WITH smartphones, tablets and smart watches glowing and buzzing on our night stands, it’s no wonder that low-quality sleep has become a public health problem. Sleep-monitoring apps for smartphones can help.
One app that has given me good results is SleepBot (free on iOS and Android), which has provided insights into my sleeping habits and helped me work out the distractions and habits that seem to mar my sleep.
As with many other sleep apps, you set an alarm time, then slide your phone under your pillow while keeping the phone plugged in to your charger so you don’t wake up to a drained battery. As you shift through various stages of sleep during the night, SleepBot logs your body’s moves.
When it’s time for your alarm to go off, SleepBot waits until your phone’s sensors detect that you’re moving more, which means you are probably in a period of light sleep. Then it sets off your alarm.
The idea is that if you wake up during lighter sleep you’ll avoid that grogginess that can happen when you awaken from deep sleep. Once you’re awake, the app displays statistics about how long you slept and shows a graph of how much you moved during sleep.
The SleepBot app also listens to ambient noise levels and displays these as a chart. Once you’ve used the app regularly, you may be able to spot patterns that could help you understand why you sleep well, or badly. For example, I moved my bed away from the window after realizing that street noise appeared to affect my sleep.
SleepBot’s option include setting alarm music from your phone’s library or using a soothing musical track built into the app. The app is occasionally a bit complicated, needing more steps than you may expect to change settings or create a new alarm.
Pillow is a similar sleep-tracking app, with a clean minimalist interface, gesture controls and Apple Watch integration. The unfussy look of the app helps ease my mind as I set an alarm in the final moments before sleep.
The app works for iPad and iPhone and tracks motion and sounds. It packs in many more features than SleepBot: You can export sound recordings, use it to take a power nap and log data about your daily habits that relate to sleep, like reading a book before bed.
If you own an Apple Watch, Pillow uses the sensors in the Watch to record your sleep patterns; no need to put your phone under your pillow. The app is excellent, though it’s iOS-only. The free version of the app is limited — it costs $5 to unlock the option to export audio and other features.
Tracking your sleep is just one option to help you get better rest. I’ve also tried Pzizz, which generates audio files that blend gentle music, voice-based meditation, natural sounds and spatial, 3-D audio effects that are supposed to help you relax.
Pzizz has an attractive interface, and it is soothing to listen to its jumble of sounds. But more than once, I’ve found myself paying too much attention to the app instead of sleeping. Pzizz is free on iOS and Android.
The mySleepButton app has audio instructions that guide you through visualizing images as you lie in bed. Some of these seem odd (“a girl adjusting her ponytail” and “a child talking to Superman,” for example). This mix of mental images distracts your conscious brain while your body gets on with the natural process of drifting off to sleep.
The mySleepButton interface is basic, and it comes with only a limited amount of free content on iOS and Android (new visualization modules cost $3 and up). But it’s an interesting way to try to go to sleep.
Scientists disagree about best practices when it comes to sleep, and everyone is different, so consider these apps tools rather than solutions. And sleep tight.
Viridi is part mindfulness app and part Tamagotchi-like game, but without the stress. The idea is that by tending and watering a digital garden full of 3-D simulated succulent plants, you can achieve a Zen-like moment even during a difficult day. Viridi sounds weird, and in truth it is very unusual. But it’s beautiful, fun and soothing. Viridi is free on Android.