Fitbit Sleep Tracker Data: Shedding Light on Why We’re Overtired

For anyone using a Fitbit, sleep tracker data collected anonymously may help science get a better handle on America's sleep habits—and how to improve them.

fitbit sleep tracker

Fitbit sleep tracker data is verifying what experts have known—that we're sleep-deprived—while also going deeper, provided never-before-availalbe info on sleep habits.

c Stephen Vanhorn | Dreamstime.com

Fitness band manufacturer FitBit released some eye-opening data this week—data the company has been collecting on the sleep patterns of its millions of users since March 2017. It represents the largest set of sleep data ever collected. While some of Fitbit’s sleep tracker results are consistent with existing sleep studies, others offer all-new insights into American habits.

Measurements of Fitbit’s recorded data include how long its customers sleep each night, how long they spend in the various stages of sleep (light, deep, and REM), and whether they experience insomnia throughout the night. Fitbit paired that data with information available via its own apps—gender, age, weight, height, location, and activity level—to paint a unique picture of American sleep habits. And it’s all based on averages that don’t infringe on the privacy of Fitbit users.

“It’s a really, really exciting and really rare data set,” Fitbit data scientist Karla Gleichauf told Yahoo Finance. “It’s probably the largest biometric data set in the world.”

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Sleeping Tight? Not Quite

Some of Fitbit’s data revealed insights that sleep experts already knew:

  • Women sleep more than men. Fitbit’s results show that women, on average. sleep 25 more minutes than men each night. They get about six hours and 50 minutes of sleep, while men get six hours and 26 minutes. Both totals are significantly lower than what health experts say we should be getting, which is seven to eight hours each night.
  • Insomnia affects women more than men. While women get more sleep on average than men, Fitbit data showed that they’re 40 percent more likely to have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. This could be due to various factors, including hormone imbalance, depression, diet, and menopause.
  • With age comes less sleep. The older you get, the less time both men and women experience in a deep sleep. Adults in their 20s, on average, are sleeping 20 minutes more than adults in their seventies.
  • “Social jet lag” is affecting our sleep patterns. Social jet lag, or the time difference between sleep patterns on workdays and days off, not only affects how much sleep we get, but also our health, according to experts. Fitbit’s data confirmed that its users get significantly less sleep on the weekends, but what’s most interesting is that depending on where they live, they could be getting even less. Fitbit users in Boston have the most social jet lag, followed by those in Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and New York.
  • Late-Night Habits

    Because Fitbit’s customers come from across the U.S., the company has the unique opportunity of pairing its findings with geographical data. For example, we learn that the average American falls sleep at 11:21 p.m. We also learn that people living on the East Coast stay up seven minutes later than those living on the West Coast.

    Perhaps the most significant finding: The more a user’s bedtime varies, the less sleep he or she gets each night. For example, if a user’s bedtime varies by two hours over a period of one week, he averages 30 minutes a night less than someone whose sleep varies by only 30 minutes.

    Fitbit says it plans to share its data with other experts and scientific associations, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the information will play a role in our sleep habits.

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