New Sleep Apps and How They Can Helpby Eli Hendel, M.D. Medical Reviewer
Many applications or apps today target health and fitness goals. Among these are apps developed to specifically help with sleep disorders.
Most sleep apps have a way of differentiating sleep state from wakeful state. This technology is called “accelerometers” that convert your movement, while wearing a device, into electric signals. The same technology assumes that when there is no movement for an extended period of time, one is asleep.
Clearly this is not entirely accurate (you could lie still for periods of time while awake) but one can analyze the trends that the device captures. Actigraphs are devices used by professionals who treat sleep disorders. The actigraph is worn like a watch and detects movement, and the data then gathered over a number of days is analyzed, with the expert identifying certain patterns.
Some devices that record this type of information are used with the guidance of a professional, but some are also available to the general public for personal use.
Sometimes the device is used in combination with sounds and images designed to produce relaxation in order to induce sleep. One recurring theme noted in those who suffer with insomnia is “poor efficiency of use of time in bed.” That’s the person who tosses and turns and can’t fall asleep. To help solve the problem, a device can measure how much time the person spends awake in bed, and minimize it. This is not always easy, as insomniacs also have what is known as “negative sleep thoughts” that exaggerate the problem. However, some sleep apps can help to improve awareness and create better sleep patterns.
Some of the more well-known sleep apps that might be worth checking out include: Sleep Cycle
This device rests under the pillow and its sensors gather data. Once data are obtained, the device creates graphs and shows sleep patterns. It can also be programmed so that an alarm wakes you up when you are less groggy or sleep-sensitive.
This is a popular program that generates relaxing melodies and sounds that work like “white noise” to help clear distracting thoughts and allow one to fall sleep. In some cases, it also projects images that enhance relaxation.
If you like yoga, there is an application that is specially designed for sleep called “yoga for insomnia,” which consists of graphic depictions of yoga poses that aim to reduce stress and support meditation. Sleep Bot
This is a device kept bedside that involves pressing a button during awakening, which allows the app to collect data so the user can analyze patterns of wake and sleep. Its goal is to figure out how much sleep you’re getting (or not getting) and then help you achieve better sleep patterns. You can also set multiple alarms. It’s not extremely sophisticated but more of a tracker to make you aware of problems.
This tracks sleep, snoring, apnea, heart rate and can be used for weight loss and as a daily activity tracker. It will correlate sleep quality with heart rate measurements and will also allow the user to set “smart alarms” for short power naps. It uses an intelligent alarm clock that can wake you up in the morning at the optimal time in your personal sleep cycle.
This instrument is designed for individuals suffering with chronic pain. It analyses the body movements and the positions that are most likely to cause awakening and trigger awareness of pain. This data helps optimize the ideal sleep positions to minimize those incidents.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has an application that is especially useful with children who have difficulty falling asleep. Called “I see the animals sleeping: A bedtime story,” it has been found helpful by some parents struggling with sleep-averse kids.
It should be noted that the accuracy of these devices has not been validated. A study performed at the JFK Neuroscience Institute School of Health Sciences and published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine compared the data from the popular smartphone app “Sleep Time” (Azumio, Inc. Palo Alto, California) with data from a polysomnogram obtained in an attended sleep lab.
Researchers found that the app overestimated the sleep efficiency (the true time spent sleeping as a fraction of the time spent in bed), and underestimated the time spent in light sleep. Additionally, researchers found that the app also overestimated the time spent in deep sleep.
**While all sleep aids, applications, and apps should be viewed with caution — even if they likely offer some support — working with your doctor and a licensed sleep expert in concert with some of these devices might offer successful treatment.
Eli Hendel, M.D. is a board-certified Internist and pulmonary specialist with board certification in Sleep Medicine. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Keck-University of Southern California School of Medicine, Qualified Medical Examiner for the State of California Department of Industrial Relations, and Director of Intensive Care Services at Glendale Memorial Hospital. His areas of expertise in private practice include asthma, COPD, sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, and occupational lung diseases.