Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fitbit Says You're Using Your Alarm Clock All Wrong

Trouble shutting down at night and hitting the pillow? There's a Fitbit app for that.

Fitbit, the maker of fitness-tracking devices, has rolled out new features for its app aimed at improving sleep. Among the updates are alerts to remind you to go to sleep, and a vibrating wakeup alarm that gently rouses you out of sleep without disturbing your partner.

“Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is one of the simplest and most powerful things you can do to improve sleep,” Fitbit's Melanie Chase, director of product marketing, told The Huffington Post.

And that's the goal of the new Sleep Schedule app, Chase said -- “to help guide you to get a more consistent pattern of sleep.”

The new tools make personalized sleep recommendations. The app uses your previous sleep history to set setting optimal bedtimes and wakeup times. Users can get bedtime push notification reminders on their smartphones, and set silent alarms on their Fitbit devices based on personalized recommendations.

Don't worry: You can override the recommendations to set alarms that match your schedule.

Users can track sleep progress using the app's history charts.

The updated app is compatible with all Fitbit devices that track sleep (and through manual sleep tracking with Fitbit One).

What about REM?

Noticeably absent from Fitbit's sleep-tracking offerings is the capability to monitor how deeply you sleep. Other sleep trackers (such as the Jawbone UP or the Aura Sleep Sensor) let users know how much time they spend in deep, light and REM sleep -- and therefore how well rested you should (theoretically) feel.

Fitbit said the focus of its app update is to help users improve sleep consistency for better sleep quality.

“Getting enough sleep and regularly going to bed around the same time each night can be a challenge,” Chase said. The app's new tools look at your data, analyze it for patterns and create a personalized sleep schedule for you.

"This [app] is for people looking to make the most of their sleep and attempt to optimize the sleep that they are getting in order to maximize their daytime productivity," Michael Grandner, director of the University of Arizona's sleep and health research program (and is a Fitbit sleep adviser), told HuffPost.

Can an app make you sleep better?

Science agrees that going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is one of the best things you can do for your sleep. The consistency helps set your body's internal clock, so you expect to sleep at the same time every night and you actually sleep better because your body is ready for that sleep, according to experts.

But you need to actually clock all the sleep you need to get the benefits, sleep expert and adviser Els van der Helm, told HuffPost.

Sleep trackers can overestimate the amount of time that was spent asleep, which could be dangerous if users are building up more sleep debt than they think, van der Helm said.

Rely on your own best judgment of both your sleep and how you feel during the day -- subjectively.

Els van der Helm, sleep expert and adviser

One study found that Fitbits misidentified sleep and wake times, compared with higher quality tests used by sleep doctors (like polysomnography and standard actigraphy).

Use common sense when it comes to sleep tracker results, van der Helm said. “Rely on your own best judgment of both your sleep and how you feel during the day -- subjectively.”

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post's sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@huffingtonpost.com.

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