watchOS 7: Sleep Tracking is Here!

A v1 for the ages

WWDC happened last week and like every year Apple has taken over technology news. While there have been big changes to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, I want to spend some time talking about something more overlooked - watchOS 7 and sleep tracking and what it looks like out of the gate.

The Verdict

Like any v1 product, native sleep tracking is a work in progress. It can do things that third party apps can’t do since Apple gets to control it but right now it still lacks the features that many third party apps have (namely detailed sleep statistics). The official verdict is that it's great that sleep tracking here and the possibilities of improving it are endless - the real question is if Apple will actually follow through with significant updates.

Features and Limitations

The best way to understand all of the updates that come with the new native sleep tracking in watchOS 7 is to go through the feature set and understand the limitations. I'll run through what I think is important and why I think we should be paying attention to it.

Design

The Good: If you know Apple, you know that nothing is more important than good design and they kept that principle in mind when thinking about sleep tracking. Third party apps always felt a little clunky and the sleep data was presented in dense charts that were not appealing to the eye. Apple may not have all the bells and whistles of those apps yet, but everything about sleep tracking from the Do Not Disturb screen on your phone at night to the wake up screen in the morning just looks good.

The Not So Good: My only gripe with the design is how Apple handled viewing sleep information on your iPhone. The Apple Watch gets a dedicated sleep app but sleep on your iPhone lives inside the Health app. This makes sense (and maybe the feature set for sleep is too limited to have a dedicated app right now) but going into Health and then into Sleep is a lot of keystrokes to get to sleep data on my iPhone which is where I primarily look at it. Of course a lot of this can now be solved if they decided to create a Sleep widget!

Wind Down Schedules

The Good: Schedules are one of the new features in watchOS 7 and give you the ability to set sleep and wake times depending on the day. You can also select a "Wind Down" time which puts your iPhone and Apple Watch into Do Not Disturb mode before you are supposed to go to bed.

The Not So Good: Schedules seem like a good idea overall but I've noticed three issues:

  1. There doesn't seem to be a quick way to edit a schedule on the fly if let's say you end up needing to stay up later than you had planned. The Apple Watch and iPhone both go into Wind Down mode which you can turn off but I'd love to be able to have something like "Push Wind Down 30 minutes" for when life happens (don't tell me you don't snooze your alarm >4x times every morning).

  2. Secondly, at least for me, my scheduled alarm doesn't vibe with my other iPhone alarms. This is basically a scheduling issue (pun intended). If I decide to set my iPhone alarm one day for 9 AM instead of the 7:30 AM which is set in my Sleep Schedule, I have to go into my Sleep Schedule and edit it manually or turn it off. I'm sure this can be fixed with software and isn't a huge thing but iPhone alarms and Apple Watch Schedules need better communication.

  3. Mac and iPad are not in the mix when it comes to Wind Down. I suck at winding down and getting off my devices at night time, so if there was a choice for my Mac and iPad to also go into Wind Down mode when my iPhone and Apple Watch do, it would really help me out.

Wind Down Shortcuts

The Good: Shortcuts are app plug-ins for your lock screen that can also be set up when you create a Sleep Schedule. Personally, I think these are great and will be a nice place for third party apps to shine. They look like this when you long press Shortcuts from the lock screen during Wind Down:

Apple Wind Down mode wants you to get to bed on time - CNET

Apple lets you pick basically any app (though not many are not supported yet because it's beta) but also breaks them up into categories when you are setting them up to make things easier (Mindfulness, Reading, Podcasts, etc.). I was actually pretty shocked to see this feature because it feels very... Android to let third party apps have a piece of the lock screen, but I'm not complaining about it and am interested to see what third party apps do with it.

The Not So Good: Right now, not many complaints here. App support is the only thing but of course this will come with time.

Sleep Statistics

The Good: Eh...keep reading I guess. This definitely needs work.

The Not So Good: Sleep stats are what get data and productivity nerds excited about tracking their sleep. Seeing number of hours, trends over time, sleep debt, sleep quality - this is what we want! Sadly, at least for now, this is not what we are getting from Apple.

The basics are there right now - average time in bed, average time asleep, hours asleep, some trends over time, and creating a sleep goal. But the basics is all we have for now. There is nothing about sleep quality like many other sleep apps have and sleep debt doesn't seem to be present either. On top of this, editing sleep time which isn't easy to do (at least I couldn't figure it out), a feature that most if not all third party sleep tracking apps have.

In terms of tangential data to sleep (such as heart rate), I'm sure you can export data and map out your sleep data to other data points like heart rate but none of this is natively there and let's be honest literally no one will do that. Again, I think that Sleep could be its own app on the iPhone and I'm sure more stats will come in future releases but right now everything is pretty bare-bones.

Here is a comparison of the stats between Apple's Sleep page in the Health app and the Sleepwatch app (which is the app I'm coming from for my sleep tracking)

The Little Things

There a couple of little things that Apple added to the sleep experience that I think are worth mentioning because they make using the Apple Watch to track sleep just a little more pleasurable.

  1. Wind Down mode turns your Apple Watch screen off while you sleep and in general keeps your Apple Watch screen dim when it is on. I'm so happy this is here so that you don't have to deal with the light coming from your Apple Watch if you wear it to bed. I was previously managing this by turning on Movie Theater mode to keep the screen off when going to sleep.

  2. You can exit sleep mode on your Apple Watch by turning the digital crown (similar to how you exit water mode). This is simple and intuitive and doesn't make it too difficult to access your Apple Watch if you quickly need to.

A Note on Charging

Of course if you are wearing your Apple Watch to sleep the obvious question is "when do I charge?" I've been using third party apps to track sleep for a while now and I generally charge an hour or so before I sleep and am able to get through the night and next day without any battery issues.

You can also charge right when you wake up and are getting ready for the day or sometimes I even charge in the middle of the day if I know I'm just going to be sitting at my computer doing work for a while. So basically - find an hour or so of the day that works for you, charge your watch, and you'll be fine. The Apple Watch also has a nice built in notification that will remind you to charge ahead of time before you sleep if you don't have enough battery life remaining.

Final Thoughts

Overall sleep tracking on watchOS 7 is a welcomed experience and something that many of us have been looking forward to. There is a lot of work for Apple to do to perfect the experience but you also have to learn to walk before you run.

If you haven't used third party apps to track your sleep, I think you'll enjoy native sleep tracking with watchOS 7 and should give it a shot. If you’re already a third party app user, I would keep those apps running if you want more insights and data but also keep an eye on native sleep tracking and how it changes with future software updates.

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