Sleep Tracking:
How To Quantify Your Sleep Quality

Can sleep tracking help you feel more rested? We’ll go over the environmental and physical factors to pay attention to to improve your sleep quality.

Samantha refused to believe her alarm clock.

It read exactly 7 am, meaning she had just had a full eight hours of sleep. But she didn’t feel like she had gotten anywhere close to that.

That past few months had consisted of daily battles with her mornings- dreading the sound of her alarm, hitting snooze repeatedly, staring at her phone in bed until she absolutely had to get up or risk being late.

Some mornings she would come-to with her toothbrush in her mouth, and realize that she’d nearly fallen asleep standing up.

And each morning, despite her efforts to get to bed on time, she felt groggy and lifeless- like she was never well-rested.

Clearly there was something not quite right, but Samantha had no clue how to even begin fixing a problem that was apparently happening while she was unconscious. She didn’t even know what was wrong exactly. She was a generally healthy person, someone who paid attention to what she ate, was relatively active and didn’t have any big health concerns.

She knew to avoid caffeine late in the day and (mostly) kept her computer and phone out of her bed.

So why wasn’t she getting what she needed from her sleep?

Her doctor noted there were many different reasons why she might not be getting the rest she needed each night. And the first step in figuring out the cause behind Samantha’s insomnia was to start tracking her sleep.


How Well Do You Sleep?

Let’s say you climb into bed at 10 pm and fall asleep relatively quickly. Then, you’re woken up by an alarm you’ve set to go off at 6 am.

This means you’ve gotten 8 hours of sleep and you should feel refreshed and well-rested come morning, right?

Not necessarily. The reality is that not all sleep is equal.

The quality of your sleep is as important as the quantity.

Here are indicators used to measure sleep quality:

  • At least 85% of the time you’re in bed is spent sleeping
  • You fall asleep within 30 minutes of climbing into bed
  • You don’t wake up more than once during the night
  • If you do wake up in the middle of the night, it’s for less than 20 minutes

It also means successfully hitting all five stages of sleep.

These stages happen in a cyclical, repetitive pattern that takes us in and out of deeper sleep. Each stage of the cycle plays a key role in recovery so that we can perform optimally during the day.

And to make sure we’re completing all stages of sleep in enough cycles, we need to optimize our habits, our behaviors, and the environment around us so we can get the most out of our sleep.

Now, it’s important to pause here for a moment and point out that it’s possible your lack of sleep may be due to a sleep disorder.

Some of the most common include:

  • Insomnia: Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night
  • Sleep Apnea: Repeated pauses in your breathing during the night
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: An uncomfortable sensation in the legs causing an urge to move

Sleeplessness may also be a side effect of a medication or a symptom of another medical condition. With this in mind, it’s always important to speak with a doctor about any sleep concerns so you can discover the cause behind it and find a treatment that can help.


What’s Sleep Tracking?

Sleep tracking is essentially using apps and offline tools to measure the quality of your sleep.

Because we can’t always tell what type of sleep we’re getting, our only clue to our sleep quality is how we feel the following day.

But that can be frustratingly inconsistent.

Feedback like “I feel terrible” or “I feel ok” probably won’t help you make the changes you need to lead to consistently great sleep.

In order to truly improve your sleep, you first need to understand what’s going wrong. And sleep tracking can help you pinpoint the problem.

But what exactly are you supposed to track?

There are copious elements that can affect your sleep: light, sound, temperature, mood, heart rate, breathing. The list goes on and on.

If you have an idea of which factors are affecting your rest, you might choose to track those a bit closer. But to truly understand what’s leading to that cloudy, befuddled sensation that’s cued by the sound of your alarm, you need to measure as many of these factors as you can.

One thing to point out here:

Sleep trackers can present you with tons of data and can absolutely give you a better idea of how to improve your sleep.

But they aren’t a perfect science. It’s still important to pay attention to your body, how you feel when you wake up first thing in the morning, and what your energy levels are like throughout the day. Trust your body and listen to it, even if tracking may be telling you otherwise.

Also, keep in mind that your goal with sleep tracking isn’t to get absolutely perfect sleep scores every single night.

Remember, it’s perfectly natural to have a rough night every once in a while.

An unhealthy obsession and over-dependence on sleep tracking, what’s known as orthosomnia, can actually lead to greater stress around sleep and cause even more issues.

Instead of shooting for that perfect sleep score every single night, aim for feeling energized in your mornings and productive throughout your days.


Why Bother Tracking Your Sleep?

Sleep tracking often sounds like a lot of work.

And while there are certainly extra steps involved in measuring and optimizing your habits and your environment, the payoff makes it worth it.

You may find that you sleep better when you head to bed earlier (or later). You may discover that setting your alarm an hour and a half early to get started on combing through emails is actually causing you more harm than good. You might learn that your sleep suffers after a night out at the bar or improves after a hard workout.

The point is that you’ll gather tangible information that you and your doctor can use to optimize your sleep.

Steps like:

  • Shifting your bedtime to find the sweet spot for you
  • Cooling your room down if it’s too hot
  • Investing in an air purifier if your bedroom air quality is poor

These are actionable, concrete changes that can lead you to real results.

To better your chances of improved sleep, you need to make sure you’re measuring both environmental elements (things like air quality, temperature, and light) and physical factors (your breathing, your heart rate, and your body temperature).

Your environment and your body may both hold the clue to resolving your sleep issues. Tracking both will, therefore, give you the clearest picture of your sleep and what you can do to improve it.

Samantha wasn’t quite sold on the merits of tracking her environment for better sleep.

She had already invested in a comfortable mattress and had added curtains to her window to make her room as dark as possible. She even sprayed lavender oil on her pillow at night and sometimes listened to meditation podcasts as she drifted off to sleep.

What else was there to track?

Turns out…quite a few things.

A few articles and the conversation with her doctor pointed out ideas she never had even considered.

Sure, her mattress was the optimal firmness for the best comfort possible…but it was possible the foam topping may have been adding a bit too much heat.

And Samantha had never even considered looking into her air quality. She had learned that increased CO2 levels, even minimal increases, could keep you from getting a good night of sleep.

There was so much more to take into consideration than she had initially imagined.

She started off adding a small fan to her bedside stand to help move air around and to keep the temperature in her room just cool enough to help her sleep but not so cold that it would wake her up in search of more blankets. And when it was nice enough outside, she would leave her window open at night to let in fresh air and keep the oxygen levels right where they should be.

Like Samantha, very few of us realize how many aspects of our environment may be having a real impact on our sleep quality.

Rather than intentionally creating a space that allows us to get the best rest possible, our bedrooms are set to default.

But this lack of attention to our sleep environment leaves our sleep quality suffering. And in many cases, just a little bit of extra time and a few changes to your space can lead to massive improvements in how we feel in the mornings.

Two of the most important aspects of your bedroom environment to track regularly include:

  • The temperature of your bed
  • The air quality in your room


The Bed Temperature

Let’s start off by talking about bed temperature.

The first thing to point out here is that we mean the actual temperature of your bed, not your room.

Studies have found that lower temperatures tend to generate better sleep (up to a point); most experts recommend keeping your room somewhere in between 60 and 67 degrees.

But most of us sleep much warmer than that, with bed temperatures in the 70s or 80s, even in summer.

Our body temperature drops in order to initiate sleep, so finding a bed temperature that facilitates that drop can help us fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

A high bed temperature hampers your body’s ability to drop in body temperature, delaying the onset of sleep.

In addition, sleeping hot can make it more difficult to remain asleep. Research has shown that an increase in core temperature is correlated with more alertness.

So while a comfy bed with a nice huge, fluffy blanket might sound relaxing and comforting, it can actually be contributing to wakefulness.

Your first move should be to establish your baseline temperature. Any cheap thermometer can tell you your bedroom temperature, but recent tech can actually tell you how hot your bed is.

If you’re interested in a more localized tracker, companies like Beddit, Withings, and Emfit all offer sleep trackers that you place under your sheet or mattress.

In addition to letting you know just how hot your bed is, all of these tools will help you track your movement and heart rate as well- both of which can be indicators of poor sleep.

Once you’ve determined what temperature you’re at, your next step is to make changes that will help get your bed to the temperature it should be at. This can include actions like:

  • Turning down the thermostat in your room at night or adding a fan to your room
  • Changing your bedding to something lighter; look for bedding that’s made from cotton as it tends to be more breathable than other materials
  • Use a hot water bottle - but instead of heating it up, stick it in the freezer

Adding a cooling pad to your mattress. Eight Sleep, BedJet and ChiliPAD all help you better regulate the temperature of your bed


The Air Quality

Air quality is something you’re probably more concerned with during your days rather than your nights.

But the thing is:

Increased carbon dioxide levels, too much humidity, and even toxic chemicals in the air of your home can contribute to poor sleep.

In fact, recent research has linked higher air pollution with an increased risk of sleep apnea.

There are several factors that make up the overall air quality of your room. They include:

  • Humidity: Too much moisture in the air can make you feel congested and prevents evaporation, so you wind up feeling hot and sweaty
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Without ventilation, the CO2 we exhale can make the air stale, causing daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and poor sleep
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Many items in our lives (furniture, paint, building materials) give off VOCs. VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, and could lead to long-term health issues
  • Microscopic Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Particles from smoke, vehicles, and emissions can lodge in the lungs, increasing your vulnerability to infection and increasing your risk of sleep apnea
  • Radon: Though it’s a naturally occurring gas, radon has been shown to lead to not only just poor sleep but serious medical conditions such as lung cancer.

Monitoring your air quality is particularly important because it’s often an invisible problem.

Visible smog and wildfire smoke are obviously health risks, but so are the many thousands of chemicals and particles that we can’t see.

For many of us, a monitor is the only way to know how clean the air in our bedroom is. Both the Awair Element and Airthings Wave Plus can help you keep track of your space’s air quality.

Once you’ve gotten a better idea of what might be floating around in your air at night, you can start making changes to your room for better sleep.

Some steps might include:

  • Opening your windows to let in fresh air (this will only help if the air outside your home is cleaner than the air inside)
  • Vacuuming your floors (carpets especially)
  • Regularly cleaning your bedding
  • Changing the filter on your HVAC system regularly
  • Using a dehumidifier in damp areas (like your basement) to prevent mold growth
  • Investing in an air purifier

If you’ve already explored the free options above with no success, or you live in a high-pollution area that no amount of vacuuming can overcome, an air purifier might be a worthwhile investment.

Air purifiers use fans to force air through filters that remove particles like dust, smoke, pollen, and in some cases, certain gases.

Last but not least, don’t forget about one of the most basic ways to improve the air in your home: plants.

However, note that not all plants purify air equally; but some plants have specifically been shown to remove harmful gasses and increase oxygen levels.

A NASA study recommends these plants for improving air quality:

  • Snake Plants
  • Devil’s Ivy
  • Aloe Vera
  • Areca Palm
  • English Ivy

Before you go too plant crazy, make sure whatever you choose won’t increase any allergies you have and won’t be harmful to any pets you have.

Once you’ve gotten your sleep space optimized for your most restorative night of sleep, it’s time to turn inward.

Often, we don’t realize that our own bodies may be interfering with our recovery and keeping us from getting the amount and level of rest we need.

Sleep tracking can be particularly helpful in discovering what’s keeping you up at night and why you tend to feel so sluggish in the mornings.

After starting a bi-weekly vacuum routine, bumping up the airflow in her room, and even purchasing a large peace lily that she named David (before accidentally dropping it out of her second-story window onto the street below), Samantha found she was seeing some improvements in her sleep.

Tracking elements in her environment really had made an impact for her- she really could feel some changes to her energy levels in the mornings.

So now, it was time for her to turn to her physical self, and begin tracking her breathing and heart rate at night.

According to her sleep tracker, Samantha was getting the right amount of sleep, but not the right kind of sleep. She was still spending many of her nights in shallow, nonrestorative sleep.

As she delved further into her data, she discovered that she moved constantly while asleep. In addition, her heart rate variability was unusually low overnight, potentially a symptom of stress, according to her doctor.

Samantha had read that light exercise in the evenings could help regulate heart rate and increase deep sleep. And as a bonus, it’s been shown to help clear your mind and relieve stress.

What did she have to lose? She signed up for an early evening yoga class.

She didn’t notice too much change at first; but after the first week or so, Samantha did note improvements in her morning tracking reports. Her heart rate improved, she was moving less during the night, and she was staying asleep throughout the night uninterrupted.

Even better, she woke up without snoozing her alarm for the first time in months.


Your Breathing

You don’t need us to tell you that breathing is good for you. But even if you don’t struggle for breath during the day, you may do so at night.

Reduced breathing or repeated stops to your breathing at night is a hallmark sign of sleep apnea.

But it can also be a culprit behind other issues, such as:

  • Allergies
  • Rhinitis
  • Snoring

People like to make fun of snoring (and of partners who snore), but snoring can indicate the presence of a serious condition.

The sound that snoring makes is caused by air pushing past an obstruction. That can be congestion from allergies, illness, or relaxed muscles in the respiratory system, partially blocking the airway.

If your snoring correlates to unsatisfactory nights of sleep, it could be a sign of something more serious.

Sleep tracking apps use your phone’s microphone to analyze your sleep patterns and tell you if you’ve been snoring overnight.

  • The SnoreLab App records your snoring and can track any sleep-hygiene interventions you use to improve it
  • The Sleep Cycle App tracks your sleep via the mic on your phone, and in addition to snoring, analyzes your movement patterns

If you find that you are snoring most nights, it may be worth your time to take a sleep test.

And the good news is:

You no longer have to visit a dingy, uncomfortable sleep lab to get one.

Home sleep apnea tests are far more convenient and comfortable than analysis in a sleep lab.

The process is simple. You receive the kit in the mail, follow the directions to attach the sensors and send the kit back when you’ve finished. The kit usually includes:

  • A monitor for oxygen levels and heart rate
  • A nasal cannula to measure oxygen and airflow
  • Sensors to track the rise and fall of your chest

Once you know whether you have sleep apnea, you can start taking steps to address it.

Improving snoring is easier than solving sleep apnea. Still, solutions for both range from lifestyle changes that you can do yourself to interventions that require a doctor’s help.

Many patients can solve their snoring with certain lifestyle changes, easily instituted at home:

  • Doing exercises that strengthen the muscles of the throat, mouth, and sinuses
  • Using a sleep apnea pillow
  • Changing their sleeping position
  • Losing weight

More serious cases of sleep apnea require medical solutions. If you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about these options:

  • Oral appliances and nasal devices: These devices hold your airways open for mild to moderate sleep apnea
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine: This increases the air pressure in your throat, helping you to breathe more steadily
  • Surgery: This usually involves restructuring, or in some cases removing, tissue in the throat to allow for easier breathing

If sleep apnea is not an issue for you, you might consider asking your doctor about potential allergies or rhinitis. It’s always important to ask about these, especially if you find your sleep is being impacted.


Your Heart Rate

Your heart rate is one of the signals sleep trackers rely on most to help you determine your overall sleep quality.

Ideally, your heart rate should slow as you enter into the deeper stages of sleep.

When you look at the data from your sleep tracker, this information will be given to you as your Heart Rate Variability (or your HRV).

This is simply the amount of time between each heartbeat and how that time varies throughout the night.

Let’s break this down a little bit more:

Your heartbeat isn’t perfectly steady. It actually changes in rhythm slightly with every beat.

Your HRV reading shows you the difference in that rhythm, or how much time is passing between each beat and how that changes.

Generally speaking, a higher HRV (meaning more change in between beats) indicates better health. Particularly when we’re asleep, it’s healthy for the heart rate to be variable.

A low HRV usually indicates stress. The fight-or-flight response that our body experiences in response to danger lowers the HRV so the heart beats more steadily (and usually faster).

That’s helpful in certain circumstances. If we need to say, run away from a bear, a lower HRV will help us do that, but it’s not conducive to restful sleep.

If your HRV is too low while sleeping, it might indicate that your body is working against something (stress, illness, dehydration, a hot bedroom), thereby compromising your sleep.

What HRV score should you aim for?

This number is relative. There is no universal ‘good’ or ‘bad’ HRV.

Only ‘high’ and ‘low’ for you. Your HRV metrics will vary from others.

Trackers that monitor your HRV establish a baseline over time. They can then tell you when your HRV is low for you and might be affecting your sleep quality. Fitbit, Apple Watch, Oura Ring, and Whoop all have sleep tracking capabilities and will help you keep track of your HRV.

Of course, knowing that your HRV is low overnight only helps if you can improve it. And it’s hard to tell your body to “sleep better” when you’re unconscious. Once we fall asleep, our control is minimal.

However, most of us can improve our sleep quality with the choices that we make throughout the day:

Exercising helps us exhaust our bodies and minds and is proven to improve the quality of our sleep. Over time, it can raise our HRV, leading to more restful sleep.

Meditation can help you reduce stress, raising your HRV and improving the quality of your sleep. As a bonus, regular meditation can also help you fall asleep faster.

An afternoon cup of coffee can significantly impact sleep quality. If you are sleeping poorly, try shifting your last coffee a couple of hours earlier and see if it improves.

Although alcohol can help you fall asleep quicker, it reduces REM sleep and overall sleep quality. Avoiding alcohol before bed can, therefore, help us sleep more soundly.

Lastly, practicing good sleep hygiene can help you both fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.

Sleep quality can seem difficult to improve all on our own, but certain low-tech adjustments to our daily routines can help us get the kind of restful, restorative sleep that we crave.



Getting restorative sleep is critical for health, productivity, and overall wellness. And as we mentioned above, just getting eight hours of sleep isn’t always enough. The quality of your sleep is an important part of waking up rested.

And tracking your sleep can help you understand what’s keeping you from getting the sleep you need and help you to optimize your environment and your habits for the best rest possible.