Healthy Sleeping Habits

Apple Watch’s New Sleep Tracking Wants You to Simplify the Definition of a Good Night’s Rest

Kells McPhillips

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Photo: Apple; Graphics: Well+Good Creative

Apple Watch’s iconic red, green, and blue rings detect how much you move, exercise, and stand in the 12- to 16-hour stretch you spend awake each day. Last week, the tech company announced that WatchOS 7 will go after a new goal for the everyday wearer: sleep. When it comes to wearable tracking that truly betters your health, the tech company is declaring eight hours the next 10,000 steps with Apple Sleep. But don’t expect a bunch of confusing data points that will leave you researching their meaning well into the wee hours: Apple is instead taking on the behaviors that keep many of us awake.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than one-third of Americans aren’t getting the doctor-recommended seven-plus hours per night. Over time, those lost ZZZs cause you to be TAAT (tired all the time) and strip you of your ability to focus, give energy to the things you love, and can even contribute to decision fatigue.  WatchOS7 wants to change that. Not by ending the nightmare of sleepless nights, but by giving you all the tools you need to conquer bedtime on your own.

Sleep doctors will tell you that the best sleeping schedules actually begin a few hours before you shut out the lights—and that’s where Apple Sleep starts, too. A feature called Wind Down lets you create a customized schedule before bed that prioritizes apps that help you relax (whether that means meditation, Tetris, or slow lit). And if and when you wake up at 3 a.m. with a bout of insomnia only to look at your device, the Wind Down interface will boot up once more to lull you back to sleep. “Rather than opening your phone and going and using a number of apps at that point, we’re hoping that by offering you a meditation app or the tools that you’ve chosen for yourself, you’ll be able to transition back to sleep more easily,” says Kevin Lynch, Apple VP of technology.

As you sleep soundly, Apple Watch registers your heart rate and hours asleep, tracking the latter metric over time to help you identify patterns of sleep, including how it has changed from month to month, or if the weekends tend to wreck your carefully-honed snooze schedule.

Lynch says that what WatchOS7 doesn’t keep track of is just as important, though. In the age of smartwatch-driven data overload, Apple doesn’t wants its data derived from sleep to be a source of stress (that in turn keeps you awake at night). “What we found is that too much [sleep data] can be overwhelming for people and the relevance of the information isn’t actually super clear right now: how many REM states you go into or how deep your sleep is,” says Lynch. “Instead of overwhelming people with too much detail, we want to look forward to how we can support them.”

“One philosophy that we’ve used across many of the features of Apple Watch is to reinforce positive behavior.” —Kevin Lynch, Apple VP of Technology

Hitting the seven-plus hour mark on sleep seems to be the one and only metric that researchers and scientists have accepted as gospel—and that’s what Apple has honed in on it for WatchOS7, while still allowing you to  set your own goals just like you’d do for movement. “One philosophy that we’ve used across many of the features of Apple Watch is to reinforce positive behavior,” says Lynch. “Rather than being critical, Apple Watch is viewed as a positive partner in your health.” (In other words: If you have a bad night’s sleep, you don’t have to worry about getting a lecture from the device on your wrist.)

Of course, a big part of sleeping is waking up and easing yourself into the day—and that’s where WatchOS7 truly earns its 360 views of rest. If you, like me, have spent the last 10 years waking up to the dog barking alarm—the horror!—expect a more peaceful experience from now on. “One of the team members actually went up to the north coast here in California, woke up at five o’clock in the morning, and went outside with an iPhone and recorded the bird songs outside by the coast to create this sound for Wake Up.” The Sleep app will include both a haptic alarm (which uses gentle vibrations to keep you up) and a soothing collection of sounds—birds and otherwise—that wake you up in a peaceful manner.

Once you wake up, the data your Apple Watch stored overnight becomes available to you in graphs and stats that will help you keep caring for yourself for the rest of the day. Just like your workout or your stand goal,  how you’re sleeping moves the needle on your overall health and wellness. It’s high time we all started bragging about how many hours we slept as we do logging our 10,000 steps. The public beta of WatchOS7 will be available in July (the full, free version to follow in the fall), and we’ll all be better for it in our ongoing pursuit of valuable shut-eye.

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