Phone apps to help you sleep

Published: Oct. 31, 2013 at 8:07 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2013 at 2:15 AM EDT
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(WFLX) - Forget counting sheep! Now, you can use your smartphone to help you sleep with odles of apps that claim to help you snooze or even track the quality of your rest.

But don't the sleep experts suggest you power down before lying down for the night?

Scott Reyns used to take sleep aids to help drift off to dreamland between recording sessions. "As an actor, I'm basically on call. Sometimes, the hours get a little crazy."

Now, he turns to technology when it's time to turn in. "Apps help me with my sleep in a couple of different ways. You know, the one that I use mainly, it has a feature that is a kind of a gradual alarm. It also has a way to estimate my sleep quality based on, you know, 'Ok, how much I'm in deep sleep,'" said Reyns.

Smartphone apps for sleep, like the ones Scott uses, are designed to help with relaxation techniques, provide white noise, or even measure how well you rest, with an alarm to wake you during the best part of your sleep cycle. "The sleep aid apps can actually track your movements by using your smartphone's built in accelerometer, and what the accelerometer does is detect motion. So it's become so easy and cheap to track your sleep that more and more people are jumping on board with the trend," said Sharon Vaknin, CNET Senior Associate Editor.

More and more people could use the help. The CDC has called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic with as many as 70 million Americans suffering from sleep problems. "We live in a toxic environment for sleep, and people really don't prioritize sleep," said Dr. Nathaniel Watson with American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Dr. Watson says short sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity and even a shorter life.

While apps can be useful tools to help you doze off or learn more about your sleep, "They're not able to diagnose sleep illness; they're certainly not able to treat it," said Dr. Watson.

He recommends going to bed in a dark room with no electronics. But in a world where so many are reluctant to unplug, the apps can have some benefits. "It gets people thinking about their sleep and how to improve it -- that, that's good," said Dr. Watson. "The downside is that you bring this technology into the bedroom environment. It might introduce temptation to get on a social networking site or to text your friends or you might receive phone calls at night."

Scott says he can't afford to miss client calls, so he has no plans to completely power down before he slumbers. But says his sleep app helps him focus on quality rest. "The main thing for me is just making sure I get enough sleep, and sleep when I have to so that I'm ready to get behind the mic when I have to," said Reyns.

If you do decide to try one of these sleep apps, CNET's Sharon Vaknin has some tech tips: Keep your phone plugged in because tracking apps can use up to 30% of your battery life.   Also, keep your phone in a place where air will circulate, not under a pillow, to prevent it from overheating.

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