The creators of Fitbit have teamed up with a panel of American sleep experts in an effort to help users get a better night’s sleep.

Fitbit unveiled its latest feature, Sleep Schedule, on Monday, which is now available as a free update to the app and compatible with all Fitbit devices that track sleep.

The update allows users to set personalized sleep goals (how many hours to get a night) based on data collected by the tracker, customize bedtime and wake-up targets and set reminders to stay on schedule. It also charts progress so users can adjust their goals accordingly.

“If you’re constantly changing your sleep routine, it can have the same effect as giving yourself jetlag,” Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona and one of Fitbit’s three sleep experts, said in a statement. “You should aim to get a sufficient amount of sleep each night and be consistent with the times you go to sleep and wake up each day.”

Sleep Schedule does just that, he said, because users can see how much sleep they’re getting each night and set corresponding goals and reminders to get them on track.

“This has the potential to help millions of people around the world improve their sleep and overall well-being,” added Gardner.

According to Alanna McGinn, a Burlington-based sleep consultant and founder of Good Night Sleep Site, sleep consistency (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day) is “the number one step in practicing proper sleep hygiene.”

“(It has to be) the same time every day – even on weekends and even on holidays,” she told, adding that she suggests the 80:20 rule, meaning it can be followed 80 per cent of the time. “It helps sync your body to sleep better, to fall asleep better, to get better sleep throughout the night.”

While McGinn appreciates that sleep apps and technology like this “(brings) more attention to one’s sleep health” by encouraging people to change their sleep habits, she cautions against using the technology as a medical device.

If someone has “bigger sleep issues … you don’t want to base it just on the readings that you’re getting,” she said. “It’s not to be used as a cure to things like insomnia, sleep apnea.”

In more severe cases, McGinn instead suggests going to a clinic for a sleep study, where you’d get hooked up to an EEG to accurately measure your brainwaves overnight.


Getting set up

In order for Fitbit to learn your typical sleeping habits, your sleep needs to be tracked for five days. However, if you’re already a Fitbit user, since most devices are able to track sleep, it’s already been tracking it and you’re ready to start using Sleep Schedule.

Sleep goal

Sleep Schedule automatically defaults to an eight hour sleep goal (the recommended amount of sleep each night is seven to nine hours). However, in account settings you can adjust your sleep goal if you think you need more or less time based on your sleep data, which has already been collected and tracked by your Fitbit.

Bedtime and wakeup targets

Sleep Schedule recommends bedtime and wake-up targets based on your sleep goal and sleep behaviour so you can meet your goal. Again, this can be customized if it doesn’t quite match your schedule.

Bedtime and wakeup reminders

To help reach your sleep goal, Sleep Schedule allows you to set reminders which will send push notifications to your smartphone, for example, to remind you to wind down as bedtime approaches.

Silent alarm

You can set a silent, vibrating alarm to deliver a “peaceful wake-up call” at your wake-up target. This can also be set to occur on several days of the week.

Chart your progress

Sleep Schedule takes a close look at sleep consistency by tracking total time asleep, restless time and awake time. You can view a sleep chart for each individual night, or view a history chart to see if you’re meeting your goals.

Distinguishing sleep states

• Asleep: When your body is completely at rest during sleep mode, meaning it’s not moving, Fitbit records this as time asleep

• Restless: If you move from a restful position into one involving more movement, like turning over, Fitbit records this as restless. While you may not be fully awake or aware of your movements, it indicates that you may not be getting the most restful sleep.

• Awake: When the tracker indicates that you are moving so much that restful sleep isn’t possible, the sleep graph will show that you were awake

Tracking sleep in sensitive vs. normal mode

Your Fitbit tracker can monitor your sleep in two modes: sensitive or normal (which can be adjusted under account > advanced settings > sleep sensitivity).

Sensitive Mode: This setting causes your tracker to record almost all movements as time spent awake, which Fitbit suggests is useful for people with sleep disorders or those who wear the tracker somewhere other than their wrist while asleep.

Normal Mode: This setting only counts significant movements as being awake (like rolling over), which Fitbit suggests is appropriate for most users.