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The Apple Watch is one of the most versatile wearable devices on the market today. With an estimated 100 million users, the watch is also hugely popular. The device’s functions include fitness tracking, health and lifestyle coaching, and wireless communication. In this review, I’ll focus on the Apple Watch’s sleep-related functions.
I personally tested the Apple Watch Series 7 for three weeks. This is the newest version of the device. Compared to other sleep trackers, I found the Apple Watch’s capabilities somewhat limited. The built-in Sleep app allowed me to set a customized alarm, activate sleep mode to hinder nighttime disturbances, and view basic sleep metrics such as time asleep.
You can download additional apps on the device for in-depth sleep tracking, and Apple plans to offer sleep-tracking upgrades in the future. The watch may not come equipped with cutting-edge sleep data, but the ability to expand on the initial software is definitely an advantage. The device is also lightweight and comfortable, though I found the battery life drained rather quickly.
I’ll discuss my experiences with using the Apple Watch as a sleep tracker and take a deep dive into its sleep-related functions and capabilities.
Apple Watch Sleep App
If you don’t need a sleep tracker with advanced tracking measures, then the Apple Watch’s built-in Sleep app might be a good fit for you. To access this feature, set up the Sleep app and activate sleep tracking on the watch. Helpful prompts make setup a quick and easy process. As you set up the app, you’ll be asked to detail your sleep goals for the weeks and months ahead.
There are three core components of the app:
This is the alarm clock function of the Sleep app. You can customize your sleep schedule for each day of the week. Every time you create a new schedule, the device provides suggestions for days to include. You can easily override this if the suggestions are not relevant.
For example, if you wake up earlier on Mondays and Wednesdays than on other weekdays, you can click “Add a Schedule,” select these two days, and tap the alarm icon. You will see a crown on the right side of the watch’s face. Scroll the crown up or down to choose your Monday and Wednesday wake up time.
The device then suggests a bedtime based on your wake up time and the sleep duration goals you select when setting up the app. You can easily override this suggestion as well. If everything looks correct, tap “Add.” Your Monday and Wednesday schedule is now added to your routine and synced with your iPhone.
Your Apple Watch’s sleep mode is tied directly to your sleep schedule. Beginning at your preset bedtime, the face of your watch turns completely dark. The display remains unlit throughout the night. You can tap the watch face to view the time or check the alarm. To access other functions of the watch, tap the face and turn the crown until the display unlocks. You can also disable sleep mode through the watch’s control center.
Prior to your scheduled bedtime, you’ll receive an alert from the watch if the battery life is 30% or lower. This alert means you should charge the device before going to bed.
With sleep mode activated, your watch stays completely inactive until your preset wake up time. The watch’s alarm includes an audible sound and a light vibration. You can also set the watch’s alarm to vibrate only. Tap the face of the watch to turn off the alarm. The display includes the current time, your device’s battery life, and a brief weather report for the day ahead.
This portion of the Sleep app is where your sleep data is located. To view sleep stats from the previous night, open the app and scroll down. The screen displays how long you slept based on the time that elapses between your phone shifting to sleep mode and your first screen tap in the morning. Your watch is designed to detect some movement, so the daily report also includes instances when you may have woken up during the night.
If you wear the Apple Watch for two weeks or longer, your sleep stats also include week-to-week comparisons for your average amount of nightly sleep. The data for each night is accessible on the watch for 14 days. Personally, I prefer sleep trackers that archive data to see how my sleep evolves over longer periods of time. If this is not a major concern for you, the Apple Watch should serve your needs if you want basic stats about time spent asleep from night to night. Those who want more advanced data related to their sleep may need a tracker with more capabilities.
Apple Watch and the iPhone Health App
The Health app on your iPhone is designed to measure and report on a wide range of health-related data, including sleep metrics. As part of the iOS 16 upgrade, the latest version of the Health app includes advanced sleep reporting. New features include sensors to monitor blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and sleeping respiratory rate. The app can also track how much time you spend in each of the four sleep stages.
Apple Watch and Additional Sleep Apps
Some of today’s leading sleep apps are compatible with the Apple Watch. These include:
- AutoSleep: AutoSleep is one of the more advanced tracker apps compatible with the Apple Watch. The app measures heart rate, time spent in deep sleep, and other metrics that build on the watch’s built-in programs. You can also receive daily scores based on the quality of your sleep from the previous night. A small fee is required to download the app, but there are no ongoing subscription charges.
- BetterSleep: If you enjoy listening to music or sounds while falling asleep, BetterSleep has one of the most comprehensive libraries I’ve seen in a sleep app. You can choose from white noise, binaural beats, nature sounds, guided meditations, and controlled breathing programs, most of which are suitable for adults and kids. BetterSleep is available for an annual subscription fee.
- Headspace: Headspace provides brief guided meditations intended to alleviate anxiety and daily stress, which in turn can improve your sleep quality. In addition to the Apple Watch, you can integrate Headspace into your iPhone’s Health app and sync it with your fitness routines.
- NapBot: Another advanced sleep app for your Apple Watch is NapBot, which uses smart technology to track your sleep patterns, monitor your health metrics, and gauge your overall sleep quality. This app is free to download, and the monthly and annual subscription fees are relatively low.
The list of sleep apps compatible with the Apple Watch is constantly expanding. Always check to ensure an app can be used on your watch before paying for a download or subscription.
Apple Watch Feel, Design, and Operation
The Apple Watch has undergone many changes and updates since debuting in 2015. The Series 7’s improvements over predecessors include a larger display, a more robust face, and a longer-lasting battery.
As with other wearable devices, there are a few considerations to take into account before purchasing an Apple Watch, including:
- Size: The Series 7 offers Apple Watch’s largest display yet, increasing the size from the previous iteration — the Apple Watch SE — by more than 30%. The Series 7 watch case measures 45 millimeters. You can opt for a slightly smaller 41-millimeter case, which is also larger than the SE.
- Weight: How much your watch weighs depends on the band you select. The case weighs between 42 and 52 grams, depending on the display size. I opted for a smooth leather sports band and the watch never felt uncomfortable or excessively hefty.
- Fit: As with any standard watch, the band can be adjusted to fit snugly and comfortably on your wrist. Most bands have classic buckle closures.
- Case composition: The Apple Watch’s case consists of a glass front and ceramic crystal face. Aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium frames are available, as are multiple finish options for the metal’s color.
- Band: You can choose from different band materials such as leather, braided nylon, and steel, as well as smooth or textured designs. Most bands are also available in multiple colors and patterns. Prices vary considerably from band to band, with some designer styles exceeding the $1,000 mark.
- Battery life: The Apple Watch Series 7’s battery lasts up to 18 hours when fully charged. This is an improvement over previous versions of the device. Activating the sleep mode can help conserve your watch’s battery life. However, the battery does not last as long as most sleep trackers I’ve tested. If you use the Apple Watch for daytime activities as well as sleep monitoring, you can expect to charge the device on a regular basis.
- Water resistance: The Apple Watch is considered swim proof and is water-resistant up to 50 meters. You can wear the watch while swimming or bathing in shallow water. Diving or otherwise submerging the watch in deep water can cause permanent damage.
Buying and Setting up the Apple Watch
Lastly, I’ll cover the nuts and bolts of ordering, setting up, and returning the Apple Watch. While I’ve primarily focused on the Apple Watch’s sleep-related functions in this review, you should consider fitness tracking, wireless communication, and other factors when buying the device.
The Apple Watch is widely available online and in brick-and-mortar stores. You can purchase directly through Apple or third-party retailers such as Target, Best Buy, and Walmart. Certain return options and services are only available if you buy directly through Apple.
The Apple Watch’s price depends on whether you choose the 41- or 45-millimeter case as well as your band selection. Prices may differ if you purchase through a third-party retailer.
You can trade in old Apple Watch models and receive a discount on your purchase. The Series 6 model currently has the highest trade-in value, reducing your Series 7 purchase price by up to $150. SE, Series 5, Series 4, and Series 3 models can also be traded in for discounts.
Subscriptions work a bit differently with the Apple Watch compared to other sleep-tracking devices. Most people can add the watch to their cell phone plan for a small monthly fee, though this varies by service provider.
If you select the GPS plan at checkout, then you’ll be able to receive and send texts, make calls, and see notifications when your watch is linked to your iPhone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The more expensive GPS + Cellular plan allows you to perform these tasks with or without your iPhone present.
You can also purchase the Apple Fitness+ subscription, which includes weekly workouts. Programs include high intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga, strength training, and guided meditations. You get three months of free Apple Fitness+ access when you purchase a new Apple Watch. After that, you pay a monthly or annual fee.
The Apple Watch’s sleep programs are not part of Apple Fitness+, but this subscription could help you improve your sleep through a regular fitness routine.
Apple provides free shipping for all orders. Delivery is available to all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
In lieu of delivery, you can arrange to pick up your Apple Watch at a brick-and-mortar Apple Store. This option depends on proximity to and availability at your nearest store location.
Setting up the Apple Watch is a quick and straightforward process. Prompts guide you each step of the way.
Please note that you’ll need an Apple ID to complete the setup.
Apple allows you to return the Apple Watch within 14 days of the delivery date, provided the device is undamaged and in working condition. This is exclusively available to people who purchase their watch directly from Apple. If you buy your Apple Watch through a retailer, you will need to defer to that brand’s return policy instead.
The Apple Watch is covered under a one-year warranty for structural and material defects. Normal wear and tear, cosmetic damage, and issues caused by product modifications are not covered. If your watch becomes damaged, you may send it to Apple to be repaired. This service is free as long as the warranty is still valid.
The Bottom Line
The Apple Watch offers a wide array of functions related to daytime fitness, diet, and lifestyle. In terms of sleep tracking, however, the device is not nearly as advanced as other wearable trackers I’ve tested firsthand. If you don’t mind a simpler sleep app with a customizable alarm, sleep mode, and basic data tracking, then the Apple Watch might be a great fit — especially if you are physically active. If you’re looking for advanced tracking, you should probably look elsewhere.
That said, the Apple Watch is constantly changing and evolving. Recent Health app upgrades have improved the watch’s sleep-tracking abilities, and the device’s compatibility with downloadable apps means you can pay a bit extra for more comprehensive sleep metrics. Just keep in mind that the Apple Watch is not a dedicated sleep tracker like other devices I’ve reviewed.
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