How To Use Smartphone Apps To Improve Your Sleep

If you’re one of the millions of people lying awake at night, you’re not alone — about one-third of adults struggle with not getting enough sleep. Some sleepless nights may arise due to sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea, while others may be a sign of temporary problems such as increased stress.

Not getting enough rest can be a big deal. A lack of sleep can make it harder to learn, focus, remember, and perform well at work or school. Over time, many sleepless nights can increase your risk of medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression. Fortunately, researchers have learned a lot about what goes into a good night’s rest. Experts have created a plethora of apps that can help you get more shut-eye. Read on to learn more about which apps may be most likely to help you spend more mornings feeling refreshed.

Apps for Insomnia

When you experience sleep difficulties three times per week for at least a month, you may have insomnia. This condition makes it hard to get to sleep, sleep throughout the night, or stay asleep until your alarm goes off.

If you think you may have insomnia, you may be able to get effective treatment through an app. Sleep experts often recommend first treating insomnia with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This treatment helps you analyze and change your beliefs and habits surrounding sleep. It tends to be very effective, producing results that last longer than sleep medications without the side effects.

CBT-I can be provided by a therapist or mental health care provider who specializes in the technique. If you’d rather access CBT-I from the comfort of your home, you may want to look into apps like:

  • Insomnia Coach, a free CBT-I app created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that is designed to be used on your own or under the guidance of a therapist (available for iOS or Android)
  • Stellar Sleep, an app developed by Harvard Medical School sleep experts that combines CBT lessons with additional resources like breathing exercises and bedtime stories (available for iOS or Android)
  • Night Owl, an app that guides you through a 56-day CBT-I program (available for iOS or Android)
  • Zen Sleep, a CBT-I app that provides customized daily and nightly routines as well as relaxation exercises (available for iOS or Android)

These apps generally give you personalized recommendations, help you learn more about insomnia, track your sleep habits, and connect you with sleep coaches.

Relaxation Apps

Not everyone who experiences sleeping problems has insomnia. You may spend more time lying awake when you’re stressing about that upcoming presentation at work or worrying about paying for an emergency car repair. However, strategies like mindfulness meditation can help fight stress and boost the quality of your sleep

If you’re new to meditating, it may help to follow a guided meditation that walks you through the process of clearing your mind, focusing on a mantra, or paying attention to your breath. You can find many free guided meditations on your phone’s YouTube app. For example, add this 10-minute meditation for sleep to your nighttime routine or take a 5-minute break during your workday to follow along with a stress-fighting meditation exercise.

Want to try an app specifically designed for meditation or mindfulness? Look into:

  • Calm, a top-rated meditation app that offers a daily 10-minute meditation, meditation classes, and calming stories designed to help you fall asleep (available for iOS or Android)
  • 10% Happier, an app that gives you access to more than 500 guided meditations, including meditations from world-renowned teachers, as well as short talks that teach you more about mindfulness (available for iOS or Android)
  • Headspace, an app focused on mindfulness meditation that offers features like daily meditations and videos, sleep sounds and music, and mindful fitness classes (available for iOS or Android)

These apps often come with a fee, but they typically help you learn more about meditation and contain a wide range of meditations on a variety of topics. 

Apps for Smarter Morning Alarms

As you sleep, you cycle between stages of lighter and deeper sleep. If you’re woken up during the deepest sleep stage, you’re more likely to feel groggy and tired. Some apps, such as Sleep Cycle (available for iOS and Android) and Sleep Score (available for iOS and Android), use your phone’s microphone or motion-detecting hardware to determine how deeply you are sleeping and wake you up when your sleep gets lighter. These apps also help track your sleep quality and offer suggestions for better rest.

How To Use Smartphone Apps To Improve Your Sleep Infographic

Using New Tools for Better Sleep

Current technology allows you to get smart about your sleep. While your smartphone can sometimes be a source of stress, you can also choose to load it with tools that calm your mind and help you rest more easily. For more personalized recommendations, pair these apps with fitness trackers such as smartwatches that track your sleep.

If worse comes to worst and you’re still not able to get good sleep, however, talk to your doctor. You can use these apps to track your sleep patterns and better illustrate to your provider exactly where you are experiencing problems. Ultimately, apps can help you both understand what may be disrupting your sleep and put you back on the road to better rest.

By Mo McNulty

Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. She has spent over a decade researching the genetic causes of — and possible treatments for — multiple types of cancer. Maureen is now a medical writer who is passionate about helping people use science to enrich their lives.