Getting smart about sleep

We looked into the benefits and features of eight popular sleep-tracking apps.

Photo courtesy of Monkey Business/Adobe Stock

Everyone knows it’s important to aim for eight hours of sleep every night, but often, sleep quality can be just as important as the number of hours you clock. There are several sleep-tracking apps on the market that give users insight into their sleep habits and associated side effects in hopes of creating a healthier sleep routine.

However, with so many seemingly similar sleep apps to choose from, finding the right one can be an exhausting task in and of itself. We compared and contrasted some of the popular options.

On iPhones, the Bedtime Alarm feature in the Clock app tracks how much sleep users are getting. Users can select the time they want to wake up, and the app will backtrack eight hours to determine when they should go to bed. (Users can adjust the timing if they’d prefer to sleep more or less than those eight hours.) An alarm will go off at the time you should start getting ready for bed, and another alarm will go off at the time you’ve selected to wake up. You can also select what days of the week you want to set the Bedtime alarm. There’s also a sleep section in the iPhone’s Health app, which compiles users’ sleep data by day, week, month and year.

Sleep as Android takes the technology one step further, using the device’s microphone to record snoring and sleep talking. It also helps users wake up (and stay awake) by prompting them to complete math problems and other tests.

Many sleep apps—including Sleep Better, Sleep Time, Good Morning and Pillow—offer a feature that wakes users during their lightest phase of sleep, which is important, as studies show that abruptly waking during slow-wave deep sleep (or Rapid Eye Movement sleep) can cause people to feel significantly more tired upon waking.

Runtastic’s free Sleep Better app—which is available on Android and iPhone and integrates with the iOS Health app—also lets users keep a diary with notes on dreams, moon phases and whether they had a stressful day, drank alcohol or had caffeine.

Sleep Time, which costs $2 for the premium version, lets users track what they have consumed throughout the day and offers a white noise feature.

Good Morning says hello at wake-up time and delivers a weather report. And Pillow, only available for iPhone, lets users pick a song from their iTunes library to serve as their alarm.

Finally, two of the most popular sleep apps are SleepCycle and SleepBot.

In addition to waking up users during the lightest phase of sleep, SleepCycle uses the Android or iPhone’s accelerometer sensor and microphone to track how active or inactive the user was while sleeping. This information is displayed in a graph to clearly depict the various sleep phases throughout the night, sleep quality and average sleep time. With the $1 premium version, sleep notes, online backup and trends are available. Trends show what effect caffeine, weather, air pressure and workouts have on the user’s sleep.

SleepBot also uses the Android or an iPhone’s accelerometer and microphone to track sleep movements and sounds, which the user can listen to the next morning. SleepBot also wakes its users during their lightest phase of sleep and compiles a sleep debt log, which tells users how far behind on sleep they are, how long they should nap and what their longest sleep should be.