Garmin challenges Fitbit with advanced sleep monitoring

One of the most important elements of overall health is adequate sleep. Fitbit has led the activity tracker market with its sleep stages, but Garmin just rolled out its new advanced sleep monitoring function that also tracks light, deep, and REM sleep.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

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Garmin GPS sports watches are my preferred wearable due to never failing to track my runs and bike rides while also providing customizable data fields for workouts. I kept using a Fitbit at night though because of its advanced sleep stages tracking, but can now put it aside.

Garmin just launched its advanced sleep monitoring feature with the ability to track and provide data for light sleep, deep sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and awake time throughout your evening. Previously, Garmin devices tracked sleep, but did not show you REM sleep levels.

According to Garmin's help information, REM sleep first occurs around 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Adults typically experience five to six REM stages each night, each one longer than the last. Dreams are common during REM sleep. Other night time stages are defined as follows:

  • Deep Sleep: As you transition to deep sleep, eye and muscle movements stop completely. Your heart rate and breathing slow. You become difficult to rouse and are disoriented if awakened.
  • Light Sleep: Light sleep is the first stage of sleep. Eye movements and muscle activity slow during light sleep. Your body gets ready for deep sleep.
  • Awake: In general, it's best for sleep to be continuous through the night, with few to no stretches of awake time.

In addition to the accelerometer data that Garmin has been using for sleep tracking, it is using heart rate variability data from the optical HR sensor to provide REM sleep tracking with this update.

Garmin provides the following guidance for the most accurate sleep tracking:

  • Wear your device at least 2 hours before bedtime and keep it on while you sleep.
  • Make sure your device's heart rate monitor is on, and the device fits snugly but comfortably.
  • If you have more than one activity tracker, set the device with advanced sleep monitoring as your Preferred Activity Tracker.

Advanced sleep monitoring is currently supported on the Garmin Forerunner 645, Forerunner 645 Music, vivoactive 3, vivoactive 3 Music, vivomove HR, vivosmart 3, and vivosport. It will be coming soon to the Fenix 5 and 5 Plus series. Unfortunately, my Garmin Fenix 3HR lacks the optical heart rate resolution to track REM so it will not be able to provide this detailed sleep data. I guess that's one more reason I can use to justify a Fenix 5 Plus purchase.

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Garmin is definitely getting closer to Fitbit in regards to the sleep tracking experience, but Fitbit has a better insights area where the app shows what is typical for your age/sex and what kind of goal is reasonable. Garmin lets you create custom reports though and with this new REM sleep tracking functionality it is easier for me to justify keeping a Garmin wearable on my wrist at all times.

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