Healthy Obsessions The Adventures of a Mild Obsessive Compulsive

Putting the FitBit to Bed: Sleep Tracking

Some people apparently use it like this. And then wonder why it slips out.

To use the fitbit for sleep tracking, you slip it into the wristband that comes with it. In this picture (which I snagged from the engadget review) you can see the band and the fitbit. Do not wear it this way. It may look pretty and snazzy like this, but the fitbit will slip right outta there. (Enough reviews complain about this problem that it’s worth noting). Do the smart thing, slip the fitbit all the way inside the band. You won’t be able to see it anymore, but it won’t slip out.

You wear the band on your non-dominant hand. I don’t know why they specify the non-dominant hand, but I’m willing to accept that there’s a reason for it.

When you’re ready to sleep, press down on the button for several seconds until the word Start pops up. Do the same thing in the morning until the word Stop pops up. If you forget, it’s okay. You can add in sleep times manually on the website, too.

So far as I’m concerned, the sleep tracking is the most useful function of the fitbit.

On its own, the fitbit cannot give you conclusive information about your sleep. It can’t tell you if you have DSPS, or Sleep Apnea, or Restless Leg Syndrome. But it can tell you if your sleep is disturbed, which could indicate any of those conditions. Or could indicate that your cat likes jumping on your stomach at 2 am with claws extended.

This is what a good night looks like for me.

Each pink spike in the graph above indicates a time when I moved around while trying to sleep. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I fully woke up each time, just that my sleep was light enough, or disturbed enough, at that point that I moved. At a sleep lab they’d call that an arousal (which is nowhere near as fun as what I usually mean when I use that word). When you’re in a deeper sleep phase, you don’t move around much.

This particular graph is from last Wednesday and indicates a very good night for me. I had 17 brief arousals, and managed to get over eight hours of sleep. I also was asleep at a decent time, which is an issue for me (remember my prior post about charting sleep?).

And here’s a bad night.

A bad night.

You can see that I was a lot more restless that night (Sunday). I still woke up 17 times. But I stayed awake, or aroused, a lot longer. And as I said earlier, not aroused in the good way. I totalled six and half hours of sleep, although I was in bed for 13 hours. This is incredibly useful information; I wish to heck I’d had this info when I was a teenager getting nagged for sleeping in so late on weekends and being zoned out in morning classes (8am Italian was excruciating).

If I’d known how bad my sleep was, I might have been able to do something about it. Or my father (the pediatrician) might have.

You see, I have sleep apnea. Want to know what the difference between those two nights is? The good night, I used my CPAP. The bad night, because of congestion, I didn’t use my CPAP.

See what I mean about that sleep tracking being useful? On its own, the fitbit doesn’t tell me I have sleep apnea. But it does tell me when I’m having trouble sleeping. And these results are consistent enough for me to say that my CPAP definitely makes a difference.

Hours of sleep in March.

Here you can see how much sleep I actually got this month. Not how much time I spent in bed trying to sleep, but how much sleep. This is a key distinction.

You can also see how frequently I wake up during the night. There’s a huge variation there. Some of that correlates with how long I spent in bed (if you’re only in bed for four hours, you’re going to wake up fewer times than you would in eight). But there are other potential factors as well.

Times awakened.

This data can help me figure out if the nights I take a decongestant are, overall, better. Or worse. Or no different from other nights. Likewise with taking Ambien. Or with exercising before bed. Or having a glass of wine before bed. Or changing my diet. Or any other variable I care to examine.

Fitbit Ultra

14 Thoughts on “Putting the FitBit to Bed: Sleep Tracking

  1. Megan on April 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm said:

    My best guest for the non-dominant hand thing is that a lot of people flail their dominant hand around more than the non-dominant while sleeping or while briefly roused from sleep.

  2. Pingback: Comparison: Fitbit vs. Sleep Cycle « Healthy Obsessions

  3. StockC on May 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm said:

    I’m wondering whether Fitbit is capable of tracking those brief moment of daytime apnea that occur while I’m at work sitting at my computer. I notice that they occur but have no idea how frequently they occur. Any opinions?

    • Diana on May 18, 2011 at 10:26 am said:

      I wouldn’t think the Fitbit would help much in monitoring day time apneas. For the night time it really relies upon the fact that most people lie still during sleep. I’m not sure what would work; maybe a pulse oximeter to monitor oxygen rates or a Holter monitor for central nervous system events. The Holter monitor would definitely be able to detect any heart rate changes, which might indicate an apnea. That’s a really interesting question…

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  5. the king on February 9, 2012 at 5:46 am said:

    was this on standard or sensitive setting?

  6. Margo Silvester on May 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm said:

    I have never been able to get the word Start to come up. If I hold the button down for a few seconds the stop watch starts. Can you help me?

  7. Bernard on July 31, 2012 at 9:40 pm said:

    The stopwatch is for the 2nd generation FitBit Ultra it means the same thing as the Start in the 1st gen. device.

  8. The Fitbit One announced, ready in October… Now has a wakeup feature and Bluetooth 4 for syncing with newer phones.

  9. MJ Angel on July 17, 2014 at 7:17 am said:

    Great synopsis about Fitbit’s sleep feature. I will test out how/if drinking wine/tea/less food before bedtime/etc. affects my sleep. Thank you.

  10. Derik on April 6, 2015 at 5:29 am said:

    Wow, you were in bed for 13Hrs on your “Bad Night”. Talk about some serious problems. I would look more into depression treatment rather than tracking your sleep. No matter how poor your sleep quality is on a night who just laying in bed flopping around for 13 hours.

  11. Thanks for this article Diana, it really helped me understand my chart!

  12. Love my fitbit One— BUT 2 questions….
    Do I leave the fitbit in its clip when I put it in the wristband?.Also, and more importantly, when I press and hold, the stopwatch starts, but the word START never appears….and the screen goes black…….so sometimes my nights sleep does not register…..
    Thank you for any help….

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