Catching Up With Sleep: Wearable Users Share Their Thoughts and Experiences

Herman BonnerCommunications Specialist, Firstbeat

Stress & Recovery Wearable Devices

As the wearable industry’s leading provider of physiological analytics, Firstbeat works with top brands to give wearable users the best fitness, health, and performance insights possible.

Benefiting from this unique position, the Firstbeat Focus Group brings people together from across the wearable user spectrum to explore key topics and to provide current perspectives, expectations, and recommendations for the future.

The most recent topic examined was sleep monitoring.

Who was involved?

Respondents (N=82) were primarily from Europe and North America (65%, 28%), but also included participants from Asia, South America, and Oceania. Mirroring the consumer market, respondents were predominately male and had a keen interest in physical activity. The majority of respondents reported exercising at least 4 times per week (72%), while 22% reported exercising 2-3 times per week.

The majority of respondents (79%) reported having direct, personal experience with one or more sleep monitoring technologies . Aspects of sleep monitoring deemed most “useful” and “interesting” overwhelming included sleep duration (86%) and sleep quality (94%). Other key insights that respondents described as important included resting and average heart rate, deep sleep vs. light sleep cycles, and using heart rate variability (HRV) as a proxy for recovery.

For those who reported using a wearable device to gain sleep insights, the Garmin Forerunner 935 was the most frequently (16%) mentioned product, although most leading wearable brands were represented with Garmin, Apple, Fitbit, TomTom, Suunto, Polar, Whoop, and Xiaomi all being represented.

Disclosure: A number of devices from Garmin, TomTom, Huawei, Jabra, and Suunto rely on the Firstbeat analytics engine to provide training, recovery, and other physiologically-based insights.

Findings:

What are people doing with their sleep data?

In terms of practical application of sleep data, a number of respondents described utilizing sleep insights to influence their decisions the following day. Examples included modifying intensity and duration aspects of planned exercise sessions.

Respondents also described sleep data as “a mirror”that helped them reflect on their own feelings and experiences. Some observed how sleep insights offered perspective on various situations and daily activities, revealing the consequences and impact, if any, of stressful events and activities, caffeine and alcohol consumption, workout schedules, and dietary choices.

A handful of participants provided personal accounts of an observed relationship between inadequate sleep and susceptibility to illness. For these individuals, sleep data was viewed as a clear and present reminder of a link between sleep practices and overall health.

Interests and Recommendations:

Not surprisingly, respondents hoped to improve their sleep and to sleep as well as possible. A common request was for guidance based on their sleep data, things they could do, personally, to improve sleep quality, and satisfy their sleep needs.

Sleep cycles, light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep and waking up in the night were all frequently cited aspects of sleep and dimensions of interest for participants. Although a number of respondents indicated that more information would be helpful to better understand what these dimensions of sleep meant for them and their own situation.

It was commonly expressed that individual sleep needs vary from one day to the next, particularly as a result of exercise and work related stress.

Accompanying this belief, were frequent suggestions that physical activity levels, training loads, and stress data be incorporated into the picture as a basis for individualizing sleep guidance. For some, this provided the grounds for examining sleep from a restorative rather than strictly chronological perspective.

A desire to expand the purview of sleep monitoring to account for the restorative benefits of naps was also expressed. Among the recommendations were suggestions for providing age-based norms based on perceptions that sleep needs and behaviors change with age.

Describing their own experiences with sleep monitoring, several respondents cited the need for feedback to be continually relevant, new, and interesting on a daily basis. Elsewhere, similar needs were expressed in terms of dissatisfaction with personal sleep monitoring experiences, citing initial interest which declined after a few weeks or months of use.

Key Concerns:

Despite interest and broad confidence in the ultimate value of sleep monitoring data, a substantial number of respondents expressed skepticism and concern regarding the accuracy and reliability of current sleep monitoring tools. Notably, these complaints and concerns were not limited to a single brand or device, but rather reflected on the industry as a whole.

These concerns were substantiated with personal accounts primarily related to variations on well-known shortcomings of movement/accelerometer based sleep tracking. Specific issues included failure to identify going to bed, getting up in the night, differentiating between activities like reading, watching TV, lying awake before sleep or in the middle of the night, and sleep.

Summary:

Practically every wearable device on the market today offers to provide insight into the user’s sleep. This comes as no surprise. Professional’s typically recommend roughly a third of your life be spent sleeping. And yet, people often have trouble sleeping, are sleep deprived, are unsure whether they get enough sleep (a source of anxiety), or are completely unaware of their personal sleep needs.

While sleep recommendations and measurements are typically expressed in terms of hours (duration), mounting evidence highlights the restorative quality of sleep as an critical – but often overlooked – dimension. The need for sleep quality information is also increasingly recognized by individuals. This was particularly true amongst people with a favorable view of wearables, viewing them as valuable tools to help improve their fitness, health, and personal well-being.

People believe that sleep insights are important and useful, but are quick to point out shortcomings and poor personal experiences with current sleep tracking wearables. This can be viewed optimistically as a rich area for future improvement that will be both recognized and rewarded by consumers.

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Herman Bonner Communications Specialist, Firstbeat

Herman is a former U.S. World Cup fencer, coach and high-performance manager. Keen to explore how people make sense of the world around them, Herman currently thrives at the bustling intersection of technology and everyday life. His educational interests include mechanical engineering, economics, ethnomethodology, and sports management with a focus on marketing and communications.

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