Thoughts on sleep apps

Can't sleep? Wake up tired? Restless nights? There are dozens of apps that promise to fix it for you. We've had a closer look at the types of apps out there.

Different sleep problems

Different types of sleep problems helped by different solutions. A sleep problem might or might not be helped by the use of an app’s functionality and different sleep apps aim to address different sleep problems. Fundamentally, the utility of any app is limited by the ability of the user to understand what their sleep problem is and find an app that functions to help with that problem.

Putting that vital part of the effectiveness to one side, what options for sleep help are out there?

Types of sleep apps

Some apps are single function, others are bundles of functionality, so instead of listing all apps, I thought I would outline some of the functions of sleep apps that exist and some of the problems that they are meant to help with.

(1) So starting with apps that measure the sleep stage

The accelerometer is used to measure movement in the bed in order to build a picture of the user’s sleep cycles. This utility is often used in combination with an alarm to wake the user up when the app thinks they are in a light sleep cycle, appropriate for waking. In theory this leads to waking feeling more refreshed. Some wearable tech devices measure the heart-rate in order to identify what stage of sleep the user is in. Again this is commonly used in combination with an alarm and with the accelerometer.

Some apps incorporate a microphone recording feature as well. This could be useful for diagnosing sleep disturbing loud noises in the environment that might regularly disturb sleep, which can then be solved or mitigated. It might also be useful for diagnosing if you (or your partner) talk or make noise in your sleep but it can’t reliably tell if the noise means the user is asleep or not.

(2) Other sleep app functions facilitate the manual logging of a sleep diary

This is useful to work out what the current sleep patterns are. This can be particularly for users that lack insight into their sleep habits and can help people work out patterns and causes of bad sleep. So this helps the user self-diagnose but not necessarily solve.

(3) Sleep apps using hypnotherapy, music and other calming sounds, dolphins, whales, rivers, seashore etc. can help the user relax and get to sleep easier

This can be useful when getting to sleep is a problem due to being psychologically or physiologically activated and for whom this approach is acceptable.

There is one function that often gets overlooked that is on most phones without a specific sleep app and that is the simple alarm (sometimes accompanied by an overused snooze button). The simple alarm has been helping people overcome the problem of too much sleep 🙂

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