Nearables – a new evolution for sleep trackers?
Mention the words ‘sleep tracking’ and people will common summon an image of a wearable device, typically worn on your wrist or perhaps your finger.
In recent years devices such as these, made by companies like Fitbit, Garmin, Oura and Whoop have helped fuel an explosion of interest in how we sleep, enabling individuals to probe and analyse their sleep and wake times, sleep duration, night-time awakenings, light, deep and REM sleep stages – measurements which only a few years ago would only be possible if you booked yourself into a sleep clinic.
But despite the huge popularity in wearables – some estimates say 1 in 10 people use a sleep tracker – many consumers just don’t like the idea of strapping on a wristband or smart watch every day. There’s lots of reasons why this might be – fashion/style, battery life, maybe the fact that you only want to track your sleep, not your daily fitness activities.
So…. what if there was a different type of sleep tracker. One that you only had to use when you’re actually sleeping? One that you never have to worry about how much battery life you’ve got. One that you never even have to touch again once you’ve set it up?
What are nearables?
OK, drum roll….. enter the new, exciting world of nearables. You get it right? It’s like a wearable, but instead of something your wear on your body, the device merely has to be near your body. That’s a simplification, but as with all new jargonistic terms, there’s usually some flexibility with definitions. But essentially you could say that nearables allow you to achieve the same things as wearables without being physically attached to the consumer.
Nearable technology is not new, nor is it exclusive to sleep tracking devices. As part of the ‘internet of things’, nearables encompass a range of objects and devices that contain sensors which can measure and collect data about yourself, and send this on to a smartphone, tablet, computer or cloud server for further analysis and processing.
How do nearable (non-contact) sleep trackers work?
Nearables use similar technology as your typical Fitbit or activity tracker. The big difference however is you don’t have to strap anything to your body for sleep tracking to occur.
There’s two main types of nearable sleep tracker – devices that you place in the bed or mattress, and devices that use low-energy radar-like technology. Both of these techniques detect and monitor your body movement, heart rate and breathing. They then uses machine learning technology to translate that data into sleep metrics you can view and analyse later.
Some of the non-contact sleep trackers also features environmental sensors to monitor other factors that may affect your sleep quality. These include light, temperature, humidity, and noise.
Mattress and in-bed sleep trackers
The Withings Sleep Analyzer and Emfit QS are examples of a nearable technology called ballistocardiography. Both devices consists of a sensor strip which you place under your mattress or mattress topper. When you lie down, the sensor picks up your movement, breathing and heart-rate data and relays this back wirelessly to a cloud sever for analysis and processing. You can then access this data via your computer or smart phone.
Non-contact (radar) sleep trackers
The other main group of nearable sleep trackers use a non-contact method to collect physiological sleep data entirely by means of radio frequencies. Devices such as Somnofy, SleepScore Max, Amazon Halo Rise and the Google Nest Hub all employ the same type of technology, a type of low-energy radar transmitter which scans the body many times per second, allowing the device to detect tiny variations in your movement whilst you sleep, from which it can determine breathing and heart rate data.
Advantages of nearable sleep trackers
The most obvious advantage of using a nearable sleep tracker is the hassle-free nature of being able to track your sleep, without having to bother with a device strapped to your body, or worrying if you have enough battery life to get through a night’s sleep. Most nearable sleep trackers will automatically recognise when you’re in bed and will simply get on with the business of tracking your sleep.
Nearables encourage long-term use
We’re creatures of habit, but new habits are hard to enforce, which explains why so many of us start a new fitness or sleep tracking program, and give up a few days, weeks or months later. Nearables, because they require hardly any manual intervention, actually encourage long term habitual use.
Detect health trends and possibly predict illness
The upshot of this is access to long term data trends, which can reveal patterns, correlations and anomalies that might not normally show up in only a few days of data. Examples of this even extend to detecting illness before you’re symptomatic. Research during the 2021 pandemic was able to demonstrate that by analyzing data collected from popular wearable trackers, they could detect COVID-19 cases four days before symptoms started and seven days before diagnosis.
Disadvantages of nearable trackers
Cannot track naps outside of bed
Whilst not a huge concern for many, bed-based sleep tracking has a major flaw if you like to take naps outside of the bedroom. This is something I discovered few years ago when trying to get an accurate estimation of total sleep time during a 24-hour period. As I said it’s probably not a deal-breaker for most, but if you’re a habitual napper and want to get the most accurate data, then you’re probably better with a wearable device.
False positives, partners, pets etc
Another consideration if you’re seeking accurate sleep tracking measurements is the issue of false readings caused by partners, kids or even dogs/ cats who may stray into or onto the bed, causing your sleep tracker to think it’s you!
Whilst most nearable devices now have the capability to recognise individual sleep partners in bed, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you have a dog that likes to spend hours snoozing on your bed, this may get picked up by your device.
Finally, we have to mention that some of the companies (aka Amazon and Google) don’t have a stellar record in terms of respecting the data privacy of their users. Even with all the best will in the world, it’s not hard to see that these big-tech behemoths have become the giants by mass-harvesting behavioural data points and selling it back to us in the form of advertising and personalised product recommendations. To some this is not a concern. To others, it’s a slippery slope, which left unchecked could lead society into a dystopian world of surveillance capitalism.
OK, so that’s enough background, here’s a round up of what we consider to be the best nearable non-contact sleep trackers of 2022.
1) Google Nest Hub 2
Best non-contact sleep tracker for smart homes
Less of a sleep tracker, and more of an all-in-one smart home hub, the second-Generation Nest Hub from Google is an intriguing new concept that represents the cutting edge of sleep technology.
What is Nest Hub 2
What is the Nest Hub 2?
Well, appearance-wise, it’s a tabletop device with a 7-inch touchscreen mounted on top of a speaker which doubles as a stand. Functionally, Nest Hub 2 is like a cross between an entertainment device, a smart controller for your IoT-connected home, and a wire-free contactless sleep tracker.
So, if you wanted, you could use Nest Hub 2 in the kitchen or living room to watch Youtube, Netflix, stream Spotify, whilst at the same time being able to monitor all the smart devices in your home including doorbells, security cameras, thermostats etc. With Google Home integration the list of integration possibilities is practically endless. And of course, you can implement voice control with a simple ‘Hey Google’ wherever the Nest can hear you.
Soli and Sleep Sensing
With the Gen 2 Hub however, there’s a brand new feature – Sleep Sensing – Google’s first foray into the world of consumer sleep tracking. Sleep Sensing is a hardware/software platform powered by Soli, one of Google’s many spin-off projects. According to their website, Soli is ‘a miniature radar that understands human motions at various scales: from your heartbeat to the movements of your body.‘
With the Nest Hub the Soli sensors detect movement, breathing and heart-rate whilst you sleep, and seamlessly upload your data to the cloud. There’s nothing to wear, just place the device on your bedside table, climb under the covers and the device works magically in the background.
Designed to be as easy to use as possible, not only can you view your sleep stats on the Hub directly, you can also dig deeper into the metrics in the Google Fit app, or even just ask out aloud a sleep question such as “Hey Google When did I go to bed yesterday?”
The Nest Hub is also equipped with sensors to track light, temperature and sound. This way, you’re able to see if events like snoring, coughing, ambient light or temperature changes are in any way affecting your sleep.
Whilst undoubtably one of the smartest sleep trackers ever to hit the consumer market, there are a couple of downsides. Sadly, Sleep Sensing is only a free service until the end of 2022, after which it’s a paid subscription. Also, for people with insomnia, the idea of having a permanently connected smart screen in the bedroom might be too tempting and end up being a sleep stealer.
Finally, there’s the big-tech/data privacy angle. Whilst there’s no camera on the device, there are microphones. And whilst Google says that privacy is of utmost concern, well, let’s just say not everybody in the world would be happy with sharing their intimate sleep health data with Google.
Google Nest Hub 2 Summary
From $49.99. Sleep Sensing is available for free through 2022. In 2023, Google plans to integrate Sleep Sensing into Fitbit Premium (currently $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year.
- Huge range of smart features and functionality
- Easy set up and integration with all your smart devices, calendars, reminders etc
- Huge range of sleep tracking metrics including snoring and coughing
- Screen may prove to be a sleep-stealing distraction
- Sleep Sensing and other services requires a paid subscription
- Surveillance concerns – do you want Google in your bedroom?
2) Amazon Halo Rise
Best non-contact sleep tracker for Alexa integration
Following on the heels of Google’s Nest Hub 2, another big -tech giant, this time Amazon enters the sleep space with a similar-but-different product aimed squarely at making big waves in the consumer sleep tracking market.
Launched in October 2022, Rise is the latest addition to Amazon’s health and wellness brand which include the Halo and the Halo View fitness wristbands. Sharing a lot of features with the Nest Hub, the glaring difference is that Halo Rise has no screen, and it’s not intended to be anything else but a device to be used in the bedroom.
Instead of a touchscreen, the Rise is fashioned as a circular bedside lamp, which acts as a sunrise alarm clock, gently waking you in the morning with a simulation of the rising sun at dawn.
Apart from the touchscreen element, Amazon seems to have pitted Halo Rise as be a direct competitor to Google’s non-contact sleep tracker. Featuring a similar radar-based movement sensor, Halo Rise works in the background, sitting quietly on your bed side table, silently measuring your body movement and breathing whilst you sleep.
When you wake up you can track your data in the Halo app including the amount of time you spent in light, deep and REM sleep, plus there’s the ubiquitous ‘sleep score’ to give you an idea of how well you slept overall during the night.
Halo Rise will only track the sleep of whoever is closest to the device. It also claims it has done extensive testing in various conditions to make sure that pets, bed partners or different types of bedding don’t affect the accuracy of the data captured by the wireless sensor.
Unlike Nest Hub, there’s no microphone on board Halo Rise, so there’s no way to track snoring or environmental noise that may be disturbing your sleep. It does however sport environmental sensors to monitor temperature, light and humidity in the room and if for example your room is too hot for optimal sleep, you’ll be notified in the app.
Halo Rise supports Amazon Alexa so you can ask a compatible device how well you slept the previous night. Amazon also makes a point that Halo health data will never be used for marketing, product recommendations, or advertising purposes.
On the downside, to benefit fully from the data collected by Halo Rise, you will have to pay a monthly subscription to the premium version of the Halo app. Although you get 6 months free included in the purchase price, after that you will have to pay a monthly fee of $3.99.
All in all, Halo Rise looks like a very well accomplished addition to the world of hassle-free, non-contact sleep tracking.
Amazon Halo Rise Summary
Purchase includes a 6-month Halo membership. Auto-renews at $3.99/month
- Alexa Integration
- Simple aesthetics but sophisticated AI sleep algorithms
- Can detect pets and/or bed partners
- Requires monthly paid subscription
- No snoring or ambient sound tracking
- As with Google, surveillance and data privacy concerns
Get Amazon Halo Rise Now
Purchase includes a 6-month Halo membership. Auto-renews at $3.99/month
3) Somnofy Sleep Assistant
Most accurate radar-based sleep tracker to date
Whilst the likes of Amazon and Google have generated a lot of recent buzz for their non-contact sleep trackers, over in Europe, the Norwegian health startup VitalThings beat the big-tech giants by a couple of years in bringing to market their own device, as well as conducting a successful scientific study to validate the accuracy of their sleep monitor, Somnofy.
The Somnofy Sleep Assistant like Nest Hub and Halo Rise uses similar radar-based technology and functions as a contactless ‘sleep assistant’ that does sleep analysis, bedroom analysis, and provides an active coaching application on how to improve your sleep.
The device uses a low-energy radar-like sensor, about 1/1000 the power of a Bluetooth handsfree set, to detect body movement and breathing rate. This data is then crunched by machine learning algorithms trained by experts and converted into easily understandable sleep data for you to view and analyse in the accompanying Somnofy app.
One of the main differences with Somnofy over other sleep trackers, is its accuracy which has been measured and tested in a validation study that was published in the respected journal Sleep Medicine. Whereas in general wearables have been shown to match the ‘gold standard’ measurement to a level of 50-60 % accuracy, Somnofy performed significantly better at between 80 and 90% agreement with polysomnography – the standardized method for measuring sleep in clinical settings.
For these reasons, Somnofy is used extensively amongst scientists for research purposes and also in the sports/athletics field, including Olympic and soccer teams to understand how sleep can optimize health and performance in these settings.
Able to measure air temperature, air quality, ambient light, humidity and noise in the bedroom, Somnofy can inform you if any of these factors are impacting your sleep. Other features include a smart alarm to wake you in a light stage of sleep, the ability to connect your data to Google Fit or Strava, and a guided breathing mode that can gently bring you to a lower, more meditative state of breath before you fall asleep.
Whilst on the pricier end of the scale, Somnofy is perhaps the most accurate way contact-free sleep monitor on the market at present.
Somnofy Sleep Assistant Summary
Price 3990 Kr (~$350 USD) Includes 3 months of Somnofy Premium
- Validated against gold standard polysomnography with high precision
- Somnofy Analytics software provides highly detailed metrics
- Consumer, medical and research applications
- No whistles and bells, just a sleep tracker
4) Withings Sleep/ Withings Sleep Analayzer
Best for sleep apnea detection
French health-tech company Withings has had a bumpy ride over recent years. Founded in 2008 by Éric Carreel. Withings gained a solid reputation as a manufacturer of innovative hi-tech health products. And in 2016 the company was sold to the former titan of the mobile phone industry Nokia and rebranded as Nokia Digital Health.
However, unable to make a profit out of selling health-tech products, just 2 years later Nokia ended up selling the company back to its Carreel who is back now running the company as in the old days.
As well as making a range of smart watches, blood monitors, scales and health accessories, Withings is also the inventor of a mattress-based tracker, the Sleep Analyzer, or simple Withings Sleep (if you purchase in the USA). Withings Sleep that sits underneath your mattress and features a range of advanced sleep tracking features as well as integrated home automation functionality.
Unlike the radar-based sensors of Google, Amazon and Somnofy, Withing Sleep consists of a woven mat you place underneath your mattress. Inside the mat a strip of sensors reads your body movements as well as track your breathing and heart rate. As with other nearables, once you’ve set up and calibrated your Withings Sleep, it’s set and forget. Nothing to wear, just climb into bed and the device will work automatically in the background
Withings Sleep USA and non-USA versions
One point of confusion is that currently there are two models available. The default sleep product is called the Withings Sleep Analyzer. This is the newest version with the latest sleep apnea features (see below). However, because of FDA regulatory rules, in the USA you are only able to buy the version without sleep apnea detection – this product is simply called Withings Sleep.
Sleep apnea detection
So if you’re a non-US customer you can take advantage of the killer feature for this sleep tracker – the ability to track with a high degree of accuracy signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. In case you’re unaware, sleep apnea is an incredibly common condition which causes breathing difficulties when you’re asleep due to muscles in your throat relaxing. Sleep apnea can cause your breathing to stop dozens sometimes hundreds of times during the night – for up to a minute or more.
Left unchecked sleep apnea can cause very serious health problems downstream. In the past detecting sleep apnea used to involve medical screening and expensive tests, but now, with products like Withings Sleep Analyser you can easily monitor apnea breathing events and snoring to see if you’re at risk and need further treatment. All of your sleep apnea data is available to view in the app and you can also produce a report which you will be able to share with your doctor for further discussion
In a research study last year, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists concluded Withings Sleep Analyser could “accurately detect moderate-severe sleep apnea syndrome in patients suspected of sleep apnea syndrome. “This simple and automated approach could be of great clinical value given the high prevalence of sleep apnea syndrome in the general population.
With other features including the HealthMate app with in-depth metrics, the ability to integrate with over 100 other compatible fitness apps and smart home integration via IFTTT, Withings Sleep Analyzer is an advanced, smart tracker with unique health monitoring capabilities.
Withings Sleep/ Withings Sleep Analyser Summary
Withings Sleep Analyser €149 Withings Sleep (USA version) from $129
- Built-in sleep apnea detection
- Healthmate app provides great long-term sleep metrics
- Developed in collaboration with sleep doctors
- Sleep Analyser version not available in USA
5) Emfit QS 2 HRV Sleep Tracker
Best sleep tracker for sports, performance and recovery metrics
Finally in our round-up of the best non-contact sleep trackers we have another Scandinavian outfit. Hailing from Finland, Emfit is a tech company that’s been manufacturing bio-sensors since 1990. As well as manufacturing products for senior care and scientific researchers, the company also manufacturers an in-bed sleep tracker the Emfit QS 2. With a long history of research, innovation and product development the company boasts over 100 scientific publications that have utilized Emfit technology in their research.
Like Withings Sleep, Emfit QS 2 is a small, thin sensor strip that fits under the mattress which can automatically monitor your sleep as soon as you climb into bed. Emfit can monitor a number of sleep metrics such as movement, breathing, heart-rate and your sleep stages. The Emfit QS is notable by the sheer amount of data points captured and derived from the sensor. The list of sleep metrics include:
- 3-stage sleep classification (REM, deep, light, awake)
- heart rate
- breathing rate
- sleep score
- tossing & turning
- movement activity
HRV sleep tracking
But as well as tracking sleep data, Emfit QS 2 is unique in being the only nearable sleep tracker that can monitor and analyse heart-rate data in depth, and particularly heart rate variability or HRV.
If you’ve never heard of HRV, in its simplest explanation it’s a measure of the gaps or the variability between heart beats. The reason HRV is important is that it’s an indicator that your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in good order. The PNS is part of the autonomic nervous system that promotes relaxation, digestion, sleep, and recovery is functioning well.
For decades heart doctors have utilized HRV as a measure to gauge the health and recovery of their patients. If your immune system is low, or your body is fighting to get fit after recovering from illness, your HRV readings will be low. A healthy, strong heart and body will show a high HRV score.
HRV for sports and performance
Recently HRV has become very popular in the world of sport, fitness and athletics as a way to optimise training programmes, avoid over-training and monitor recovery periods after exercise. With Emfit QS 2, you’re able to effortlessly track whole night HRV automatically with no effort, meaning you can easily build up long term trend data to analyse patterns over a big time period.
Because of the sheer amount of metrics available, rather than having a smartphone app, the Emfit platform works as a desktop/mobile friendly web app that can be loaded in any modern web browser. This means it can work anywhere on any device, but the dashboard won’t be available without an internet connection.
Emfit QS is the most advanced sleep tracker in terms of data capture and analysis but it’s very a tool for those who want to dig deeper into their sleep, rather than the occasional browser.
In terms of pricing, we haven’t been able to find out the retail cost to consumers, but we’ll update the post as soon as we get any more info.
Emfit QS 2 HRV and Sleep Tracker
Price to be confirmed. Purchase price includes 3 year subscription for data processing and storage.
- Huge amount of detailed sleep and fitness metrics
- Only nearable sleep tracker that captures whole night HRV
- No phone required, only a Wifi connection
- Maybe too complex for simple users
- No dedicated smartphone app
This article was first published on our sister site SleepGadgets.io