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Can Apps Help You Sleep?

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By Matt McMillenNovember 23, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Can your smartphone improve your sleep? There’s an ever-growing number of sleep apps available – and they’ve become popular at a critical time. An estimated 2 out of 5 people skimp on sleep and, in doing so, put their health at risk.

Poor sleep, after all, does more than spoil your day. It is tied to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a host of other chronic health problems. Some research suggests it ups your chances of developing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. And, in the short term, it raises your risk of the common cold.

Apps won’t cure your sleep problem, but they might offer some help. They’re designed to monitor your sleep habits, keeping track of when you go to bed, how much you toss and turn (an indication of sleep quality), and when you wake up.

While research has yet to back up their effectiveness in improving sleep and their accuracy remains questionable, sleep apps likely offer some positive benefits: they raise users’ awareness of the importance of sleep, and they may help you identify problems that you can then discuss with your doctor or a sleep specialist.

While some apps require a wearable device, there are others that track your sounds and movements using the technology already built into your phone. Here are two popular and well-reviewed examples of apps that, if you don’t mind sleeping with your phone, might help you get more rest.

SleepBot – Free for iOS and Android, SleepBot can be found on many top lists. Stephanie Pappas of Live Science says it’s her favorite, describing it as “one of the easiest to navigate of all the apps we reviewed.” It records snoring, talking in your sleep and other sleep-disturbing noises. Its motion sensor allegedly can determine how deeply you are sleeping. Pappas was skeptical: “The accuracy of these measurements is anyone’s guess, but unlike several other apps tested, SleepBot’s motion sensor actually did capture the times a user knew she was awake, like middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.” The app also offers a “smart” alarm. Set it for a certain time and it will wake you when you’re sleeping lightly inside a 30 minute window. Finally, you can follow your sleep patterns over time, as the app stores up to a year’s worth of data.

Sleep Time+ – Also found on several best-of lists, this app ($ 1.99 for iOS; similar free and paid versions for Android) “is another solid combination of sleep tracking and smart alarm clock,” writes John Corpuz of Tom’s Guide. It uses your phone’s accelerometer to track your sleep and its algorithm to determine when to wake you within 30 minutes of the time you set. The iOS version includes white noise and nature sounds to ease you into sleep. Like SleepBot, it lets you review your sleep history to search for trouble spots.

More advanced sleep programs are also available to treat chronic insomnia, such as the Cleveland Clinic’s Go To Sleep and CBT-I Coach. Based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and designed to be used with guidance from your doctor, they help you recognize what’s wrecking your sleep – too much caffeine during the day, too much screen time at night, for example – and help you learn new habits.

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