Drifting off to Dreamland: FOX28 puts a sleep app to the test - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Drifting off to Dreamland: FOX28's Tom Powell puts a sleep app to the test


Are you in desperate need of a good night's sleep?  Forget counting sheep!  Now you can use your smartphone to help.  There are all kinds of apps that claim to help you snooze, or even track the quality of your sleep. 

Voice Actor Scott Reyns used to take sleep aids to help drift off to dreamland between recording sessions.  "As an actor I'm basically on call," he says.  "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," he says.  "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 how much I'm in deep sleep."

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 lightest 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," says Sharon Vaknin with CNET.

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,"  says Dr. Nathaniel Watson with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.  He says short sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity, and even a shorter life.  He says apps can be useful tools to help you doze off or learn more about your sleep, but he doesn't believe they can diagnose sleep illness.  "They're certainly not able to treat it," he says. 

With that in mind, FOX28's Tom Powell tried the popular app called Sleep Cycle.  You set the alarm, then put your smart phone face-down on your bed.  It's the type of app we mentioned before, one that uses the phone's accelerometer to sense your movement from deep sleep to wide awake. 

Let's say you set the alarm for 8:00am.  Sleep Cycle wakes you up within a half hour window ending at your set time when you're in your lightest sleep phase.

In other words, the alarm's soothing wake-up music doesn't jolt you from a deep sleep.  It worked for Tom.  He says he was a little less cranky when the alarm went off each day.  Dr. Watson says in a world where so many of us are reluctant to unplug, the apps can have some benefits.

"It gets people thinking about their sleep and how to improve it.  That's good," Dr. Watson says.  "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."

As for Scott, the voice over guy, he says he can't afford to miss client calls, so he has no plans to completely power down before bed. He does say 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," he says.  


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