Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Apple Watch Series 2 as a Sleep Tracker

So, I've been using the Apple Watch Series 2 for more than three months now. In this short span of time, I used it, with a couple of apps, to monitor my sleep quality. After all, this is one of the best selling points of most fitness trackers... For me, Fitbit is still one of the best when it comes to automatically tracking your sleep health, particularly the two that I have already tried and used, the Fitbit Surge and the Fitbit Charge 2. 

So, how did the Apple Watch Series 2 fare?

My Apple Watch Series 2 with the beautiful orange sports band!

First off, the Series 2 made sleep tracking possible because of its bigger battery. From my own experience, my Series 2 can last up to at least 36 hours on a single charge and I think that it will last for 48 hours if it is stretched to its battery limit. I don't know, though, how the Series 0, the original one, nor the Series 1 will be able to fare when it comes to sleep tracking. 

To use the Watch overnight and the whole day the next day, what I do is, at night, when I have completed my circles, I put the Watch on its charger and charge it for at least an hour. Then, in the morning, after my morning run and while I shower, I put the Watch on the charger again to top the battery off. So far, this system has worked for me and the watch battery hadn't died on me yet.

And what surprised me the most is, during the overnight, the Apple Watch's battery only loses about 3% of its charge.

However, sleep tracking is something that the Apple Watch on its own can't do. First, it cannot do automatic sleep tracking on its own. Then, the Health App nor the Activity App on the iPhone do not give you a summary of your heart rate readings. The only thing the Health App will tell you is the latest reading made by the Watch. And speaking of readings, the Apple Watch will only measure your heart rate when you are stationary... This is quite different to what the Fitbit Charge 2 does which measures your heart rate 24/7.

So, the Apple Watch nor the Health App will not be able to tell you your resting heart rate. I know that you can just use two fingers and use the timer functionality of the Watch but it would be much better if the Watch itself can do it automatically.

So, the Apple Watch, on its own cannot measure sleep quality nor will it give you your resting heart rate automatically. But, the watch can be made better, in this regard, with the help of two apps.

The first app that I use to measure heart health is the app HeartWatch. This app pulls the heart rate measurements from the Health App as provided by the Watch. From this, the app shows you several graphics related to your heart health, like your regular heart beat, your resting heart rate (the one the app calls "Waking Heartbeat") and your workout heart beat. It will then tell you your different zones like, the more blue for your regular heartbeat, the better. It can also tell you your fitness zones like if you are just burning fat or you are already building fitness. If you click on any of the circles, then you will be able to see all of the heart rate measurements. 

When you click on the Dashboard within the app you can get a summary of your activity, etc.

But what I find most amusing with this app is the mascot Timogotchi! Essentially, Tim, as he is fondly called, is a plump guy in the morning. He will then change based on your day and the app will actually forecast what Tim will look like at 10pm based, again, on your movements. If you move a lot, then Tim's love handles will go away and he will actually turn into a superhero!!!

It's a fun way to see how your day looks! Oh, I wonder why Tim doesn’t have a female counterpart…

I just wish that this app will tell you your V02 Max level, like what is determined by the Fitbit Charge 2...

(And speaking of heart rate measurements, the Apple Watch, while I was jogging, sometimes give me measurements above 200 beats per minute! And one time, it measured my heart rate to be below 30 beats per minute while I was asleep! Weird! In the former, I know my heart rate was not that high since the Charge 2 measured my heart rate at around 150 bpm. Also, when I saw that reading in the Apple Watch, I re-adjusted the watch, waited for a couple of seconds, then waited until it gives a measurement that is equivalent to the one given by the Charge 2. It is so weird that sometimes the Apple Watch can give really wild measurements!)

The other app that I use is the app Pillow. With this app, you can determine the quality of your sleep with the use of the Apple Watch; yes, you have to wear your Apple Watch to bed... The data is then presented with a beautiful and colorful graphic. However, I still think the Apple Watch is overly sensitive, hence, a little movement can be misconstrued for a big one (see Stand below). Because of this, there is a large discrepancy between the measurements made by the Apple Watch and made by the Fitbit wearable. My sleep pattern is always worse based on the Apple Watch!

Pillow is a very nice app but sleep detection is not automatic... And the process of using tracking is a convoluted process:

  1. set the time you want to wake up on the iPhone app
  2. press start on the iPhone app (the iPhone app will then tell you to press the "Start" button on the Watch)
  3. after you press start on the Watch, you will select a mode on the Watch app (you can actually tell the app on the watch to remember your preference in this step)
  4. you can choose to enter sleep notes
  5. put the phone face down or turn off the screen
  6. when you wake up, remember to turn off the sleep tracking of the app

With the Fitbit Charge 2, you will have to do the following steps to activate sleep tracking:

  1. go to sleep. The Charge 2 will automatically determine that you are already asleep...
  2. there is no step 2, nor step 3...
  3. oh, when you wake up… you just wake up: you don’t need to turn off sleep tracking or anything. you just need to open the Fitbit app to see the quality of your sleep

But at least, with these two apps, the shortcomings of the Apple Watch as a sleep tracker is somewhat rectified...

Lastly, one of the circles that you have to close is the Stand circle. The Apple Watch requires you to stand, or, in reality, walk for at least a minute, or about a hundred or so steps every hour for 12 hours. It need not be consecutive hours.

The problem with the Stand circle in the overnight, in my experience, is that the Apple Watch thinks I stood and walked for a minute - while I was sleeping!!! The worst I got was, the Watch thought I stood for 5 hours during the night. Either I move very much, or I actually sleep walk, or that the Watch itself is overly sensitive...

Compare this to the measurement of my Fitbit Charge 2. Looking at the Fitbit app for the same night that I got the 5 "Stand" hours, the Charge 2 said I was "awake", as in I wasn't in "deep sleep" for three times during the night, but the Charge 2 didn't actually measure steps during those times!!! That was so weird!!!


I can understand why Apple didn't focus on the sleep tracking capabilities of the original Apple Watch. But with the increased battery life, I wish Apple would make the Series 2 watches capable of analyzing your sleep quality. I think a simple WatchOS update would be able to help with this.

And when the Apple Watch can measure sleep quality, is not overly sensitive, and can measure V02 Max, then it'll be a more complete fitness tracker.

Will hold my breath for those to happen!

You can download the HeartWatch and Pillow apps on the links below.

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