Just by getting enough sleep, you help reduce your body’s risk for stroke and heart disease.

Multiple studies show that sleep affects nearly every tissue in your body, essentially optimizing your daytime performance each evening while you sleep.

Here are a few more ways that sleep can affect your health:

This wide scope of potential health benefits is exactly why doctors recommend tracking your sleep: to help you understand how your sleep affects your health. Perhaps more importantly, tracking your sleep is also the first step in improving your sleep quality and longevity. But you can’t begin to improve your sleep until you better understand it.

How Can I Track My Sleep Schedule?

Respecting your sleep is the first step in tracking it. It’s important to give yourself the best chance for accurate sleep measurements, and that means treating sleep tracking like a scientific experiment. For best results, it’s important to establish a consistent bedtime routine — one where you attempt to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and wake up at the same time each morning. It also means minimizing bedtime distractions, refraining from alcohol and caffeine consumption in the evening, and avoiding electronics for at least 60 minutes before bedtime.

If you don’t respect your sleep now, that’s the first step. Learn to prioritize rest over an extra hour of work, socialization, or television time. While this process can take time, it’s critically important for ensuring that you can track and learn from your own sleep on a nightly basis.

Once you’ve learned to treat your sleep with respect, it’s time to consider methods like sleep journals, wearable technology, and sleep apps to track it. Let's explore a few of our favorite sleep-tracking methods.

Sleep diaries/journals

Keeping a sleep journal or diary is the simplest method to track basic sleep patterns. Every morning, jot down when you went to bed, when you woke up, and any sleep disturbances you might have experienced in between initial sleep and wake periods. You’ll also want to record how you feel in the morning.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I feel refreshed this morning?
  • Did any dreams interrupt my sleep patterns?
  • Did any evening activities hinder or improve my sleep performance?
  • How do I feel about taking on the day after waking up?

These and other prompts can help you dive deeply into your own sleep patterns. While there’s no technology involved with this sleep tracking method, it does allow for a period of self assessment and honesty. Often used in conjunction with a sleep tracking app or device, sleep journaling is the perfect method for recognizing sleep patterns that you might otherwise miss.

Wearable Technology

Devices like Fitbit, Garmin, or the Apple Watch monitor your movements and heart rate to deduce your sleep patterns. These items deploy more of a scientific approach to sleep tracking, reporting on important health metrics that define how well you slept the night before.

Many younger individuals, including students maintaining late-night or early-morning study schedules, choose to track their sleep with wearable technology because of the convenience factor. All you need to do is strap the device to your wrist, and technology does the rest. Many of these same devices also offer features like smartphone synchronization and silent alarms, which can help you further regulate your evening and morning routines.

Like all other technology, sleep-tracking wearables are prone to inaccuracy at times. They often require a period of fine-tuning before they deliver the most accurate results. Some people opt for a more natural form of sleep tracking like journaling simply because they don’t enjoy the feeling of a device strapped to their body.

Dedicated Sleep Trackers

Devices like the Beddit or Withings Sleep are placed under your mattress and monitor sleep through body movements, heart rate, and breathing. These items are often more accurate than wearable technology, and there’s no need to wear any form of assistive technology.

Despite their tendency for greater accuracy, dedicated sleep trackers are typically more expensive than a smaller wearable. They also must be placed in your bed to work effectively. If you routinely travel for work, or you work overnight shifts and sleep during irregular hours, this might not be the solution for you.

Smartphone Apps

Using a smartphone app to track your sleep might be the easiest solution of them all. Apps like Sleep Cycle use your phone’s microphone and/or accelerometer to track your sleep movements. While convenient for people like parents who might not have time to write in a journal, apps aren’t considered the most accurate form of sleep tracking. You’ll also need to keep your phone close to you while you sleep, so that it can translate your sounds and movements into its records.

What Sleep Metrics Should I Track?

Most people eventually settle on a preferred sleep tracking method. Whether you’ve opted for a sleep tracking app, a wearable device, a sleep journal, or a combination of several solutions, there’s still one question worth asking: what sleep metrics are worth tracking?

If you’re using technology, your program will likely suggest different metrics to track. Here are a few we suggest:

  • Sleep duration: Sleep duration can significantly influence your cognitive and physical performance. While the recommended amount varies by age, most adults should aim for 7-9 hours per night.
  • Sleep efficiency: High sleep efficiency suggests that you're getting good quality sleep without a lot of disturbances. Typically, a sleep efficiency of 85% or higher is considered good.
  • Sleep stages: Each stage has its importance. For instance, deep sleep is crucial for physical recovery and cell regeneration, while REM sleep is linked to dreaming, memory processing, and emotional regulation.
  • Wake after sleep onset (WASO): Frequent awakenings can interrupt your sleep cycle, preventing you from entering deeper, more restorative sleep stages. A lower WASO generally means better sleep quality.
  • Sleep latency: Taking a long time to fall asleep can be a sign of insomnia or other sleep-related issues. Ideally, falling asleep within 10-20 minutes is considered normal.
  • Movement: Excessive movement might be a sign of restless sleep or conditions like Restless Leg Syndrome.
  • Environmental factors: These environmental elements can significantly impact sleep quality. For instance, a cooler room is often associated with better sleep.

Tips for a Better Sleep Schedule

We’ve arrived at possibly the most important stage of sleep tracking: implementing what you’ve learned. After gathering data, it’s important to speak with a doctor or a sleep specialist who can help you interpret the results. They might also suggest next steps like optimizing your bedtime routine or participating in a sleep study.

Depending on what you learn from tracking your sleep, here are a few suggestions for prioritizing your sleep schedule:

  • Stay consistent: Try to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Create a sleep-friendly bedroom environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep: dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Relax before bed: Establish a pre-sleep ritual like reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath.
  • Watch your diet: Consume nutrient-rich foods and watch consumption of substances like alcohol during the afternoon and evening.
  • Sleep in the right position: While there's no "one-size-fits-all" sleep position, many find that sleeping on their back with a supportive pillow can reduce the risk of pain and sleep disturbances.
  • Invest in high-quality sleep accessories: Ensure your pillows and blankets are comfortable and supportive. Remember, many sleep accessories generally have a lifespan of about 8-10 years.

It might also be time to reconsider the biggest advocate for your nightly sleep: your mattress. Your mattress is one of the biggest make-or-break factors when it comes to great sleep. That’s exactly why we created our patented bedMATCH sleep diagnostic program: to pair sleepers with the sleep they deserve.

Stop by your local Mattress Warehouse — or take our five-minute online quiz — to discover mattress options proven to improve your sleep. Our system considers your height, weight, body type, sleeping preferences, and other factors to determine the best mattress for your circumstances. The more details you provide, the better we can tailor mattress recommendations regardless of your budget.