watchOS 7: Hands-on with native Apple Watch sleep tracking


After several years of rumors, Apple Watch is adding support for native sleep tracking with this year’s update to watchOS 7. Apple is tying Apple Watch sleep-tracking capabilities in with new iPhone features such as Wind Down and Wake Up for a seamless cross-device experience. Here’s how it works.

With watchOS 7, there is a new Sleep app on Apple Watch. Here, you can set your schedule, view sleep analysis, and adjust settings for things like Wind Down and your Sleep Goal. You can set different schedules based on days of the week. For example, I have a specific schedule for weekdays and a separate schedule for weekends.

Wind Down is a feature that “assists you in establishing a bedtime routine with shortcuts that help you relax.” You can adjust Wind Down settings in the Health app on iPhone. For example, you can choose different HomeKit scenes, play certain playlists and podcasts, and prepare for tomorrow with paps like Calendar and Reminders.

Wind Down also automatically dims your iPhone lock screen to help encourage you to reduce your smartphone usage before bed. Once your preset bedtime kicks-in, your iPhone and Apple Watch automatically go into Sleep Mode. On your iPhone, this shows a simple message saying “Sleep Well” with a dimmed lock screen.

On Apple Watch, Sleep Mode shows the current time, as well as what time your alarm is set for. It also disables features like raise-to-wake, so your watch face isn’t lighting up in the middle of the night. If you want to exit Sleep Mode on Apple Watch, you can turn the Digital Crown, just like you do to exit water mode.

When morning rolls around and it’s time to wake up, your Apple Watch can wake you with an audible alarm or by tapping your wrist with tactics. Once you’re awake, Sleep Mode is disabled and your Apple Watch shows you the current time, weather, and the current charge level. If you happen to wake up before your alarm, your Apple Watch will ask you if you want to disable it.

To view the sleep data tracked by your Apple Watch, you can go to the Sleep app on Apple Watch or the Health app on iPhone. The actual data here is limited. Apple simply shows you your time asleep, as well as a range for your heart rate. Whereas many third-party apps offer details on sleep stages and restfulness.

What about battery life?

It’s too early to draw conclusions about what kind of effect sleep tracking will have on your Apple Watch’s battery life. iOS 14 and watchOS 7 are currently only available in developer beta, and battery life optimizations are not final and performance is inconsistent. During my first night using Apple Watch sleep tracking, I lost around 22% battery overnight, but the second night cost a more manageable 12%.

When do you charge? Apple will send you charging reminders if your Apple Watch is below 30% before bed. Personally, I find the best strategy is to take off your Apple Watch around an hour before bed, which is enough time to get it all the way to 100%.

9to5Mac’s Take

Native sleep tracking has been one of the most requested Apple Watch features since the original Apple Watch was released in 2015. This year’s release of watchOS 7 adds the native experience that many people have been hoping for, and it does it quite well. The sleep tracking data itself is rather basic, but the tie-in with features like Wind Down and Sleep Mode makes for a sleek experience.

There is absolutely the possibility that Apple Watch sleep tracking gets better with future watchOS 7 betas, or even tied to new hardware released in the fall. It’s possible that new sensors and improved battery life with the Apple Watch Series 6 will enable additional sleep tracking capabilities.

For now, the watchOS 7 integration of native Apple Watch sleep tracking is a good start, and for many people, the native experience could be enough. For those who want more data and deeper analysis, the good news is that the third-party Apple Watch sleep tracking ecosystem has never been stronger.

In fact, the ultimate set up could be using Apple’s sleep tracking features in conjunction with a third-party sleep tracking app. This would allow users to access deeper sleep data, while also still taking advantage of features like Wind Down and Sleep Mode. There are a variety of third-party apps available, including Sleep++, AutoSleep, NapBot, and Pillow. Check out our full roundup for the details on each.

In fact, Sleep++ developer David Smith thinks Apple’s native support for Apple Watch sleep tracking apps is actually good news for third-party developers:

I suppose a good summary of my expectation is that right now (say) 1% of Apple Watch wearers think to try sleep tracking. After this fall, most Apple Watch wearers will be aware of it and (say) 50% will try it out. Apple’s approach will be sufficient for 90% of them, but 10% will want more. Leading to now 5% of Apple Watch wearers looking for a 3rd-party app to augment their experience… so I end up way ahead overall.

Have you gotten the chance to try out Apple Watch sleep tracking in watchOS 7? If so, what do you think of it? Let us know down in the comments!

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