Turning to Your Phone for a Better Night's Sleep

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I'm terrible at sleeping. Over the years, I have tried various remedies and tricks, and they haven't helped. I figured there wasn't much I could do about my problem until I discovered sleep-aid smartphone apps.

My favorite is Sleep Cycle, a $2 iOS app. Although this app doesn't help get you to sleep, it does help you learn about your sleep habits. It's also designed to wake you at just the right point in your sleep cycle, when you're sleeping lightly, so you won't feel that familiar sinking sensation after your alarm clock jerks you awake.

The app is meant to work with your phone set on your mattress. It uses the iPhone's sensors to monitor movements, recording when you were in different phases of sleep -- from light to deep. In the morning, you get a time graph showing how well you managed to stay in deep sleep.

There's a notes section for each night's data, so you can track if drinking a cup of tea upsets your sleep or if your sleep patterns are related to stress. If you're really interested in detailed analysis of your sleep habits you can export the data to an Excel spreadsheet.

The app's instructions are easy to follow, and the interface is easy to use. I've found it usually wakes me when I'm feeling well rested. It does take a while to get used to this, because it means you're awakened in a window around your chosen alarm time instead of, say, at 7:30 a.m. sharp. Perhaps my only criticism is the app's array of soothing alarm sounds can get tiresome, but you can also set it to use your downloaded music.

A very similar free app on Android is Sleepbot. It also uses your device's motion sensors to track your sleep patterns, and can wake you gently when you're in light sleep. Its interface isn't quite as polished nor as easy to use as Sleep Cycle's, but this app is more powerful. You can set target sleep times and see over several days if you have a sleep deficit, and you can set a reminder to go to bed. It also has a sound-monitoring function so you can see if there are noises that disturb your sleep, or how your sleep correlates to quiet environments.

Another way apps can help you sleep is by playing soothing sounds for a time and then quietly shutting off. One of my favorite sleep apps is Simply Rain, a $1 iOS app that plays soothing rain sounds. Its interface has a large slider to control the sound volume and a small slider to adjust the intensity of the rain. You can choose to have different intensities of thunder sounds in the mix, and set the app to oscillate the volume to simulate the variation in a real rain shower. There's also a simple sleep timer. I find I fall asleep easily to this sort of white noise, but it may not suit you.

For alternative sleep sounds try Sleep Pillow Sounds, a $2 iOS app with sounds like rain on water, crackling fires or lapping waves on the shore. You can even layer these sounds on top of one another. The app has a cute, graphic-heavy interface and a sleep timer, but the timer has a maximum setting of only 75 minutes. It's also possible to notice patterns in the sounds, and that may bother you.

On Android, Relax and Sleep is a similar app. It has an impressive array of sounds, like wolf cries and a rocking chair. You can layer multiple sounds, setting each sound at a desired intensity. The repetitive nature of some of the sounds seemed more irritating than relaxing, but your mileage may vary.

Finally, I've learned listening to audiobooks can help me sleep -- it's like being read a bedtime story. Audiobooks from Audible (free on iOS, Android and Windows Phone) are my sleep weapon of choice because of the huge selection of titles and the sleep timer function. I also use it with a sleep-monitoring app.

Audible's one downside is that the price of some of the audiobooks may surprise you: The first Game of Thrones book is nearly $32, unless you sign up for one of the app's monthly membership options.

Quick Call

Microsoft has released a suite of Bing-related apps for Windows Phone 8 devices that bring real-time news alerts on finance, news, sports and weather. These apps are free.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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