The seven best apps to help you sleep well
From sleepcasts to relax you to alarms that work with your sleep cycle, these dreamy apps will make getting a good night’s sleep much easier
We all know how important sleep is for our health and wellbeing, but we also know it doesn’t always come easily. With reduced exposure to natural light, disturbances to familiar routines and anxiety generally on the rise, there’s been an uptick in sleep problems this year. In the UK, nearly half of us struggle to sleep on a weekly or monthly basis – and for one in five, it’s every night.
Tech may be able to help, with the right app shaping up to be the magic ingredient in your nightly routine. So plug in, lie back and get to know your new bedfellows.
Pzizz helps you drift off with a series of ‘Dreamscapes’ carefully designed to help you fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Created by a team of musicians and audio engineers, and inspired by the latest psychoacoustic research, they’re made up of a sequence of sounds layered with soothing voiceovers based on clinical sleep interventions. They also include guided breathing exercises to take you out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and into ‘rest and digest’, visualisations to help you relax, and progressive muscle relaxation to relieve physical tension. Use with noise-cancelling headphones for an immersive experience, or connect your phone to a Bluetooth speaker. In need of a quick recharge? Try the nap module.
2. Sleep Cycle
We’re all familiar with the experience of a blaring alarm waking us from a deep sleep, feeling groggy, grumpy and disoriented. For some of us, these feelings can last all morning, even affecting our decision making – it’s known as sleep inertia. Wishing your alarm clock could exercise a little more consideration? Sleep Cycle uses your phone's built-in microphone and accelerometer to track your movements and identify your sleep state. This allows it to wake you with a gentle alarm during the lightest possible stage of sleep. For data fiends, the app also provides you with feedback on your sleep quality, including detailed graphs to help you track your sleeping patterns over time.
You’re never too old for a bedtime story. Psychologists believe that listening to a calming tale can help your analytical mind to switch off, and activate subliminal associations with peace, security and sleep learned in childhood. The Calm app might be best known for its guided meditations, but its collection of sleep stories might just be its best-kept secret. They combine music and sound effects with soothing narration by famous names including Stephen Fry, Idris Elba, Kate Winslet and Cillian Murphy. You’ll also find stories for restless kids, plus meditations, music and soundscapes, all designed to nudge you gently into dreamland.
Ambient noise can create a ‘blanket’ of sound that eases your brain into a state of deep relaxation and masks disturbances that might otherwise wake you. White noise can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep by up to 40%, while pink noise reduces brainwave activity to encourage a longer, deeper snooze. Perfect if a snoring bed buddy is keeping you up, or if you have a new baby – one study found that 80% of newborns who listened to white noise fell asleep within five minutes. Noisli uses a library of 28 sounds, including white noise, pink noise, brown noise, crackling fires and chirping crickets. Try the specially curated Sleep playlist, or mix, match and customise your favourite combinations of sounds.
Headspace has helped millions of people to learn how to meditate, but could it help you get a better night’s sleep, too? Mindfulness meditation is clinically proven to improve symptoms of insomnia and fatigue, but if you need a little more help, the Headspace app also includes an impressive arsenal of sleep-better tools, from wind downs (meditations and breathing exercises to prepare the mind for sleep) to sleep music, and from the Nighttime SOS (guided exercises to help you drift off when you wake in the night) to sleepcasts. Part bedtime story, part guided visualisation, each sleepcast begins with a simple meditation or breathing exercise, before taking you on a guided tour of a calming, dream-inducing landscape, complete with soothing ambient soundtrack.
6. Relax & Sleep Well
Studies have found that listening to hypnotic audio recordings increases the time we spend in deep, restorative slow wave sleep, and decreases the time we spend awake. Created by clinical hypnotherapist Glenn Harrold, Relax & Sleep Well combines meditative soundscapes with soothing hypnotic suggestions and affirmations to help you de-stress and access a deeper level of mental and physical relaxation. The app includes six free hypnosis and meditation recordings, with two 29-minute Relax & Sleep Well tracks – one to listen to during the day and one to tune in to at bedtime. To date, the app has helped more than four million users drift off, including British actress Naomie Harris.
Slumber’s enormous sleep library combines relaxing sleep meditations and ‘three-dimensional’ sound experiences with more than 350 soothing stories to help you manage the often-tricky transition from busy day to restful night. Slumber’s sleep tools use a variety of evidence-backed techniques to promote sleep and help your mind power down for the night, including mindfulness, breath control, guided visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation, Ericksonian hypnosis, gratitude techniques and ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Why not listen to one of the bedtime stories created by therapeutic hypnotist Dan Jones? They combine guided imagery with hypnotic suggestion to encourage mind and body to switch off for sleep.
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