How to Track Sleep With the Apple Watch

Last Updated: Oct 01, 2021

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Out of the box, you cannot easily track sleep with the Apple Watch. To enable sleep tracking, you need third-party apps or even another fitness band, such as WHOOP or the now discontinued Jawbone UP.

I have tested both Sleep++ and the Jawbone UP2 and would like to share my experience with you. Continue reading to find out if the Apple Watch can be turned into a decent sleep tracker. 

Note that since I have published the article, I started using WHOOP is my primary fitness and sleep tracker because it is much more reliable and it provides in-depth reporting and analysis of the captured data. To learn more about WHOOP, check out my review.

Apple Watch Series 3 $329.00
Jawbone UP2 $39.95
Sleep++ App App Store

Update: Jawbone decided to exit the consumer business and thus has stopped updating their hard- and software.

Sleep Tracking and Smart Alarms

During the week, I usually get up between 5 and 5:30 am. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I work out before going to the office. That’s the only way for me to keep up with my workout schedule because in the evening I want to relax and enjoy time with the family.

On days I don’t work out, I use the time, while everyone else in the house is still sleeping to respond to emails that came in from my European colleagues, write on my blog and do other stuff that I often don’t find time for during the day.

But getting up early can have drawbacks, such as:

  1. My alarm often also wakes up my wife
  2. Getting up early requires going to bed early to get enough sleep

Smart Alarms

To get up in the morning, I obviously need an alarm, and I used to rely on my iPhone and later on my Apple Watch to wake me up. Unfortunately the alarm often also woke up my wife and she wasn’t particularly happy about that. So I needed something that would wake up only me but nobody else (i.e., setting through vibration and not sound). Additionally, I wanted to be woken up at the right time during my sleep cycle.

Sleep tracking and Smart Alarms are two key features the Apple Watch doesn’t have. So in this post, I explore alternative solutions to add those missing capabilities to my Apple Watch + iPhone combination. I’ll share why I decided to buy a Jawbone UP2 and how well the device works as a sleep tracker and a smart alarm. I’ll also mention some of the issues I had to set up the device and how frustrating its “automatic sleep detection” feature is, while enabled.

Update: Jawbone confirmed via email that switching modes via tapping on the band (i.e., tap to sleep) has been permanently eliminated for the poorly implemented “automatic sleep detection.”
That’s a major disappointment and means that if you don’t want to rely on this feature, you have to enable/disable sleep mode via the UP app. So every morning at 5 am I have to fetch my iPhone to disable sleep mode. Well done Jawbone!

Sleep tracking

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends for adults to sleep between 7 and 8 hours per day. The quality of sleep is also essential, which is influenced by various factors (Sleep Hygiene). Keeping track of all that manually isn’t feasible, so I needed a device or an app to help me.

Jawbone UP2

I have used a Jawbone UP2 band for a couple of months to track my sleep, while my Apple Watch was charging overnight.

This double-team approach worked pretty well and had only minor disadvantages, including:

  • While traveling, I had to carry an extra charger for the UP2
  • The UP2 is yet another device that needed to be charged, albeit only every 9–10 days
  • While I wasn’t wearing the UP2, during the day, it sometimes recorded that time as sleep, and I had to delete incorrectly recorded sleep data
  • All sleep data is synched to Jawbone’s servers

Setting up the Jawbone UP2

Setting up the Jawbone UP2 is supposed to be a simple process:

  1. Attach the tracker (as Jawbone calls its bands) to the charger to activate it
  2. Download the iOS app
  3. Use the iOS app to pair the tracker to your iPhone

I plugged in my Jawbone UP2 and the LED’s lit up as described in the sparse documentation that comes with the device. I didn’t immediately pair the UP2 with my iPhone, but instead, I let it charge for an hour.

Pairing the tracker didn’t work as the app couldn’t find a nearby UP device. The following troubleshooting steps didn’t resolve the problem either:

  • Disable and re-enable Bluetooth on my iPhone
  • Restart iPhone
  • Delete and re-install Jawbone UP app
  • Try to link tracker to my wife’s iPhone
  • Attempt soft-reset of tracker

It turned out, my Jawbone UP2 froze and couldn’t even be reset using the method described in the support article. After I had spent an hour trying to get the Jawbone UP2 to work, I gave up. I was annoyed and wanted to return the band to Amazon.

The next morning I decided to give it another shot, and to my surprise, the soft reset worked, and I could pair the tracker to my iPhone.

Automatic Sleep Detection

As I mentioned before, I only needed the Jawbone UP2 for sleep tracking and smart alarms, but nothing else. So after I had paired the tracker to my iPhone, I put it aside on my desk, instead of wearing it.

Before Jawbone released a firmware update for the UP2 to enable automatic sleep detection, one could switch between “normal” and sleep mode by tapping on the band. But some overly ambitious Product Manager at Jawbone must have figured, that automatically detecting when you’re sleeping is much more convenient than having to tap the band.

Any lack of movement appears to make the tracker think you’re sleeping, even if you’re not even wearing it.

So by putting the tracker on my desk, and not wearing it, the Jawbone UP2 thought I was sleeping – thanks to its automatic sleep detection that you cannot disable.

Jawbone is aware of the issue and is working on a fix.

Annoyed by the incorrectly recorded sleep, I tried to delete the sleep data. First I removed it from the Health app and then I tried to do the same via the UP app. Clicking on the graph at the top allows you to edit sleep data, but unfortunately, all you can do is change the time you fell asleep and the time you woke up. There is no delete function.

Confusing app

After several calls with Jawbone’s support, I finally figured out that there is a second graph further down the timeline on the home screen of the UP app. That second graph allows you to edit and delete recorded data.

Later that day, before going to bed, I delete sleep data the UP2 incorrectly recorded during the day and then manually put the tracker into sleep mode via the UP app. The next morning I switched out of sleep mode, and seconds later the sleep data appeared as a graph in the UP app as well as in the Health app.

The good news is that automatic sleep detection appears to disable itself, once you have manually logged sleep. That’s good enough for me until Jawbone releases an update for its app.

Other minor issues with the UP app

Besides “automatic sleep detection” and the initial pairing issue, I have found a couple of minor issues that Jawbone hopefully corrects soon, including:

  • Switching between “normal” and sleep mode should not need five clicks in the app. Tapping the band is much faster and more convenient. So please restore the old behavior or at least make it an option.
  • Making changes that need to be synced to the band, like smart alarm time, sleep mode, etc. is slow because the settings in the app only update after they have synchronized to the band. So Switching to sleep mode takes several seconds before the icon in the app shows the moon, indicating sleep mode is on. As a result, the app appears unresponsive, and you never know if your click/tap was registered until a few seconds later. Instead, Jawbone should change the indicator icons first while syncing in the background.

Jawbone UP2 is not perfect

Both the device as well as the UP app aren’t perfect, but besides minor issues, they do exactly what I need them for:

  • The tracker is comfortable to wear overnight
  • Taking it on and off is easy but could be easier (compared to the Sports Band of my Apple Watch)
  • Sleep tracking seems to be accurate
  • Using the smart alarm, I wake up refreshed, and I don’t feel like a bus just hit me (the feeling you have when woken up while in deep sleep)
  • The vibrating alarm doesn’t wake up my wife, and she can continue sleeping. At least until, seconds later, I bump into something in the dark, trying to navigate to the bathroom :)

Thanks to the Jawbone UP2 I can continue getting up early, which has some significant benefits for me:

  • Relieve stress through a workout before the workday begins
  • Get a head start on important issues, so the rest of the day is more relaxed
  • Enjoy some “solo time,” doing what I otherwise wouldn’t have time for
  • Have time to have breakfast with the rest of the gang once they’re up

Jawbone reporting

I like the way the UP app reports on your sleep data, as you can quickly see how long you have slept, how long it took you to fall asleep and how often you woke up. Additionally, it gives you an idea of sleep quality by differentiating between deep and light sleep.

I don’t know what algorithm Jawbone uses and thus how accurate their analysis is, but at least it looks cool. The UP also uses this sleep analysis for smart alarms, which can help to prevent waking you up during a period of deep sleep.

Unfortunately, some of that information is not persisted via Apple’s HealthKit and thus doesn’t make it into the Health app. Specifically, quality of sleep is not stored in the Health app at all, and other key metrics can only be exposed by manually calculating them.

For example, I can calculate the time it took me to fall asleep by subtracting the start time of “Time asleep” from the start time of “Time in Bed.”

The need for another sleep tracker

After I had installed iOS 10 Beta on my iPhone 6S Plus, I noticed a minor glitch with the UP app. Every couple of minutes the UP2 band would disconnect from my iPhone, without giving me an option to reconnect other than completely re-linking the band.

There wasn’t any data loss involved, but it was a bit of a pain in the butt. Nobody forced me to install a beta version of iOS, so this was a classic self-inflicted wound. But it gave me an opportunity to revisit alternative sleep tracking methods that would involve the Apple Watch.

Sleep++ sleep tracking app

I read an article on 9to5mac.com a while ago about an app called Sleep++ that would turn the Apple Watch into a sleep tracker. I decided to give it a shot and quickly noticed some differences in how Sleep++ reports sleep data, compared to Jawbone’s UP app.

Sleep++ reporting

Sleep++ takes a very pragmatic approach to recording sleep data by recording only what HealthKit can store, and the Health app can visualize. Beyond those “Time in Bed” and “Time asleep” metrics, the app displays some more information, such as the period when you slept best and periods of restless sleep. The app leverages the accelerometer in the Apple Watch to detect movement.

I sent an email to the folks behind Sleep++ to get more information on the inner workings of the app and here is what they told me:

A light blue bar indicates one minute of restless sleep. The wider the bar, the more restless minutes the app recorded. Restless means that the accelerometer in the Apple Watch sensed movement of your arm. The app will only show “Awake” either when it senses 3 or more minutes of restless sleep or when you get out of bed and walk around.

 Jawbone vs. Sleep++

Sleep data reported by Jawbone UP:

  • Total time slept
  • Sound sleep (time and %)
  • Light sleep (time and %)
  • The time it took to fall asleep
  • Time awake (time)
  • How many times I woke up
  • Total time in bed

Sleep data reported by Sleep++:

  • Total time in bed
  • Restful sleep (time and %)
  • Restless sleep (time and %)
  • Best sleep (from/to)

Not only vary both apps in some of the key metrics they report on, but also their graphical representation of sleep data looks much different. Based on reviews on the App Store, some users seem to misinterpret the data Sleep++ produces and call it inaccurate or misleading. I almost fell into the same trap when I compared data from Sleep++ and the UP app after a night of wearing both devices simultaneously.

Apple’s Health app doesn’t differentiate between deep and light sleep. It only tracks time “In Bed” and time “Asleep”.

How the Apple Watch handles sleep tracking

Sleep++ is an amazingly easy-to-use and yet efficient app to track your sleep using the Apple Watch. But there is a reason why Apple didn’t include sleep tracking functionality out of the box: battery life!

I have no complaints about the battery life of my Apple Watch with regular use. Most nights, when I put my Apple Watch Series 2 to charge, it has at least 50-70% battery left. That’s plenty to get me through the day and more. However, when I want to wear the Apple Watch overnight, to track my sleep, I have to charge it the next morning.

How to track sleep with the Apple Watch

Using the Apple Watch for sleep tracking is possible, but it requires some planning ahead. Hopefully, future models of the Apple Watch offer enough battery power, so you don’t have to charge it as often, even if used 24/7. For now, Sleep++ is the best option you have to track your sleep using an Apple Watch if you don’t want to rely on third-party fitness bands. For the time being, I’ll stick with Sleep++ and re-evaluate my options when either Jawbone fixes the UP app.

What technology do you use for sleep tracking? Let me know by leaving a comment, below!

10 thoughts on “How to Track Sleep With the Apple Watch”

  1. The best feature of the Jawbone Up is the Power Nap/smart alarm waking you up in a light sleep. Since Jawbone is dead, I was hoping someone would create an apple watch app that does the same thing? Hellooooo Jawbone programers are you out there?

  2. Hi! Thank you for your in depth article – great read! I am currently in mourning for the loss of my UP 4, solely due to the sleep alarm feature. To me, waking up in the best part of the sleep cycle is invaluable. I know that Jawbone is out of business and their trackers are no longer manufactured, but do you have any recommendations or updates for any other apps or items that do this? Great article – thanks again and am truly hoping you might have some ideas!

    • Hi Kim!

      I started maintaining a strict sleep routine a while ago. That means I go to bed every day at the same time (+/- 30 minutes) and thus wake up in the morning at the same time, without the need for an alarm. To me, that has proven to be much more reliable than any wrist-worn gadget.

  3. Any word as to a fix from Jawbone or improved app behavior in your experience? I’m on the verge of buying an Apple Watch, but I adore the UP app and the many ways it helps me improve my health habits, including sleep. If not for a recently-deceased analog watch and the fact that the silicone of my third UP2 is duct taped in four places, I’d be more than content continuing to rely on an UP2 24/7 and forgo a smart watch. Given my circumstances, upon realizing that an Apple Watch could be used as an activity tracker for UP, I eagerly envisioned using the watch during the day and swapping it for the UP2 at night. Now that I’ve read your article, it seems this may not be a seamless plan.

      • I thought that happened over a year ago. I must have misunderstood somewhere above…it would certainly be surprising for software improvements still to be under development. Stinks that they lost their battle with FitBit since their interface is so superior.

  4. This is interesting. I’m having the hardest time deciding how I would like to handle this as well. I’ve recently switched to Apple Watch from a Fitbit and before Fitbit I had the original Jawbone Up.

    The most important piece to me is the smart alarm and power nap feature and this is lacking in any Apple third party apps that I’ve tried so far. I’ve debated buying a cheap Jawbone UP2 just for sleep as my original Jawbone was the most satisfied I have been with sleep tracking/alarms.

    You mentioned that you were going to stick with the Sleep ++ app. Did you decide that the alarm function was not an important feature for you?

    • Hi Brittany,

      I wouldn’t say the alarm function is not important, but I usually go to bed at the exact same time (+/- 30 minutes) and wake up at the same time, without an alarm. So it has lost some importance to me.




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