A Sleep Lab in a Smartphone

As Running & FitNews® continues to regularly report on technologies designed to enhance a healthy lifestyle, several sleep tracking apps available to help monitor and regulate your nightly slumber are worth a closer look.

Adequate sleep—in quantity and quality—is often the first to go when our lives become overstuffed with to-dos, as they readily do. But it is while we are sleeping that important recovery and repair work is being done that ultimately influences almost every aspect of our bodies and minds: molecular and energy balance, intellectual function, alertness and mood, to name a few.

Loss of sleep impairs reasoning ability, problem solving and attention to detail. The NIH reports that people who are sleep deprived are at a much higher risk for traffic accidents. They also note that a sleep deficit over time can put you at greater risk for developing depression. Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections. And your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight. 

A good night’s sleep consists of four to five sleep cycles that each include the deep sleep that is vital to our bodily rest and repair, and also REM sleep, when we dream. Although personal needs vary, on average, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. 

Sleep apps aim to monitor and report back details about these nightly patterns to better allow us to figure out optimal bed times and wake cycles, as well as analyze in detail various external factors that may be preventing good sleep. Sleep apps have been around since at least 2010, but they are getting more and more sophisticated, including features allowing sleep data backup to the cloud so you can examine a much richer cache of data over long periods of time.

SleepBot (for iOS and Android, free)
SleepBot is recognized by the NIH and the National Academy of Engineering as the First Place Winner of the "Go Viral to Improve Health" competition. The sleep cycle tracker and “optimal alarm” are designed to help you customize the way you track your sleep. The app will record your nightly movements and sounds as well, with online backup of all the data it collects. It allows you to set multiple alarms and alerts, including a reminder to go to bed; provides ideas and solutions for falling asleep; and reports back in graphs your sleep trends including length of overall sleep and number of times you were asleep or woke up, so you can better analyze your sleep quality over time. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lslk.sleepbot&hl=en_GB

Sleep as Android (Android only, $3.19 for full version)
Like most sleep tracker software, Sleep as Android distinguishes itself from regular alarm clocks that ignore your sleep cycles, waking you on schedule no matter what phase of sleep you’re experiencing. To avoid waking you up from deep sleep, which is not optimal, Sleep as Android tracks your sleep to find the moment during light sleep for your wake up.

For falling asleep and waking up, the app offers more than the garden variety of sleep sounds:

Rather than fixed recordings our lullabies are real-time synthesized; this means each playback will never be the same as the playback before.” The soundscapes include whale sounds, mountain streams, birds, frogs and crickets, crackling fireplace and surf.

The app has a database of 300 recorded examples of snoring that it uses to teach its algorithm how to detect your snoring. The snoring bouts are marked in the sleep graph, and a vibration function can be set to stop your snoring in progress.

Like SleepBot, Sleep as Android also offers sleep deficit stats; time to bed notifications; sleep talk and room noise stats; and sleep advice. https://sites.google.com/site/sleepasandroid/home

A separate SleepCloud add-on can be purchased for $1.99 that allows you to backup all of your sleep data to various cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive:

Sleep Time (for iOS and Android, free)
This app comes from Azumio, a company that offers several different sleep-monitoring products. Sleep Time is yet another enhanced alarm clock that monitors and analyzes your sleep cycles to wake you up in the lightest sleep phase. Developed in part using sleep research acquired at Stanford University, the free app tracks your nightly phases and will alert you during a 30-minute window that you define at your lightest sleep cycle. Sleep Time’s sleep data graph has perhaps one of the more easily read interfaces.

Azumio assures users that its sensitive data-collection algorithm will not be compromised if you sleep with another person (or pet). As long as your mobile device is placed close enough to your body, another person’s movement will not skew its measurements.

Although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, snoring in a loud, uneven way is a strong indicator you may have this sleep disorder. The problem with sleep apnea is that breathing repeatedly stops or becomes shallow throughout the course of a night’s sleep. If you have apnea, you’re not getting enough oxygen, and your brain disturbs your sleep to open your windpipe. 

Apnea is therefore dangerous. There can be little air exchange for as much as 10 seconds at a time, during which oxygen goes down and the body’s fight or flight response is actually activated. Blood pressure spikes, your heart rate fluctuates and the brain wakes you up partially to start your breathing again. This creates a significant amount of stress. It’s a good idea, then, to be sure whichever sleep-monitoring tool you choose offers a snoring monitor and/or recorder.

SnoreLab (iOS only, $1.99)
Every once in a while, rather than trying to be all things to all users, an app developer will focus on doing one thing extremely well. This app takes snoring monitoring to a different level. As many apps do, the app records and generates charts of your snoring each night, but without a lot of other data that can bog down the user experience. If you are interested in mainly monitoring your snoring, this app delivers a Snore Score—a measure of snoring intensity—as well as tests the effectiveness of various snoring remedies while also tracking lifestyle factors that influence snoring specifically. http://www.snorelab.com/

NIH News in Health, April 2013, “The Benefits of Slumber,”

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