The smartphone has become an integral part of waking life and, more recently, part of many people’s sleep routines. About 77% percent of American adults own a smartphone. Smartphones are used in a variety of ways, such as for accessing news, social media, games, calendars, and even promoting quality sleep.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep each night. Sleep apps could be a valuable tool to help people achieve better sleep. If you experience sleep disruptions or suspect that you’re sleep-deprived, a sleep app might be worth considering.
A variety of apps call themselves sleep apps, but not all of these apps do the same thing. Some sleep apps offer relaxing sounds, such as white noise, music, nature sounds, and guided meditations, for sleepers to listen to as they fall asleep. Other sleep apps act as alarm clocks with more features than a phone’s default alarm clock. Sleep tracking apps operate differently, collecting data as you sleep.
Sleep tracking apps use smartphones’ built-in accelerometers to record and interpret sleep data each night. Sleep apps commonly track movements during sleep, record sound, wake sleepers up at the right time in their sleep cycle with an alarm, and provide insight into interpreting sleep data. Sleep apps are generally convenient, affordable, and able to provide tangible information on sleep quality.
Research on the efficacy of sleep apps is still underway. There has yet to be definitive data on what sleep apps can provide compared to a traditional sleep study. The validity of sleep apps is still a prominent concern for researchers. Research shows that few sleep apps have been adequately studied and demonstrated to aid sleep management.
Despite a lack of research surrounding the validity of sleep apps, many people find that the act of tracking their own activity data is a powerful motivational tool to help them implement healthy lifestyle changes. People often track sleep along with other measures, such as movement and heart rate.
Sleep Cycle is a popular app that can track and interpret your sleep data every night, as well as wake you up during your lightest sleep phase in the morning. Sleep Cycle calls this feature the “smart alarm clock,” and it uses your phone’s sensors to predict your lightest period of sleep during a predetermined 30-minute wake-up window. Having your alarm go off during your lightest sleep cycle is intended to make waking up easier and reduce fatigue and grogginess upon waking.
Sleep Cycle’s other features include but are not limited to:
Headspace guides users through daily mindfulness practices and offers meditations for sleep, focus, stress, sadness, and resilience. Headspace offers “Move Mode” workouts to help keep you active during the day, two to three-minute mini meditations, “SOS” meditation sessions for panic or anxiety, and a tracking feature for meditation progress. Although Headspace’s features may promote sleep, the app does not offer any type of alarm system or sleep tracking.
Headspace is available for download on both iOS and Android devices. This app fully integrates with Apple Health, allowing people to track their time spent meditating in the same place they track other health information.
The Noisli app plays ambient sounds, which may help relieve anxiety and stress so you can fall asleep faster. You can pick from a variety of sounds and mix them. The app features a timer with a fadeout function, so the ambient sounds become quieter and then stop playing after you’ve fallen asleep. Noisli also offers offline capabilities for when you can’t access WiFi.
Noisli is a versatile and affordable app that you can use to promote calmness both before bed and during your daily routines. It is available for both iOS and Android devices. Additionally, you can use Noisli on a computer with an iOS or Windows operating system in addition to using it on your phone.
Pzizz is intended to help you fall asleep faster, nap better, and stay more focused at work. Depending on what you need — sleep, quick rest, or focus — you can access a variety of recorded narratives and dreamscapes, soothing sounds, and music to help you reach your goals. Set a timer for however long you want to sleep, and Pzizz will play sounds to help you slumber. Then, the built-in alarm clock will gently wake you at the scheduled time.
Pzizz is available for iOS and Android devices. The app also supports offline capability, which is ideal when you’re traveling and without WiFi or phone service.
Slumber is a simple and user-friendly app created to help you sleep. Choose from meditations, sleep stories, or nature sounds to listen to as you fall asleep. Slumber also has an offline option, making it a good choice for travel or when you’re away from WiFi. Some Slumber meditations and mindfulness stories contain “suggestive hypnosis” to help you feel relaxed and fall asleep. Slumber does not offer an alarm clock or track sleep data.
Slumber is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Calm is a popular sleep app that allows you to pick stories for both adults and kids that are read in soothing voices. Some voices may sound familiar — celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey are readers for the app.
Calm isn’t only for sleep. The app can also be used for meditation, mindfulness, stretching routines, music, soundscapes, and breathing exercises. Calm does not track your sleep data, nor does it have an alarm clock.
10% Happier is a meditation, calm, and sleep app designed to simplify meditation. It has a large library of over 500 meditations to choose from, as well as short inspirational stories for your drive to work. In addition to audio, the app offers video meditations so you can watch the coach talking through your meditation instead of simply listening. There is no sleep data tracking or alarm clock feature on this app.
This app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Reflectly can be used to help you practice better sleep hygiene. Journaling before bed may be part of a sleep hygiene routine that helps you relax. This app is a digital journal that provides guided prompts to help you destress, reflect on your day, and identify any stress-inducing events that occurred. The journaling process may help you release thoughts and feelings that would have otherwise interfered with your ability to sleep well.
Reflectly is available on both iOS and Android operating systems.
Sleep Easy offers a 14-day “Core Treatment Program” designed to improve overall sleep. Created by doctors, this program contains two daily listening sessions — one for daytime and one for before bed. The sessions promote relaxation through guided breathing and body awareness recordings. The app also offers recordings on sleep hygiene techniques in addition to calming sleep sounds.
The Sleep Easy app opens by asking, “What are your sleep challenges?” You may choose from over 30 options, such as “Difficulty Falling Asleep” and “Sleeping with a Partner.” The app offers multiple short programs in addition to the 14-day core program. These shorter programs are specifically geared toward addressing the issues selected when you open the app.
Sleep Easy is available for iOS devices. The app doesn’t contain an alarm feature, nor does it track sleep data. Sleep Easy stands out from other sleep apps because its method has been scientifically studied. Over 80% of people who used similar methods to those offered in the app reported improved sleep.