Apps to help you sleep, track quality of rest

Sleep experts warn apps can't diagnose, treat patients

Voice actor Scott Reyns used to take sleep aids to help drift off to dreamland between recording sessions.

"As an actor I'm basically on call," he said. "Sometimes the hours get a little crazy."

Now, Reyns turns to technology when it's time to turn in.

"Apps help me with my sleep in a couple of different ways.  You know, the one that I use mainly, it has a feature that is a kind of a gradual alarm. It also has a way to estimate my sleep quality based on, you know ok how much I'm in deep sleep," explained Reyns.

Smart phone apps for sleep, like the ones Reyns uses, are designed to help with relaxation techniques, provide white noise, or even measure how well you rest, with an alarm to wake you during the best part of your sleep cycle.

"The sleep aid apps can actually track your movements by using your smart phone's built in accelerometer, and what the accelerometer does is detect motion.  So it's become so easy and cheap to track your sleep that more and more people are jumping on board with the trend," explained CNET Senior Associate Editor, Sharon Vaknin.

And more and more people could use the help.  The Centers for Disease Control has called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, with as many as 70 million Americans suffering from sleep problems.

"We live in a toxic environment for sleep, and people really don't prioritize sleep," said Dr. Nathaniel Watson with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Watson says short sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity and even a shorter life.  And, while apps can be useful tools to help you doze off or learn more about your sleep, Watson has a warning.

"They're not able to diagnose sleep illness; they're certainly not able to treat it," he said.

Watson recommends going to bed in a dark room with no electronics.  But, in a world where so many are reluctant to unplug, the apps can have some benefits.

"It gets people thinking about their sleep and how to improve it- that, that's good. The downside is that you bring this technology into the bedroom environment.  It might introduce temptation to get on a social networking site, or to text your friends, or you might receive phone calls at night," said Watson.

Reyns says he can't afford to miss client calls, so he has no plans to completely power down before he slumbers. But, he says his sleep app helps him focus on quality rest.

'The main thing for me is just making sure I get enough sleep, and sleep when I have to so that I'm ready to get behind the mic when I have to," said Reyns.

If you do decide to try one of these sleep apps, Vaknin has some tech tips:

  • Keep your phone plugged in because tracking apps can use up to 30% of your battery life. 
  • Keep your phone in a place where air will circulate, not under a pillow, to prevent it from overheating.

Apps recommended by CNET's Sharon Vaknin:

Relaxation Techniques:

White Noise:

Track Your Sleep: