You’re lying awake. You’ve got an important meeting at work tomorrow, and should really find out about your mortgage application. You close your eyes and try to relax – if you nod off now you’ll get a good six hours of sleep. Five. Four. Three. It’s time to get up.
Now you’re stuck in traffic, with broken air conditioning. Hot and bothered, with frayed nerves, you arrive at work tired and stressed. Chances are your day won’t get better from here either – stress leading to lack of sleep leading to more stress can be a cycle that’s difficult to break.
Enter an unlikely sleeping partner. Could your fitness watch, tracker or smartwatch help you to tackle daily stress, improve the quality of your sleep, and restore a sense of calm to your mind? Here we take a look at how the leading brands are aiming to tackle the fitness of our minds, as well as our bodies.
Best Buy fitness watches and activity trackers – for the very best from our tests
Stress, sleep and health tracking
Stress is a normal part of life, but too much or prolonged periods of stress can impact on both mental and physical wellbeing. Symptoms can be varied, but common reactions include tension headaches, an upset stomach, trouble sleeping, anxiety or depression.
In the longer term too much stress can result in problems with blood pressure, and can exacerbate other illnesses, too. The Alzheimer’s Society is even running a three-year study to investigate the suggested links between chronic or prolonged stress and dementia.
If you care for a partner, relative or friend, it’s important to remember to look after yourself as well. Read more in our guide to wellbeing for family carers.
We know that we need to reduce the amount of stress we’re exposed to, and wearable brands, such as Apple, Fitbit and Garmin, are focusing increasingly on a holistic approach – working on the health of your mind as well as your body. So what tools are on offer, and could a fitness watch, activity tracker or smartwatch help return a sense of calm?
Garmin Vivosport (£130)
A lot of new Garmin devices have a stress-level score feature. The Vivosport, for example, uses your heart rate to report on stress levels, and gives you a rating between 0 and 100. Your current stress level can be viewed on the device, or historical data can be explored on the Garmin Connect app. This is split in to resting, low, mid and high levels of stress, and there’s a percentage breakdown plus an hourly graph.
You can read our full Garmin Vivosport review to find out what we thought of this feature, and to see how this activity tracker performed.
Apple Watch Series 1 (£249)
The Breathe app comes pre-installed on all Apple Watches, and has done since the introduction of WatchOS 3 in 2016. It’s designed to help you relax by focusing on your breathing and taking a series of deep breaths, as well as reminding you to take time to breathe each day, and you can pick from one or five minute sessions. You can also set the length and rate of each breathe using the app. The data is stored in the mindful minutes tab in the app.
Fitbit Charge 2 (£109.99)
This activity tracker from Fitbit comes with the Relax guided breathing feature, which creates a personalised breathing session using the variability of your heart rate to determine a comfortable breathing rate for you. You can choose between two and five minute sessions, that use animations and vibrations to help you sync your breath.
Sleep tracking with your smartwatch or fitness tracker
Most fitness watches and trackers will monitor your sleep, but some provide more advanced insights to help you improve the quality of your sleep. Here we take a look at what Fitbit and Garmin are doing when it comes to getting a restful nights sleep.
Fitbit sleep tracking
It’s fair to say that Fitbit is obsessed with sleep – we bet it even keeps them up at night.
Fitbit trackers and smartwatches automatically track and provide data on your sleep stages: light sleep, deep sleep and REM. You can also set a sleep schedule based on your sleep goal, recent trends, and when you need to be up in the morning. If you get easily distracted in the evenings you can set up bedtime reminders, and also use the Fitbit app to compare sleep trends to users of the same age and gender, and view tips on how to improve your sleep quality and nightly routine.
There’s a database with more than six billion nights worth of data, and they recently ran an investigation comparing sleep data from 3,000 users of the Ionic and Versa with data from the Think Fast app, a two minute game testing cognitive ability and reaction time.
When it comes to which Fitbit devices to pick for sleep tracking, take a look at our full reviews of the Fitbit Alta HR or Charge 2. For those that have sleep apnoea, a condition that causes interrupted breathing during the night, the Fitbit Versa has an SpO2 sensor which is designed to track and monitor the condition.
Garmin sleep tracking
In May 2018, Garmin announced that it was teaming up with University of Kansas Medical Centre to get more insight in to significant medical conditions, with a particular focus on how Garmin fitness watches and trackers can be used to not only detect but also treat sleep apnoea.
A recent update to the Garmin Connect app added advanced sleep monitoring, reiterating the importance that Garmin is placing on sleep tracking. The update is designed to improve the accuracy of sleep tracking – in the past Garmin devices only used movement and heart rate to analyse your sleep, but this has been widened to include additional data such as heart rate variability. Garmin claims that those using a compatible device may actually see a drop in the duration of deep sleep, due to an improvement in accuracy.
We took a look at some of the latest sleep tech at CES 2018, including the Nokia Sleep and Sleep Number 360 smart bed. Find out if connected tech could help you rest easy.
Yoga with wearables
The top yoga for beginners video on YouTube has 19 million views, and the top yoga for bedtime sequence has racked up nearly three and a half million. It’s clearly a popular way to stretch tense muscles, relax, and release the stress of the day. But did you know that there are several wearables that can track your yoga practice and help you on the road to zen-like calm?
Polar M430 (£170) – this fitness watch can be customised to include specific sports profiles, up to a maximum of 20 from more than 100 options. This includes yoga, as well as ballroom dancing, martial arts and two lap features for running. So what other features does it have? Read our full Polar M430 review to find out.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 (£240) – it has a wrist-based heart-rate monitor, built-in GPS and it’s Garmin Pay ready. You can also pick from gym activity profiles, including yoga. The duration of your practice, your heart-rate and stress level will be tracked and displayed in the app. It also has the stress-level feature. To find out whether this is the smartwatch to keep you balanced in tree pose, read our full Garmin Vivoactive 3 review.
Samsung Gear Sport (£300) – the latest smartwatch from Samsung has an impressive list of features, and has a rotating bezel for flicking through menus. It can track a lot of activities, and these are auto-detected so you don’t have to manually start the tracking. Yoga is on the list, as is dancing, running and swimming. If you’re on an airplane, the Gear Sport will even remind you to stretch to keep you healthy while in the air. Could you take your yoga practice up a notch using this smartwatch? Find out in our full Samsung Gear Sport review.
Not sure which wearable to go for? Read our guide to decide whether to buy a fitness tracker or a smartwatch.