App Smart

Turning to your phone for better night’s sleep

Sleep Cycle
Sleep Cycle

Iam terrible at sleeping. Over the years, I have tried various remedies and tricks, and they haven’t helped. I figured there wasn’t much I could do about my problem until I discovered sleep-aid smartphone apps.

Sleep Cycle

$2 on iOS

My favorite is Sleep Cycle. Although this app doesn’t help get you to sleep, it does help you learn about your sleep habits. It’s also designed to wake you at just the right point in your sleep cycle, when you’re sleeping lightly, so you won’t feel that familiar sinking sensation after your alarm clock jerks you awake.

The app is meant to work with your phone set on your mattress.


It uses the iPhone’s sensors to monitor movements, recording when you were in different phases of sleep — from light to deep.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

In the morning, you get a time graph showing how well you managed to stay in deep sleep.

There’s a notes section for each night’s data, so you can track if drinking a cup of tea upsets your sleep or if your sleep patterns are related to stress.

If you’re really interested in a detailed analysis of your sleep habits you can export the data to an Excel spreadsheet.

The app’s instructions are easy to follow, and the interface is easy to use. I’ve found it usually wakes me when I’m feeling well rested.


It does take a while to get used to this, because it means you’re awakened in a window around your chosen alarm time instead of, say, at 7:30 a.m. sharp.

Perhaps my only criticism is the app’s array of soothing alarm sounds can get tiresome, but you can also set it to use your downloaded music.

A very similar free app on Android is Sleepbot.

It also uses your device’s motion sensors to track your sleep patterns, and can wake you gently when you’re in light sleep. Its interface isn’t quite as polished or as easy to use as Sleep Cycle’s, but this app is more powerful.

You can set target sleep times and see over several days if you have a sleep deficit, and you can set a reminder to go to bed.


It also has a sound-monitoring function so you can see if there are noises that disturb your sleep, or how your sleep correlates to quiet environments.

Sleep Pillow Sounds

$2 on iOS

Sleep Pillow Sounds offers sounds like rain on water, crackling fires, or lapping waves on the shore. You can even layer these sounds on top of one another. The app has a cute, graphic-heavy interface and a sleep timer, but the timer has a maximum setting of only 75 minutes. It’s also possible to notice patterns in the sounds, and that may bother you.

Also consider Simply Rain, a $1 iOS app that plays soothing rain sounds. Its interface has a large slider to control the sound volume and a small slider to adjust the intensity of the rain. You can choose to have different intensities of thunder sounds in the mix, and set the app to oscillate the volume to simulate the variation in a real rain shower.

There’s also a simple sleep timer. I find I fall asleep easily to this sort of white noise, but it may not suit you.

Relax and Sleep

Free On Android

Relax and Sleep is similar. It has an impressive array of sounds, like wolf cries and a rocking chair. You can layer multiple sounds, setting each sound at a desired intensity. The repetitive nature of some of the sounds seemed more irritating than relaxing, but your mileage may vary.

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times.