I Tracked My Sleep With an Apple Watch and Oura Ring. Which Is Better?

I've learned a lot about my sleep over the past week. For example, I tend to get around 5 hours of "light" sleep during a typical night, and an average night of sleep for me usually means 7 hours of shut-eye. 

I know this because I've been wearing two devices to monitor my slumber: the Apple Watch and Oura Ring Gen 3. While they each provide a variety of statistics about my sleeping habits, Oura goes a step further by packaging those readings into a tidy Sleep Score that feels like the TL;DR version of my sleep report.

There are a lot of aspects that make a good sleep tracker. Not only does the data have to be useful, but devices worn overnight should be light and comfortable. Battery life should be long enough to wear overnight and throughout the day.

Oura generally excels over the Apple Watch in all of these areas -- even outlasting the Apple Watch Ultra despite its beefier battery. The Oura ring, of course, doesn't have a screen or other connected features like the Apple Watch, putting significantly less strain on the battery. Overall, Oura strikes a better balance of providing in-depth reports about my sleep alongside at-a-glance statistics that make better sense of that data, like the Sleep Score.

But there's a catch. Starting at £299, the Oura Ring Gen 3 is expensive. On top of that, you'll need to shell out £6 per month to get the most out of Oura through its subscription service.

Apple doesn't require a subscription for any of the Apple Watch's health monitoring functionality -- including sleep tracking. Even though I used the £399 Apple Watch Series 8 and £799 Ultra for this story, you can get the same sleep tracking features on the £249 Apple Watch SE.  It's also worth remembering that the Oura ring is designed to be a passive tracker that monitors sleep and activity in the background, unlike the Apple Watch.

There's no screen, no buttons and no way to see any of your data without syncing to the phone app.

Oura vs. Apple Watch Pros and Cons

Apple Watch Oura
Pros Cons
No subscription required; offers more functionality besides sleep and activity tracking; easy to understand sleep insights Lacks a Sleep Score for understanding sleep quality at a glance; battery life isn't as long as the Oura ring's
Sleep Score helps you understand how you slept at a glance; tracks a wide variety of sleep metrics; multiday battery life; small design may be more comfortable to wear overnight Subscription required for full functionality; expensive

Apple Watch vs. Oura ring: What they told me about my sleep

Both the Apple Watch and Oura ring can measure how long you slept and how much time you've spent in specific stages of sleep.

That includes time spent awake, in deep sleep, in REM sleep and in light sleep (which Apple calls "core" sleep).  You can also see your heart rate during sleep and data about how you were breathing overnight in both the Oura app and Apple Health app. The addition of sleep stages is relatively new for the Apple Watch.

It only arrived with WatchOS 9 in September -- making it a much more viable competitor to Oura and other sleep trackers. Although they provide similar sleep insights, the data and details differ greatly between the two devices. I wore both gadgets to sleep over the course of five nights, with the Apple Watch on my wrist and the Oura on my index finger, and got surprisingly different results from each.

Take a look at the table below to see how two nights' worth of sleep data from the Apple Watch and Oura compares.

Apple Watch vs. Oura Sleep Tracking Results

Oura Ring (11/10) Apple Watch (11/10) Oura Ring (11/12) Apple Watch (11/12) Duration Awake REM Core/Light Deep
7 hours, 14 minutes 7 hours, 30 minutes 6 hours, 57 minutes 7 hours, 3 minutes
37 minutes 8 minutes 30 minutes 12 minutes
1 hour, 32 minutes 1 hour, 37 minutes 3 hours, 44 minutes 1 hour, 49 minutes
4 hours, 46 minutes 5 hours, 12 minutes 2 hours, 26 minutes 4 hours, 17 minutes
57 minutes 41 minutes 47 minutes 57 minutes

I have no way of telling which one is more accurate without testing them against a polysomnography, or a sleep exam conducted in a lab. But to me, what matters most is how this information is packaged and presented.

After all, statistics and graphs aren't very useful if you have to figure out how to interpret them. The Oura ring has an advantage in this regard thanks to its Sleep Score. Unlike Apple, Oura provides a score that assesses the quality of your sleep based on a variety of factors, such as your total sleep, your sleep efficiency, restfulness and how quickly you fell asleep among other elements.

It answers the most important question at a glance: Did I sleep well last night?   According to Oura, a score of 85 or higher is optimal, while a score between 70 and 84 is considered good. If your sleep score is below 70, you might need to pay attention and make some changes to your sleep schedule.

In addition to viewing your sleep score, you can also see how individual contributors to your sleep score have trended over the last week, month or year. Oura will also display any workouts you logged during that specific time period, allowing you to see how active you were alongside how you slept.

Oura's Sleep Score shows me how I slept.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET (screenshot)

Oura isn't the only company to offer a sleep score; Fitbit's and Amazon's respective wearable devices can generate these assessments, too. I've been wanting Apple to adopt a similar feature for a while, and I'm still holding out hope.

The Apple Watch can surface interesting trends right in the Health app's main feed, such as how much sleep I've averaged per night over the last seven days. But it doesn't provide a concrete assessment of whether I've been sleeping well or not, which feels like the missing piece of the puzzle. There are third-party apps you can download for the Apple Watch that fill in some of the gaps, including SleepWatch, which offers sleep coaching and the option to monitor snoring from the iPhone. (However, you must pay for the £5-per-month premium version to unlock all of the app's features). 

That said, there are some things Apple does very well when it comes to sleep tracking. Apple displays observations about your sleeping habits in the Health app's summary view, which makes it easy to access. More importantly, these insights are written in plain English so that they actually feel useful. 

For example, it can tell me that my average sleeping respiratory rate has been steady over the last 14 days. While it's missing a metric that's as succinct and simple as a sleep score, these perceptive trends and highlights go a long way in making the Apple Watch feel helpful.

The Apple Health app can show highlights from the data the Apple Watch gathers about my sleep.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET (screenshot)

Apple also focuses more closely on helping you form better sleeping habits by establishing a regular bedtime, although admittedly I don't find myself using this feature very much. You can set a sleep schedule for specific days of the week, receive bedtime reminders and a nudge to wind down before your specified bedtime.

Oura doesn't have such granular tools, although it does send you a notification an hour prior to your bedtime window. You can also set goals (for example, to be productive and energetic) in the profile section of the Oura app.

Apple Watch vs. Oura ring: Battery life and comfort

The Apple Watch and an Oura ring

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

A quality sleep tracker needs to be comfortable and long-lasting enough to be worn throughout the day and overnight.

Oura scores high in both regards; its small profile makes it easy to wear overnight, and its battery life far outlasts that of the Apple Watch. Battery life is important if you want a sleep tracker that can also log activities and workouts throughout the day.  In practice, my Oura ring lasted for five days on a single charge, while I typically get about a day and a half out of the Apple Watch Series 8 or Apple Watch SE.

Even the Apple Watch Ultra was no match for Oura; it lasted roughly three days and two nights. Battery life will always vary depending on how you use your device, so your experience may not match mine. Tracking outdoor activity using GPS and leaving the always-on display activated will typically drain the Apple Watch's battery more quickly.

Oura also says that features like meditation sessions and tracking live heart rate will impact battery life.  During my time wearing the Oura ring and Apple Watch, I tracked spinning workouts, a HIIT workout and outdoor walks. I also left the Apple Watch's always-on display active during the testing period and did not use low-power mode.

Both devices should be charged to at least 30% when being worn overnight for sleep tracking. And again, it's worth remembering that the Apple Watch is handling a lot more tasks than the Oura ring at any given moment, which makes the discrepancy in battery life understandable. Not only does it have a screen to power and internet connections to maintain, but it also surfaces notifications from your phone throughout the day. 

Comfort is subjective, but the Oura ring's petite size could make it a more attractive option for some people. I'm a longtime smartwatch wearer, so keeping my Apple Watch on overnight doesn't bother me. However, I could understand how some people might find it difficult to get used to. 

Apple Watch vs.

Oura ring: Price

The Apple Watch Ultra (left) and Apple Watch Series 8 (right)

Lexy Savvides/CNET

The Apple Watch and Oura ring will both cost a few hundred dollars, but the Apple Watch may provide more value depending on what you're looking for in a wearable. It's also worth remembering that you're limited to the iPhone if you have an Apple Watch, while Oura works with the iPhone and Android phones. Apple currently sells three different versions of its smartwatch: The £249 Apple Watch SE, the £399 Apple Watch Series 8 and the £799 Apple Watch Ultra.

Despite their differences in price, they all generally offer the same sleep tracking features. The main difference is that the Series 8 and Ultra can track your wrist temperature overnight as an additional metric.  These pricier watches also have extra health tracking features such as the ability to take an ECG from your wrist and monitor blood oxygen levels.

They also have an always-on display, unlike the Apple Watch SE, while the Apple Watch Ultra also adds longer battery life, dual-frequency GPS and a depth gauge among other additional functions. You can read more about the differences between each Apple Watch in our full coverage.  The Oura Ring Gen 3 is available in two versions: Heritage and Horizon.

The difference between the two is cosmetic; the Horizon model is completely round, while the Heritage version has a flat portion. The Heritage edition begins at £299, while the Horizon version begins at £349 for the black and silver color options. 

The Oura Ring Gen 3

Scott Stein/CNET

But Oura's pricing comes with a big asterisk. In addition to paying that upfront price, you also need to subscribe to Oura's £6 monthly service to access most of the ring's functionality.

Without that membership, the only sleep tracking feature you get is the Sleep Score itself, meaning you will be missing out on insights like your sleep contributors (such as restfulness, total sleep and sleep efficiency), trends and Oura's other sleep metrics. Oura provides the first month for free, which is short compared to the six-month Fitbit Premium subscription you get with devices like the Fitbit Sense 2, Versa 4 and Inspire 3.  The Apple Watch doesn't require a subscription and also offers a lot more general functionality.

The Oura ring is designed for a specific purpose: measuring wellness, sleep and activity. The Apple Watch is more broad and can therefore surface iPhone notifications on your wrist for times when you don't want to reach for your phone. You'll also be able to do things like control music playback, make mobile payments via Apple Pay and see information like the time, date and weather at a glance. 

Both devices can measure workouts and activity, although the Readiness Score is another feature I wish the Apple Watch would copy. The Readiness Score, as its name implies, is a sort of check-engine light for your body that assesses whether you're ready to hit the gym hard or take a rest. The Apple Watch's Activity Rings are motivating enough to help me maintain a regular workout routine, but Oura's Readiness Score adds another layer of helpfulness by reminding me when it may be time to give myself a break. 

Apple Watch vs.

Oura ring: The bottom line

The Apple Watch Series 8 (left) and Oura Ring Gen 3 (right)

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Oura Ring's long battery life, useful Sleep Score, compact design and wide variety of sleep metrics make it an excellent sleep tracker. The problem, however, is that those benefits come at a high price when you factor in the monthly subscription required to access most of those features.  The Apple Watch is more limited in that it doesn't have a Sleep Score or an meaningful equivalent that provides a snapshot of sleep quality at a glance.

It also has noticeably shorter battery life, meaning it could be difficult to find the right time to charge it if you want to track both activity and sleep. But with the Apple Watch, the entire price of the experience is paid for upfront. You don't need a monthly subscription to access all of Apple's health and sleep tracking features (although you do need an iPhone.) And although there's no Sleep Score, you'll still get data about how much time you spent in different stages of sleep, the general duration of your sleep and more. 

Oura is the better sleep tracker overall, but the subscription element can make it hard to recommend.

Still, Oura does a better job at providing actionable advice based on the data it gathers. iPhone owners that care more about having a general-purpose smartwatch that can also track stages of sleep will be happier with the Apple Watch.