Our screens emit blue wavelength light that experts say can suppress our melatonin production, making it harder for us to fall asleep. Aside from blue light, our phones and computers are also filled with distractions (like emails and Instagram) that can keep us mentally engaged.
It’s perhaps ironic, then, that there are a number of smartphone apps that promise to help you fall asleep, improve your quality of sleep and have you wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested.
To help you cut through the white noise, we round up seven of the sleep apps that are currently topping the Apple Health & Fitness chart, and get an expert’s verdict on the sleep app phenomenon.
Calm is marketed as a sleep, meditation and relaxation app. In addition to guided meditation – including techniques to help you fall back to sleep and achieve a restful sleep – Calm features a library of ‘sleep stories’ designed to help lull you into a deep sleep. However, unlike the bedtime stories many of us listened to as kids, Calm’s sleep stories are voiced by a host of celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey.
How much does it cost? Calm can be downloaded from the App and Google Play stores, currently with a seven-day free trial on offer. After this, it offers an auto-renewing monthly subscription at US $12.99 per month at the time of writing, an auto-renewing yearly subscription at US $59.99 per year or a one-off payment of US $399.99 for a lifetime subscription. A Calm subscription gives users unlimited access to Calm’s full collection.
2. Sleeptic – Sleep Analysis
One feature that sets Sleeptic apart from other sleep apps is its alarm clock games (like memory and brick breaker) which it says are designed to help you wake up if you’re struggling in the morning. Sleeptic also claims to track your sleep with daily, weekly, monthly and yearly graphs. According to the app, you place your phone near your bed and it will track your sleep quality through your body movements and sounds. Sleeptic also allows users to set a target sleep time and gives you a sleep score according to that target.
How much does it cost? Sleeptic currently offers a free seven-day trial on its weekly and two-monthly subscriptions. At the end of the free trial, users will be charged $12.49 for a weekly subscription or $25.99 for a two-monthly subscription. Sleeptic can be downloaded from the App and Google Play stores.
Best-known as a meditation and mindfulness app, Headspace also offers users meditation techniques specifically for sleep, as well as ‘sleepcasts’ – podcasts which it says are designed to create the right conditions for a restful sleep. These sleepcasts are between 45 and 55 minutes long and start with a wind-down exercise, such as breathing exercises and mindful body scanning (bringing awareness to different parts of the body). This is followed by a soothing voice describing places or experiences – for example, taking shelter from the rain in an antique store.
How much does it cost? Headspace is free to download on the App and Google Play stores and offers some free introductory exercises. Subscription then costs $12.99 per month charged monthly, $7.99 per month charged annually, or $19.99 per month for a family plan (six accounts) at the time of writing.
4. Breethe: Meditation & Sleep
Breethe (formerly ‘OMG. I Can Meditate’) was co-founded by mindfulness coach Lynne Goldberg and features over 1,000 guided meditations, including programs such as meditation for better sleep and meditation for insomnia. Breethe also includes content such as nature sounds, bedtime readings and hypnotherapy sessions, which it says are designed to help you get a restful sleep. Other features include an alarm clock and morning meditations to help you start your day.
How much does it cost? Breethe is free to download for limited access to the app. Premium membership ranges from $13.99 per month to $599.99 for lifetime membership. This gives users access to the full program, including 12 weeks of daily meditation. Breethe can be downloaded on the App and Google Play stores.
5. Sleep Cycle
Sleep Cycle is a sleep tracker app that claims to monitor your sleep patterns and wake you up when you’ll feel the most rested. Before going to bed, you place your phone face-down on your bedside table and set a 30-minute window for when your alarm will go off. Sleep Cycle says it uses your body movements to work out what sleep stage you’re in and that it aims to wake you when you’re in light sleep (as opposed to deep sleep or REM sleep). The app also scores your sleep quality once you’ve used it a few times.
How much does it cost? Sleep Cycle is free to download from the App and Google Play stores. Its optional Premium subscription costs US $29.99 per year at the time of writing. Premium features include heart rate monitoring and the ability to add notes to each sleep session (like your caffeine intake and exercise during the day), so you can potentially see what’s affecting your sleeping patterns.
Pillow is a sleep monitoring app that can be used via your smartphone (placed on the mattress near your pillow) or Apple Watch. Pillow claims to track your sleep stages and includes an alarm clock that is designed to wake you up at your lightest sleep stage. Pillow says it calculates your sleep stages through your body movements and sounds and will also measure your heart rate if you’re using an Apple Watch. Pillow is only available on the App Store.
How much does it cost? Pillow is free to download, currently only from the App Store. It has an optional Premium subscription that costs $7.49 monthly, $14.99 quarterly or $43.99 yearly at the time of writing. Premium features include power nap modes and the ability to record sounds so you can capture snoring, sleep apnea and sleep talking.
7. Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds
Relax Melodies aims to help you fall asleep through a mixture of sounds, sleep meditations, bedtime stories and breathing techniques. The app features over 100 sounds – including water, bird noises, ASMR and white noise sounds – which you can mix together to create your own customised sleep soundscape. Relax Melodies also offers ‘SleepMoves’, which are body exercises and relaxation techniques that it says will help you ease into a deep sleep.
How much does it cost? Relax Melodies can be downloaded for free on the App and Google Play stores, however, this only gives access to limited features. In-app purchases ranging from $7.49 to $59.99 are required to access a wider range of features at the time of writing. Alternatively, there is a paid version ‘Relax Melodies Premium: Sleep Sounds’ that can be downloaded for $4.49. This gives users access to 124 sounds.
Please note that this is just a selection of some of the apps available. There are other sleep apps out there and we’re not making a recommendation about any of these platforms. It’s important to do your own research before deciding if any of these kinds of apps are suitable for you.
What does a sleep expert think?
As you can probably tell, sleep apps tend to make a lot of promises. But are we dreaming if we think they could actually work?
Dr David Cunnington, a sleep physician from the Sleep Health Foundation, stressed that most sleep tracking apps had not undergone scientific evaluation.
“There’s never been a validation study to prove that they can measure sleep,” Dr Cunnington told Canstar. “At a common sense level, something that sits on your bedside table and by measuring sounds tells you what your brain – a very complex organ – is doing, sounds like a bit of a stretch.”
In extreme circumstances, there’s also the potential that sleep tracking apps could cause sleep-related anxiety. In 2017, a report from researchers in Chicago even coined the term ‘orthosomnia’ to describe a condition where patients using sleep trackers self-diagnose sleep disorders and become obsessed with achieving the ‘perfect sleep’.
Whether a sleep tracking app will be useful for you will depend largely on why you are using it and how you interpret the data, Dr Cunnington said.
“These types of things can be used helpfully if people are just curious about, ‘Am I allowing enough time to sleep?’ or ‘Am I getting roughly the right amount of sleep’,” he said.
Additionally, while meditation and ‘distractor sounds’ like white noise may be helpful for sleep, Dr Cunnington noted there is also no evidence or research showing these particular apps are effective in improving sleep.
At the end of the day, Dr Cunnington said people should make sure they are being “respectful of their sleep”, adding that it was important to “recognise that we need to provide adequate time, an adequate place and adequate opportunity for sleep in our 24-hour day.”
Main image source: Kate Aedon (Shutterstock)