New Fitbit Alta HR sleep tracking could be eye-opening

Curious about your sleep patterns and how they compare to others in your age and gender group? You'll appreciate Fitbit's new Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights, currently available in the new Alta HR tracker.

sleep stages

With the new Alta HR ($150 to $180), Fitbit has added more detail and helpful context to its sleep tracking data. The new features, accessible via the Fitbit app, are called Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights. And along with the now-shipping Alta HR, the Sleep Stages feature is coming soon to Fitbit’s Charge 2 and Blaze via firmware updates, while Sleep Insights will work with all sleep-tracking Fitbits.

The four stages of sleep

Sleep Stages provides a fever chart of how you slept, broken into four stages: Awake, REM, Light, and Deep. Below this chart lies a bar chart, which shows the total percentage and minutes spent in each of the four stages.

For context, tap the ’30 Day Avg’ tab to see how one night’s snoozefest compares on average to other slumber sessions over the prior month. And by tapping the ‘Benchmark’ tab, you’ll see how your sleep stats compare to other Fitbit users of your gender and age grouping.

fitbit sleep stages benchmark Fitbit

At a minimum, and pardon the pun, the ‘Benchmark’ comparison could be eye-opening— either cause for comfort or, if you’re way below the averages—worth discussing with your doctor.

Personally, I’d like to see even more features like Sleep Stages "Benchmark" in the future from Fitbit. The company has trained many of us to compare our weekly total step counts with friends and colleagues against whom we compete on the leaderboard. For me, that comparison has created a curiosity about how I’m doing with my health and fitness goals compared to others, especially other males in my age range.

It's all about context

Sleep Stages benchmarking is a welcome addition in the vein of last year’s Cardio Fitness Level and Score, a numerical rating of your cardio fitness that mimics a VO2 max score. The feature, introduced with Charge 2 last fall, puts your fitness in context with others in your gender/age group.

When you’ve tapped on the sleep data for a particular night, you can then tap the double-arrow icon in the upper right corner to get a little more context. Swiping left takes you to individual screens for each sleep stage, plus some text that helps explain the importance of the stage. You’ll also see the percentage of total sleep time spent in that stage, along with the actual time amount. In this enhanced view, however, you won’t see the Benchmark data about how you compare to others in your age/gender group. It would be nice to have all this data come together in one view.

The Sleep Insights feature is less about data and more about providing guidance based on the data. For example, I wore Alta HR for a full week — much of which was spent at a conference in Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, Fitbit noticed that my average sleep last week was “42 minutes less than your previous week.” The app suggested I try to get to bed earlier this week. And it offered an easy way to set a bedtime reminder to help me stick to the goal.

Jawbone offers similar sleep data, but...

Fitbit is not the first activity tracker company to offer enhanced sleep tracking. Jawbone’s app offers metrics for time spent in deep, REM, and light sleep and ‘smart coaching’ as well, though it doesn’t include context from other users.

But TechCrunch reported in February that Jawbone was exiting the consumer market. The company hasn’t updated its trackers in two years, though you can still buy them online and the companion Up app was updated in January. And some consumers have complained about Jawbone's lack of support. So, despite beating Fitbit to market with enhanced sleep tracking, Jawbone is no longer a valid alternative.

Fitbit’s enhanced sleep tracking is powered by its PurePulse heart rate tracking sensor. I’ll have more to say about Alta HR’s heart rate tracking in my next blog post.

In the meantime: I appreciate the additional perspective Fitbit’s new Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights offer. And I’m looking forward to new ways Fitbit will add more context and actionable insights about health and fitness.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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