While You Were Sleeping: Apps That Track Your Slumber
Every morning, without fail, I wake up feeling groggy no matter how much sleep I get. For the next hour or so, I stumble around in a fog getting ready for the day, making breakfast and checking email, but really, I’m just going through the motions. Nothing is really registering in my brain, and if you were to ask me a question, I’m pretty sure you’d be met with a blank stare.
Hoping to shake my zombie-like state, this week I tried a couple of sleep-tracking apps, called Sleep Cycle and SleepBot. Sleep Cycle is available for iOS, and costs 99 cents; SleepBot is free, and works on both iOS and Android devices.
The purpose of these apps is twofold. First, they capture information about your sleep cycle each night. They record how long you’ve slept. Using your phone’s accelerometer, they also track your movement to help determine sleep quality (less movement = better sleep quality). SleepBot can even record sounds using your phone’s microphone. And each app allows you to rate and add notes about each night’s sleep.
The idea is that, by taking note of your sleeping habits, you can learn why you’re not getting enough sleep, and then do something about it.
The second function of Sleep Cycle and SleepBot is that of an intelligent alarm clock. By monitoring your movement, they can wake you up during your lightest state of sleep, instead of when you’re in a deep sleep. This way, you don’t feel as discombobulated when you wake up.
So, do Sleep Cycle and SleepBot actually work? Well, I can’t say that I woke up feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning, and I’m no sleep expert. But I’ve noticed that I’m having an easier time getting up, and feel more clear-headed. I liked them enough that I would use either app over the standard alarm-clock function on my smartphone.
That said, neither app claims to be medically approved, and if you’re experiencing serious sleeping problems, you should consult a doctor.
I tested Sleep Cycle on my iPhone 5, and right off the bat, I’d recommend taking a few minutes to explore the app’s Settings menu. There are a handful of features in there that I found really useful, but that I missed on my first go-round because they’re turned off by default. For example, there’s a Sleep Aid function that will play soothing sounds like ocean waves and heavy rain until you fall asleep. Also, this is where you can enable the feature for adding notes and ratings to your sleep entries.
To use the app, each night you’ll be asked to set an alarm. This is an area where I thought Sleep Cycle was better than SleepBot. The former offers you a simple dial where you can easily set your wake-up time every night.
Meanwhile, on the Android version of SleepBot, you can set an alarm for the weekdays and weekends, which is great if you’re on a regular schedule. If not, you have to manually add another alarm to a list, using a slightly clunky tool. It’s a bit easier on the iOS version, but still requires a couple extra steps compared to Sleep Cycle.
With my alarm set, I placed the phone near my pillow and a few inches away from the edge of my bed, to prevent it from falling, and went to sleep. Depending on the type of bed you have, you might have to experiment with placement. It’s also recommended that you keep your phone connected to its charger to avoid battery drain.
The app will then wake you during a light stage of sleep within a 30-minute window of your actual alarm. So, if your alarm is set for 7 am, it will wake you up anywhere between 6:30 and 7. You can adjust the duration of the alarm window in the Settings menu, or turn it off completely.
Initially, I was a little put off by the idea of waking up earlier than my actual alarm. But in practice, it wasn’t that bad. In almost every instance, Sleep Cycle woke me up a few minutes before my set alarm, but I didn’t feel like I was rising from the dead. Most times, I was ready to get up, and I only hit the snooze button twice the whole week. Usually, I hit “snooze” twice a day.
It was also neat to review my sleeping habits each night. Sleep Cycle provides statistics and charts on sleep quality, time in bed and more. The one I found most interesting was the graph that shows how much time in bed you spent awake, asleep or in deep sleep.
SleepBot operates very similarly to Sleep Cycle, but there are a couple of key differences. I should also note that the iOS and Android versions of the app don’t offer all the same features. For example, SleepBot on iOS offers lullabies and soundtracks to help you fall asleep, but the Android app does not. For my story, I primarily tested the Android version on the Nexus 5.
Again, it’s worth going through SleepBot’s Settings menu to explore some of the customization options. One that I found useful was the “Punch-in time offset.” If it takes you a little while to fall asleep once you’re in bed, you can tell SleepBot to start tracking after a specified amount of time. The Android app also has an option to automatically put your phone into airplane mode, so you’re not interrupted by notifications through the night.
Like Sleep Cycle, SleepBot wakes you within a 30-minute window of your set alarm time. As soon as you wake, the app asks you to rate your sleep and add some notes. I liked that you could add free-form thoughts to SleepBot to accurately describe how you’re feeling, or even use it as a dream journal. It’s more restricted on Sleep Cycle. There, you enter notes before you go to sleep, and you have to select from a list of preset or user-added notes, such as “Drank coffee” or “Stressful day.”
SleepBot breaks down statistics for each day, and you can even go back and listen to recorded audio, which was interesting.
I thought the data was better laid out on Sleep Cycle, but one area where SleepBot excels over Sleep Cycle is offering information and tools to help you get more sleep. You can indicate how much sleep you want to get per night, and then SleepBot can track whether you’re meeting that goal or in deficit. There’s also a feature to set a reminder to go to bed, though I found that it’s not always that easy to pull yourself away from the TV or work.
If you’re tired of being tired, I’d recommend giving Sleep Cycle or SleepBot a try. They offer useful information about your sleep habits, and can make waking up in the mornings a lot easier.