While we're often told not to play on our phones or tablets before we go to bed as it can mess with our ability to sleep well, I wanted to see if my phone could actually help me fall asleep. With so many apps out there claiming to wake you up at just the right time or soothe you into a deep sleep, I wanted to see what all the hype was about. In an increasingly digital world, using an app to get a better night's sleep just makes sense. Why not use the simplicity of your phone to catch some z's?
Truth be told, I don't have too much difficulty falling asleep as it is, although some nights I do get a little antsy and find that it takes at least a half hour before I finally nod off. The issue, however, is that when I wake up, I feel exhausted. It's as if my body has become one with the bed, and I can't muster up any strength to get up. My hopes were that these apps would ease that morning exhaustion (and perhaps even tell me why I'm so tired despite eight hours of sleep). My criteria for testing these apps was that I used each one for four days to get a good read on whether it was actually working or not. I also only chose apps that were free, for ease of access (and because I hate paying for apps!). To find out my results with five of the best sleep-tracking apps, keep reading!
For each sleep app experiment, I placed the phone just next to my pillow on the mattress. First up was Sleep Bot (available for Android and iPhone), which is a very thorough sleep-tracking app. Before you hit the pillow, you choose what time you'd like to be woken up, and you can indicate whether you want the app to record sound and movement. Then, the app will wake you up during the optimal time for you based on the time you've set the alarm. I was a bit worried that the app would wake me up too late, so I set it for an earlier time than I normally would have wanted, but found that each morning it woke me up within a few minutes of my alarm. What I loved about the app is that it includes motion and sound graphs, and it even allows you to play back your sounds throughout the night, which for me was quite funny (there's nothing more attractive than hearing your own mouth-breathing). It also logs your sleep debt, meaning that after you indicate how much sleep you'd like to get that night, it tells you whether you've hit a deficit. For me, most nights I had quite a large deficit, especially since I tend to stay up pretty late each night watching television.
I didn't exactly feel refreshed and more awake each morning from using this app. What I did love, however, was that I could take a look at what my sleep issues were, which made me want to change my ways, such as going to bed sooner and turning off the television before Fallon even comes on.
My rating: 4/5
Relax & Sleep Well (available on Android and iPhone) was one of the best sleep-tracking apps I tried. It's essentially a series of sleep hypnosis sound clips mediated by hypnotherapist Glenn Harrold. There's peaceful music in the background and direct instructions from Glenn for falling into a deep sleep, and it's recommended that you use earphones to listen to the clips since the sound moves from ear to ear. At first, admittedly, I had to laugh because it was a little strange to have a random man talking me to sleep, but after being sure to take each of his cues re: breathing and guided imagery, I found myself actually dosing off. The first morning, I couldn't remember at what point during the hypnosis that I actually fell asleep, which proves that it must have worked!
There are three sound clips you can choose from: Relax and Sleep Well (Sleep Ending), Relax & Sleep Well (Awake Ending—I'm not sure why this is labeled "awake," especially since I fell asleep every time it was played), and Solfeggio Relax and Sleep (a musical soundtrack with positive thoughts from Glenn). What I did like was that each clip included positive affirmations like "My nerves grow stronger and steadier every day." It felt a little silly at first, but after using it for a couple of days, I found it to be cathartic. All in all, I felt like I was waking up feeling better and a bit more awake and alert than usual.
My rating: 4.5/5
Sleep Better With Runstastic (available for Android and iPhone) was a decent app. Upon first opening, it asks you to indicate whether you've worked out, had a stressful day, were not in your bed, ate late, had caffeine, or drank alcohol. Then, you needed to put in your desired wake-up time, to which the app indicates that it would wake you up within 30 minutes of that time. I found the alarm music to be incredibly pleasant, and appreciated the logging of my light and deep sleep phases. There was also a moon phase analysis, which showed you how long each moon phase lasted because apparently, that affects your sleep. Interesting, I suppose.
However, what I didn't like about the app was that I found that a lot of it was something I could have recorded in a journal. I was given no additional insight as to how caffeine or stress affect my sleep other than that I had recorded whether I had experienced such things throughout the day. The same rang true for the dream diary since it just kept track of whether you felt that the dream was good, bad, or neutral. Overall, I didn't feel as though I'd gotten a better night's sleep either. Because of these reasons, I felt that Sleep Bot was a better choice for logging sleep habits.
My rating: 2.5/5
Okay, I don't know what was wrong, but I couldn't get Sleep Genius (available on Android and iTunes) to work. According to its description, the app was "developed by experts in neuroscience, sleep, sound, and music following research helping NASA get astronauts to sleep," so I had high hopes.
There's a sleep option and a "Revive Cycle Alarm" option. The alarm lets you choose the time you'd like to be woken (while a too-upbeat soundtrack called "Sunrise" plays in the background) while the sleep option plays calming music on either a 1.5-hour or 3-hour loop. I didn't understand the loop since there was no set time to be woken up, so I opted for the Revive Cycle Alarm, but it never went off! I read some user reviews who had a similar problem, so I guess it's a (major) bug that needs to be fixed. There was also no sleep-tracking or statistics with this app. You can opt in for the more expensive premium version, but it's a whopping $10, which is way more than I'd like to spend on an app.
My rating: 1/5
Pzizz (available for Android and iTunes) was rather interesting. It customized a different sound for you every night and let you choose the duration or the alarm time you'd like to be woken up at. I personally wanted to set it to a specific time because I didn't trust that it would wake me up if I just specified the hours. The app puts you to sleep with music and positive affirmations, which is nice, but the alarm is a really loud beeping noise, which was incredibly unpleasant. I'm the type who likes to be woken up to a nice, calm sound (albeit loud so I wake up), but this was downright displeasing. I didn't feel that it had any perks or significance as compared to Sleep Bot or Relax & Sleep Well, and I didn't wake up more refreshed, so I likely won't be using this app again.
My rating: 2.5/5
Have you tried any sleep-tracking apps? Let us know which you thought was the best below!
This article was originally published November 5, 2015.