Activity trackers and smartwatches are a great option for those looking for insights into their sleep habits. But what if the Fitbit on your wrist is not tracking sleep properly? Try out one of these troubleshooting options.
How exactly does Fitbit track my sleep?
Fitbit is one of the most highly regarded wearable brands in the world, and its trackers do a truly useful service. You can draw upon data gathered by a Fitbit device to gauge your health and well-being, as well as monitor your sleep.
On the latter topic, people usually wonder… how exactly does a gadget on my wrist track sleep? How accurate is this information?
The San Francisco wearables manufacturer now offers quite a few different devices. But when it comes to sleep tracking, some are better than others. Depending on your model, sleep tracking will differ; some models keep tabs on sleep cycles automatically while others require additional user input.
Manual sleep tracking (One, Zip)
If you’re still holding on to a Fitbit One, then your device uses manual sleep tracking. Once you are in bed and ready to go to asleep, press and hold the tracker’s button for several seconds. You will see a stopwatch begin to count, and the other tracker icons will blink, indicating that you are in sleep mode. When you wake up, hold the button down for several seconds to stop the sleep recording. Your tracker’s icons will stop blinking, indicating that you’ve exited sleep mode.
Essential reading: 10 gadgets for advanced sleep monitoring
A Fitbit Zip doesn’t track sleep. This means that you need to manually enter this information if you want it to show in your timeline. So you’ll need to type the information on time spent in bed through the website dashboard.
Automatic sleep tracking (Alta series, Blaze, Charge series, Flex series, Inspire series, Surge, Ionic, Versa series)
Those using the models listed above will be happy to know that sleep tracking is automatic. This means you don’t have to fiddle around with statistics nor worry about launching sleep mode when you go to bed. Although you can still do so if you suspect the automatic readings aren’t precise enough. Using manual mode provides you with one additional stat (time to fall asleep), but otherwise manual and automatic sleep metrics are the same.
By default, the device itself will automatically determine when you lie down based on the decreased rate of motion from the accelerometer. For models with a built-in heart rate sensor, the tracker will also factor in your heart rate data into this equation. Those tend to be more accurate.
When your Fitbit syncs in the morning you’ll see last night’s sleep stats on your dashboard.
The limitations of sleep tracking
Even though Fitbit is a brilliant gadget and really useful as a health tool, it does have certain limitations. For example, it won’t automatically keep track of naps shorter than one hour, since that’s the default resting period that will activate the automated readings. If you’re adept of short naps and you want to capture all your sleep stats, you will have to remember to activate sleep mode manually whenever you lie down.
Type of sleep data you can expect from a Fitbit
Sleep stages and more
For a long time, Fitbit devices had no way of detecting sleep cycles. They only gathered info on how long you slept, how many times you woke up and the number of times you were restless. There is a “sensitive” setting which causes your tracker to record nearly all movements as time spent restless or awake. The “normal” setting counts significant movements as being awake (such as rolling over).
A firmware update a couple of years ago brought the much anticipated sleep stages feature to a number of models. All fitness trackers with heart rate sensors apart from Charge HR and Surge are now able to tell you how much Light, Deep and REM sleep you are getting each night. Fitbit calculates values by combining accelerometer data, heart rate variability (the time between beats), and Fitbit’s proprietary algorithms.
Some models also feature a silent alarm function which does a fairly good job of waking you up by vibrating at a set time. Having said that, if you are a heavy sleeper, its probably not a good idea just to rely on a vibrating alarm.
There are other useful features, too. One of these are personalized sleep goals based on your sleep data which are there to help you achieve your optimal amount of sleep each night. This includes customized bedtime and wake-up targets to establish sleep consistency; reminders to stay on schedule, and a sleep schedule history to chart your progress.
Finally, lets not forget the Sleep Insights feature. This is essentially advice on ways to improve your sleep. Fitbit is using all your activity and diet statistics to discover trends and then dish up personalized guidance on how to improve sleep. The more you wear your tracker to bed, the more personalized insights you may receive.
Even more advanced features and measuring oxygen levels
A number of Fitbit devices have a built-in SpO2 sensor. This includes the Charge 3,4 & 5, Versa range, Sense and Ionic. The sensor measure oxygen levels in the blood, providing information on how well the body distributes the gas from the lungs to all of its cells.
These levels fluctuate throughout the day. Healthy individuals typically register readings above 97%. Measurements should never fall below 95%, although levels above 92% are generally considered safe.
In the morning you’ll notice a graph called Estimated Oxygen Variation in the sleep section of the Fitbit app. If the line is green your blood oxygen is fine, orange indicates there may be a problem. There are also two horizontal lines which show the healthy range. The company is said to be working now on using this information to identify conditions such as sleep apnea.
What to do if the Fitbit is not tracking sleep
Time needed: 15 minutes.
These are the troubleshooting steps to utilize if the device on your wrist is not doing its job properly. Sometimes you might wake up in the morning and find that only half of your sleep session was recorded. Or the tracker might say you only had 2 hours of kip time when in reality you’ve had a good 8 hours. Or perhaps your sleep stages are not showing. Something has gone wrong and the Fitbit has not done what it is supposed to. It makes that night’s data pretty useless.
Incomplete data is a more common problem than not tracking sleep entirely, and it can affect any Fitbit. It doesn’t matter if it’s the recent crop such as Sense, Versa 3 – or an older device. It happens on occasion.
A good example is the Fitbit Inspire 2. At the start of this year many users were complaining that the device would not track sleep – at all. We wrote a piece at the time on how to resolve. This was a major issue at the time.
- Reboot your wearable
First off, you should always try turning the wearable on and off – i.e. a soft restart. That reboots your device but keeps all you data on it. Think of it like switching a desktop computer on and off. This simple thing can resolve many problems and is something definitely worth trying out.
If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our guide on how to reset your Fitbit fitness tracker or smartwatch.
- Adjust how you are wearing the tracker to bed
Make sure the wearable is positioned correctly on your wrist. For best results, it should be about 2-3 finger widths above your wrist bone.
If your data seems off, you may want to experiment with perhaps wearing the device a bit tighter or wearing it on your other wrist. If sleep stages are not showing it might be because the tracker was unable to get a consistent heart-rate reading or you wore it too loosely.
- Try wearing the device on the other wrist
Strapping the wearable around your non-dominant wrist might increase accuracy. This is because the non dominant hand tends to move less. Fewer movements point to more kip time.
- Make sure you’ve had at least 3 hours of consecutive sleep
One thing to be aware of is that you need at least 3 consecutive hours of sleep in order for sleep stage info to be recorded. Shorter sleep sessions will record but without this type of info. In fact, the data will be quite limited. Fitbit keeps tabs on all naps that last more than an hour.
- Is the battery critically low?
There are a few other things you should check. If your battery is critically low it is possible your wearable has switched off sleep tracking during the night to preserve battery. Top up the wearable.
- Change sleep sensitivity
Few users know there’s a sleep sensitivity setting in the Fitbit app. Go to the Accounts tab and choose Advanced Settings. Tap on Sleep Sensitivity and choose from the available options.
The default option is the normal setting. This only counts significant movements as being awake, such as rolling over. The sensitive setting will result in your device recording nearly all movements as time spent restless or awake. Play around with this to see if it makes a difference.
- Is the heart rate sensor enabled?
Next up you should check the hart rate setting. This should be set to “On” because Fitbit uses the sensor to figure out when you are asleep and for sleep stage info. Even if you think it’s on – double-check. You may have inadvertently switched it off.
The device on your wrist might record sleep even with the heart rate monitor off. But in this case you will not get any sleep stage info – just the basics.
- Are you running the latest software?
Typically, it is good to be running on the latest version of the Fitbit smartphone app and the latest version of the firmware for your activity tracker or smartwatch.
For example, a few months ago there was a bug which resulted in users only seeing simplified sleep data. The bug treated long sleep sessions as if they were naps! The issue appeared on both Android and iOS phones.
And yes, we know it can be a risk sometimes updating to the latest version of the software. But in the long run you are better off. Fitbit has been known to release buggy software updates but that’s the exception rather than the rule.
- If everything fails – contact Fitbit’s Customer Support
As always, if all else fails you should contact Fitbit’s Customer Support team. If your wearable has completely stopped tracking sleep you may be experiencing another issue. Or the device may be faulty.
A workaround if only part of your sleep has been recorded
There is a workaround if you find your nightly sleep data is incomplete. It is a manual solution that is not ideal – but may be better than doing nothing.
You can edit the sleep log in the smartphone app by tapping the 3 dots in the upper right corner of each sleep session. This gives you the option to edit or delete the line.
So let’s say you have two separate sleep sessions for the night. You could delete the first one and edit the start of the second one to coincide with when you actually went to bed. It’s a good way of merging two or more half-night segments.
The sleep stage info will be a bit messed up but the length of the sleep session will be correct. You might even find that sleep stage info has been deleted entirely for that night.
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