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Last Updated November 16, 2022
There’s so much to do in life, but there’s hardly any time. We tend to squeeze everything into our 24 hours - work, socializing, binge-watching, zoom meetings, reading, and exercising. The mounting pressure of being productive is so much that we end up compromising on our sleep.
In a research study, it was found that Americans are sleeping lesser and lesser than they used to. Sleeping used to be simple, but it has also turned out difficult, thanks to our always-on work culture, fear of missing out, and constant smartphone notifications.
But smartphones and smartwatches are just tools. How we use our tools defines our skills (Yes, sleeping is kind of a skill in this fast-moving age). In this article, we are talking about the awesome sleep apps that are here to help your nap, rest, and restore your sleep quality back to normal. Let’s take a look at how we can use these sophisticated applications built for our smart devices, along with a little help from the internet. But before that, we need to understand our body’s needs too.
Usually, a sleep cycle has a duration of 90-120 minutes. Sleep, unlike what we think, is not plopping into bed and going straight into slumber. It has phases - right from the onset to light to deep sleep, and by the time we are dreaming, we are already at the end of one curve of a sleep cycle.
Stage 1 is the lightest sleep phase - It is basically prepping up the mind for the rest time ahead. It takes a few minutes (1-5 minutes) to get into the mood. Breathing is regular in this light stage, often called N1.
Stage 2 is when your heart rate and body temperature drop. Your neurons start firing instructions and signals to your brain and the rest of your body. The activity is also known as sleep spindle, and it helps consolidate your memory. The stage, also called N2, lasts for 20-25 minutes. But with every successive sleep cycle, the duration of N2 keeps on increasing.
Stage 3 is the deepest stage of our sleep. In it, our brain waves slow down, and our body is focused on repairing and regrowing tissues. During this stage, bones and muscles are built, and the immune system strengthens. If someone wakes you up in this stage, chances are your brain will feel foggy, and it will take you at least 20 minutes to an hour to perform any decent mental exercise. The situation is called Sleep Inertia. Since the body’s need for sleep hasn’t been fulfilled yet, it desires more. If you have ever had nightmares, this stage of sleep is to be blamed.
Stage 4, or REM (Rapid Eye Movement), is the final one in your sleep cycle. And it takes almost 90 minutes of shut-eye to reach here. In this stage, the body starts recalibrating. The brain becomes active again. You start dreaming. Your breathing goes increasingly erratic and irregular. Although your skeletal muscles don’t move yet, your eyes show rapid movement as if they are wide awake. Every REM episode lasts for 10 minutes and increases in every sleep cycle.
So if you look at it, we get 60-90 minutes of deep sleep, that too only when we go through a sleep cycle of 7-9 hours. However beneficial for memory and brain metabolism, REM sleep is not restful. A night of dreamless sleep is better than one with all the dreams because your brain and your eyes work less while your body feels well-rested.
But the big question is, how can we use tech to our advantage to get that much-needed deep sleep? Turns out there are devices and apps for this specific problem. Let’s see which are the best ones.
Sleep Cycle is primarily an iPhone app, although you can find it on Android phones too. It uses the Actigraphy method and traces your movements with a little bit of help from the accelerometer built into your iPhone. All you have to do is to turn it on and keep it near you before you go to bed. And based on your movements and stillness, it will tell you how much light and REM sleep you had last night.
The app has got a good interface that will showcase your sleep stages in easily understandable graphs. Every piece of information is a tap away, whether it is your bedtime, wake-up time, or average sleep time. If you are a social butterfly, you can also share it on your Facebook or Twitter. If not, you can also back it up online.
Sleep Cycle has soothing alarm sounds, sleep notes, and wake-up moods. It can give you an idea about your heart rate, can change the backlight of your phone (to make it more suitable as per the time of the day), and will give you a glimpse into the weather highlights before you start the day.
It drains your battery, a lot. Also, it might not detect a good amount of movement on a foam mattress, it can show disproportionate movement even if your partner wakes up during the night. Notifications can disrupt your focus. And morning alarms might wake you up a bit early. You can set a window of 30 minutes, but the Sleep Cycle app would rather wake you up during the initial part of it.
A free trial version is available on iOS and Google Play Store.
As the name suggests, Pillow helps you get a good night's sleep. It is one of the best apps around for tracking sleep for iPhone users. And not just plain sleep tracking, Pillow does it in great detail and style. It will record audio, heart rates, periods of waking, plus your light, deep, and REM sleep. It showcases all of that in a cool and colorful graphics package that is easy to read and understand.
You can also sync it with your Siri shortcuts or your Apple health app.
It gives you a mood rating to choose once you wake up. Yes! It ranges from how good to how groggy you feel in the morning and calibrates its approach after understanding you, your emotions, and your sleep.
It will pick up any spike in noise during nighttime. And that can help you if you snore or talk in sleep or if some external factors affect your sleep (Don’t worry, it won’t detect any paranormal activity).
The app is costly ($4.99 a month to $ 39.99 for a year) and currently limited to iOS users only. That means while it might go with an Apple watch, you can also use it on your iPhone. However, one caveat there - you will have to keep your handset on the mattress where you sleep, and that makes your phone susceptible to fall damage.
We don’t know how to pronounce it, but we already love that it has Zzzs in its name. Pzizz is not exactly a sleep tracker app. You can call it a relaxation app. With its diverse range of soothing music, binaural tones or sound effects, and relaxing voice options - you can stay assured about getting lulled into a comfortable sleep. Its mix of music and sound effects reduces your mind’s chatter when you go to bed. And the best part is this app is available on both - iOS and Android devices.
Easy to use features. Just tap on ‘nap’ or ‘focus,’ and you are good for the next 20 minutes. We also liked the alarm, which wakes you up slowly and naturally. It also comes with a collection of voiceovers with music and background sound.
You can use dreamscape for a nap or sleep and focusscape when you are trying to concentrate on a task. That’s pretty cool.
It is too costly. $99 for a yearly subscription is a bit too much. Although you can try its free version with occasional in-app purchases.
Also, there are no note-taking, no trackers, and no journaling or monitoring of your sleep. So yeah, you are on your own when you are using this app.
Most sleep apps are movement-based, so you have to keep your device, be it your phone or your smartwatch, near you all the time to get the correct data. Despite that, it can over or under-calculate the sleep you get. SleepScore is different here.
When you use the SleepScore app, you won’t need any wrist sensors or bed sensors, or for that matter, any bedside device. You can just open it, plug it into a charger and keep it on a bedside table. And it will measure most of the things related to your sleep, right from the onset of sleep to sleep duration to the time you spend in the light, deep, and REM phases. It can tell your wake-up timings and your breathing too. And all of it through sound wave detection.
You see, this app uses sonar sensor technology, just like bats do at the night, to find their way. Don’t worry, it doesn’t keep emitting ultrasonic waves. Rather it collects all the sounds around it. So you better keep it pointed at you.
SleepScore, as the name suggests, keeps your sleep score, too, while looking for patterns in your sleep and giving proper recommendations based on your profile. You can keep a daily score, or whenever you want to visit a doctor, you can request a consolidated sleep score. If your sleep score is around 78, that means you are living a good life.
It is on both types of devices, iOS and Android. There’s a free version too, but that only tracks sleep for seven days. It syncs to the Apple Health app and shows you sleep graphs along with good sleep motivational quotes. Plus, it is not invasive and constantly bothering you with notifications.
Again, the cost factor. It ranges from $ 4-6 a month. Also, for some reason, it works better with iPhones than Android ones.
Sleep Station could be the next sensation in the world of sleep-tracking apps, but it is not available that easily. The best part about this app is that it is approved by UK’s National Health Service, doctors, and sleep experts. This app's design is very similar to the online experience of real-world Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia.
Sleep Station asks you several questions before you even start using the app. These questions lead to your sleep assessment and review and whether you need to be connected to sleep experts or not. Yes, they have a team of sleep experts. If you are fortunate enough, you can get access to a sleep coach.
But if you don’t want that, the app can provide you with a personalized report to improve upon factors that can help better your sleep. Sleep Station is available on the NHS website and comes in Lite, Essential, and Plus options, but you only get to choose them once you answer a couple of questions (well, more than a couple of questions, definitely). But like said above, the site reviews your answers and recommends what’s best for your condition.
It is one of the most scientific apps (or science-backed) compared to your regular sleep-tracking ones. It focuses on you as an individual and provides a solution that addresses your unique sleep situation. An interactive, personalized solution that can be extended as per your wish.
Its limited availability and high cost. Sleep Station is only available in the UK and free for NHS members. It goes from 95 Pounds for a week to 485 Pounds for six months - that’s almost $540!
Most sleep-tracking apps are obsessively focused on counting hours rather than prioritizing quality sleep and wake-up time. Sleep Time fills the gap here like a chilled-out companion who tells you how much you have slept and wakes you up gently.
It monitors your movement and shows customized sleep data in easy-to-read and understandable visuals.
Its soundscape feature lulls you into sleep with the soothing sound of the rainforest and gentle ocean waves. While Smart Clock ensures that you wake up during the lightest phase of your sleep.
Its availability on iOS and Google Play.
It doesn’t offer many features, which helps if you are a minimal lifestyle-loving person. But sleep is a combination of so many factors that they can’t be reduced to a certain algorithm. Sleep Time is good for casual checks on your sleep.
Speaking of being casual and at ease, there are multiple apps if you are not keenly looking to track your sleep. These apps use ASMR techniques to lead you into a relaxed state of mind. If you are not too troubled with your work and life, chances are you will love these apps for the sheer peacefulness and calmness they bring. Let’s take a look.
We are wired to listen and pay attention to any weird or different sounds in our environment. It could be one of our primal instincts, but it hasn't gone out completely from our psyche. Even when we go to sleep, our brain remains conscious of any such sudden noises.
This is why a low hum of an AC or a constant whirring noise gives us respite from these natural notifications and pushes us towards a peaceful sleep.
However, you can't keep your fan or AC on forever (especially if it's chilly outside). In that case, certain types of sleep sound help.
Often called White Noise, Pink Noise, or Brown Noise - these sounds are good for creating an ambiance conducive to your rest by drowning out other noises.
There are apps and devices that can help you find your kind of noise. Let’s explore.
One of the most popular apps around the internet is White Noise Lite. It is free to download from Apple Store and Google Play and works across iOS and Android devices. The app can loop sounds from its vast playlist in the category of rain, water, home appliances, outside noise, traveling and airport noise, and different sounds like a cat purring or a Buddhist humming a song. As the sound goes on, the app also gives you the freedom to let it run in the background. Its dark interface ensures that opening and choosing from the playlist at night shouldn’t affect your eyes.
White Noise Lite, apart from the name, consists of more noise categories than the white one. You can pick and choose from pink, brown, gray, and violet noise.
Easy to use. You can just swipe across the category of sounds or you can mix and make one of your own.
Pesky banner ads at the bottom of the screen. Although you can remove them by upgrading the app to its paid version. Also, the sound loops are kinda short and repetitive.
Meditation is difficult for beginners. But if tried with relaxing sounds and in a guided manner, one can easily get mindfulness and sleep vying for all the time. That’s what Headspace does.
Though it is primarily an app for meditation, Headspace contains a good playlist of sleepcasts (podcasts intended to make you sleepy), Immersive, 3-D sounds, soundscapes, and white noise mixed with audio tours and ambient sounds. Every guided meditation tour is customizable from 3 to 20 minutes.
The app's interface is divided into 4 categories: meditation, sleep, move and focus. And they help you with exactly what they say on the label.
Easy to use interface. You can include your loved ones, family, and friends with the ‘Buddies’ feature. The fact that this app has been created by a Buddhist monk makes it more special and committed to your well-being. Plus you can track your progress and customize your sessions as per your requirements.
High Cost. While the trial version is free, you still need to pay $12.99 for a monthly subscription and $69.99 for a yearly subscription. And since it is focused on beginners, people who are already in the advanced levels of meditation and exercise might find the content a bit repetitive.
It is available on all iOS and Android Devices. If you are a K 12 teacher or a school administrator, or a support staff in an educational institution, you are eligible for a free or complimentary subscription. There is a kid version, too, if you want your hyperactive, always on kids to meditate and relax.
Calm, like its name, helps you find inner peace, especially if you are a newcomer or enthusiastic about mindfulness without having the need to chant some religious mantras. The app does this by making you do some simple breathing and calming exercises. If you like stories, Calm has a good amount of bedtime stories narrated by celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and LeBron James.
Audio breathing exercises range from 1 to 60 minutes, and you can use them for a variety of purposes - like from relaxing to focusing to pumping up your body for the next task. The music playlist in this app is good, and you can choose from relaxing sounds like natural noises and lullabies to soundscapes that give the ambient feel to help you concentrate.
Minimal distraction screen or interface and real-life visuals or nature sounds. It has a mood tracker in it so its algorithm keeps shifting as per your moods or personality. Plus, they, too, have a kid version that shows the amount of consideration they have taken for the users.
You can’t add friends here. While that might seem good for a mindfulness app yet, it feels good to share an update with your friends. You can tell them what you are listening to on this app, but that takes the charm out of it. Also, sleep stories are a tad bit long. While the price is on par with apps like Headspace ($14.99 per month / $69.99 per year), it still feels costly.
Calm is available on iOS and Android devices. And you can access a free version without any premium features. But it is always good to go for a 7-day trial version before you make up your mind to pick the free or premium product.
With more than 200 ambient sounds and more than 100 individual guided meditations, this could be your go-to app for relaxing, sleeping, or just being at ease. You can choose or compose your own tune. And you can also set a timer for sleep sounds.
Relax Melodies is a good app if you are not asking for more than a night of restful sleep. It focuses mostly on sounds and sleeps, so it could be the one. Although its guided meditations are also good, they might not be on par with Calm or Headspace quality. Like every other sleep app out there, Relax Melodies also tracks your sleep movement but offers something more here.
SleepMoves, one of the features of Relax Melodies, scans your body and guides you to do some stretching and body movement to help you and your partner relax more and sleep better.
Comparatively low-cost app. You can pay $24.99, and you are set for a year’s worth of sounds and premium features.
Most of the sounds have binaural beats, meaning you might need to grab a pair of headphones whenever you want to lie down.
It might feel distracting at first, but listening to podcasts during bedtime can help you doze off easily. If it’s a soothing human voice, the content is not too political or engaging to encourage active listening, then it can be as relaxing as pink, white, or such ambient noises.
Podcasts also help with one of the most important bad bed habits - Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. After a hard-working day, you feel like you have earned it. Maybe one episode from Netflix or catching up with social media trends, but they do more harm than your usual daytime scrolling. You need to feel relaxed when you are sleeping or about to sleep. Social media can agitate you.
Podcasts offers better sleep and are good at reducing your lightning-fast, zipping day to a crawl. As it slows down and relaxes your mind, your body gets ready for sleep too. A good meditation podcast (or even a comedy one) can distract you from worrying and planning for the next day. Once it reduces your stress levels, listening to podcasts can become a bedtime ritual for you.
And sure, why not? Whatever helps you chill out is always good.
Most sleep apps are sleep trackers, no matter what they call themselves. They don’t measure sleep directly, but they make an educated guess based on the data your phones or devices feed their data servers.
These data can include - your sleep duration, your inactive time (the time when you were away from your device), ambiance like light, temperature, or noise, and your activities like tossing and turning in the bed, binge-watching or consuming caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime (you might have to feed that particular information manually). Even when many sleep apps claim to use a gentle alarm that wakes you up in your light phase, they use your data only to do that.
Any sleep app becomes better with your inputs and your interaction with the devices and the software (OS). So it is always better to take the recommendation made by sleep apps with a grain of salt. Any wearable or bedside device does the same as an app would do.
So how do you use the findings? For example, if your sleep app tells you that you are snoozing less than required or your heart rate goes up, which means you are stressed, or the temperature of your bedroom should be in this range, what do you do then?
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You can always use sleep apps to find patterns in your sleep. While it might not be able to know the quality of your sleep, you can still use the findings as a conversation starter with your doctor. If you think you have severe insomnia or sleep apnea, or other such sleep-related disorders, you should go for a clinical sleep study. Studying your brain waves can be a better indicator for addressing your chronic sleepless condition.
Meanwhile, you can still use these sleep apps as a part of your lifestyle, just keep one thing in mind - don’t lose your sleep over what your phone or your watch, or your devices say to you. We all know our sleep better than the smartest technology out there, but there’s no harm in getting a little help. Keep your boundaries clear, and you can have this secret superpower to claim back your sleep and rest time with you.
How did you find this article? Do you also use a sleep app or a sleep tracker? What do you think about tracking your sleep patterns? Let us know in the comment section, and we’d love to interact with you.
Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.