5 apps to help you get a great night's sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of people use smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices in the hour before they go to sleep. And if you’re like most of the modern world, you probably also sleep within reach of your smartphone because you're likely using it as an alarm clock.

You're also likely using your smartphone as a quick way to get caught up with news and emails in the morning (and before bed, and when you get up in the middle of the night). Is it any wonder that the NSF’s study also showed that 60 percent of people who use devices before sleeping reported sleep-related problems, such as snoring and feeling tired in the morning?

Maybe it’s time to make your phone start working for you. Instead of ditching your bedside companion, why not download some sleep-related apps to help you get a solid night's sleep?

Go to sleep

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, you may want to try out a sleep-aid app. These apps are usually audio-mixing apps with a preset library of soothing sounds, such as flowing water, beachy waves, and crickets.

Sleep Pillow—iOS ($2)

iPhone users looking for sleep-aid apps can check out Sleep Pillow, a cute, well-made white-noise app. The free version of the app offers nine soothing sounds, including waves, birds and frogs, and whale songs, while the paid version offers 70 different sounds.

To play a sound in Sleep Pillow, just tap  its photo. To mix sounds, you can go to the Mixes tab to mix up to three different sounds (and set individual volumes for each). You can then save your mix to the main Sleep Pillow screen, and play that mix at any time. Sleep Pillow offers a shortlist for favorite sounds, a sleep timer that lets you choose when the sounds will stop playing (up to 1 hour 59 minutes in the free version, 12 hours in the paid version), and an alarm clock (paid version only).

Relax and Sleep—Android ($2)

Android users should check out Relax and Sleep, a sound-mixing app with a simple, easy-to-use interface. Relax and Sleep has over 50 unique sounds that play on a loop when selected, ranging from traditionally soothing sounds (ocean waves, birds, summer rain) to slightly less traditional sounds (vacuum cleaners, refrigerator fans, and air conditioning), which hopefully means that it’s got something for everyone.

Relax and Sleep has several neat features: Not only can you play multiple sounds at once (although the app warns that playing more than five sounds at a time could cause your phone to slow down), you can also choose individual volume levels for each sound. If you’re looking for crashing ocean waves and the soothing sound of a distant refrigerator fan…this is the app for you.

The app also has a timer (to get the sounds to stop after a certain period), an alarm clock, and the ability to shake for a random melody or sound. You can favorite individual sounds by tapping a star, which moves the sound up to the top of the list so you can quickly choose it in the future, and you can create up to four preset sound mixes with the volume settings intact. The paid version of Relax and Sleep offers additional presets and custom alarms.

Sleep Bug—iOS, Windows Phone 8 (Free, $2 in-app purchase)

Windows Phone 8 users have no need to feel left out—Sleep Bug is a free sleep-aid app with a twist: Instead of a long list of mixable sounds, Sleep Bug features different “scenes,” each of which has its own pretty background and themed sound components.

Let me elaborate: Sleep Bug offers 10 free scenes, including “beach,” “music box,” “zen garden,” “river,” and “jungle.” Each scene has a pretty background, a base melody, and three to five additional sounds that can be mixed in to create a more unique experience. For example, in the jungle scene, there’s a photo of a jungle, a background melody of birds and monkeys, and five additional sounds: parrots, frogs, jaguars, more monkeys, and drums. You can tap any of the additional sounds to toggle them on or off.

Like other sleep-aid apps, Sleep Bug has a timer feature so you don’t have to leave the sound running all night. The only minor drawback of Sleep Bug is that you can only mix scene sounds—you can’t create an incongruent mix, such as jaguars in a lightning storm at the beach. However, Sleep Bug does offer 12 additional scenes for $1.99, including “horror,” “city,” “sci-fi,” and “airport.”

Wake up rested

Getting to sleep is only one part of the equation. Sleeping restfully—that is, without tossing and turning all night—and waking up well-rested is the other part. These apps will not only track your sleep at night (to determine whether you’re getting a good night’s sleep), they’ll also use this information to set an “intelligent alarm,” which wakes you up when you’re most ready to greet the day.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock—iOS ($1)

One of the best sleep-tracking apps out there, Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock turns your phone into an intelligent, motion-sensing sleep-tracking device. To use Sleep Tracker Alarm Clock, just turn the app on when you go to bed and lay your iPhone on your mattress (preferably while it’s plugged in—this app does tend to suck battery life).

Throughout the night, Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock will record your movements as you sleep and it will use this data to determine how “good” your sleep is. In the morning, you’ll be able to see a chart that shows you how much time you spent in “deep sleep” (little movement), as opposed to being almost awake.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock also has an intelligent alarm clock that will wake you up at the best time in your sleep cycle. You set a 30-minute window during which you want to wake, and Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock will start ringing the alarms when you appear to be the closest to “already awake” (moving a lot). Ideally this means you’ll wake up with your alarm when you’re out of deep sleep.

Some of Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock’s other neat features include sleep notes (you can further improve the quality of your stats by noting whether you drank coffee or tea before bed, ate late, worked out, or had a stressful day) and the ability to integrate with RunKeeper, a fitness-tracking app.

SleepBot—Android (Free)

SleepBot is a full-featured sleep-tracking app similar to Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. SleepBot uses your Android device’s built-in accelerometer to track your sleep habits while you sleep. You place the phone near your head or body, turn on SleepBot, and throughout the night (or even just throughout a nap) the app records any movements you make to determine the quality of your sleep. SleepBot can also record sounds, which is great if you want to know what unintelligible gibberish you might be saying at night.

Like Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, SleepBot has an intelligent alarm clock that will use the app’s sleep-tracking capabilities to determine when to wake you up within a 30 minute window. Unlike Sleep Cycle, SleepBot lets you choose the length of that window—the default is 30 minutes, but you can set it between 15 and 90 minutes, which is convenient if you’ve got more (or less) time to play around with.

SleepBot’s biggest advantage over Sleep Cycle is its ability to record sounds while you sleep. You can set the recording threshold in the settings (the app will only record sounds over a certain volume), but if you set the threshold too high you may only get background noise like sirens and moving trucks. The bottom line is this: If you’ve got an Android phone, and want to know what you're saying in your sleep, SleepBot is as accurate and useful as Sleep Cycle but has more features and a more polished overall look. Plus, hey, it's free.

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