Insomnia Gear & Apps: Track Your Sleep & Improve Your Rest

All of us have had to plow through at least one difficult day of school or work after a less-than-optimal night of sleep. But what happens when a rough night becomes the norm? The Centers for Disease Control collects data about the sleep habits of Americans and reports that one in three of us are getting fewer than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. Whether you can’t fall asleep, can’t stay asleep, or both, insomnia is not only miserable but bad for your health. I’m one of those insomniacs who wakes up more nights than not after about four hours of shut-eye, and who’s unable to drift off again for at least an hour or two. If you’re like me and have spent many wakeful hours wishing you could just relax and sleep, it’s time to find some help. I’ve been researching why insomnia occurs, as well as testing iPhone gear and apps meant to deliver a good night’s sleep. Here, I’ll share the tips, apps, and gear that have been most effective so far in my quest to cure my insomnia.

Related: The App That Could Save Your Life: AnxietyHelper for Mental Health

Gather Data About Your Sleep Cycle & Lifestyle

Some mornings I know I’ve experienced interrupted sleep and am therefore not surprised when I wake up groggy. Other times, the alarm goes off and I feel like I haven’t slept at all, even though I haven’t been aware of waking in the night. Getting the objective facts on how much I slept and when has been integral to figuring out why I’m wakeful in the night and settling on a sleep-improving solution. Bedtime settings on your iPhone (or iPad, or both) will help you establish a sleep goal and remind you when it’s time to wind down for the night. Bedtime will also help you track your sleep history. However, if you’re only using your iPhone to track your sleep, your results will be very limited in accuracy, as the iPhone counts bedtime hours as sleep as long as you’re not using your phone during that time. For a more accurate assessment of the quality of your rest, you can pair a third-party sleep monitor to your iPhone. To get started with the Bedtime setting on your iPhone:

Bedtime

Bedtime settings on your iPhone (or iPad, or both) will help you establish a sleep goal and remind you when it’s time to wind down for the night. Bedtime will also help you track your sleep history. However, if you’re only using your iPhone to track your sleep, your results will be very limited in accuracy, as the iPhone counts bedtime hours as sleep as long as you’re not using your phone during that time. For a more accurate assessment of the quality of your rest, you can pair a third-party sleep monitor to your iPhone. To get started with the Bedtime setting on your iPhone:

  • Open the Clock app on your device and tap the Bedtime tab at the bottom of the screen.
  • Tap Get Started, then choose your bedtime and wake time.
  • To customize your schedule, tap Options in the upper left corner of your screen. From here you’ll be able to choose which days you’d like a bedtime reminder and morning alarm, whether or not you want Do Not Disturb in effect during the night, which alarm you’d like to hear, and how loud you want it to be.
  • Tap Done when you’ve finished customizing your Bedtime settings.

You can view the data collected by your iPhone in your Bedtime settings or the Health app; just look for the SleepAnalysis section in Bedtime to see a chart of how many hours you’ve slept per night. Tap More history at the bottom of the screen to be taken to the Sleep Analysis section of your Health app.

      SleepScore Max ($110.99)

      After using the Bedtime settings for several weeks, I decided to try a sleep monitor in order to get more accurate information. I settled on the SleepScore Max, a sensor that sits on my nightstand and works with an app to track not only the amount of sleep I get, but also the quality, including metrics like deep, light, and REM sleep, time awake, and time out of bed. As well as collecting data during the night, the SleepScore Max asks questions about daily habits at the end of each day. How many caffeinated and alcoholic beverages did you drink? How were your stress and fatigue levels? How much exercise did you get? This allows users to view their sleep score in relation to their daily habits, and to change variables that are negatively impacting sleep.

      Here’s where this gets interesting; as you can see, my overall sleep score is not so bad, a 74 (out of 100). I got up on time, had almost the recommended amount of REM sleep, but . . . I woke up nine times and was out of bed for three considerable chunks of time, none of which I remember. This perfectly exemplifies the mornings where I wake up thinking I’ve slept all night but feel exhausted.

      Find & Address the Source of the Problem

      Once you know a bit more about your sleep quality, it’s time to figure out why your insomnia is occurring. After all, before we can solve a problem, we need to discover its source. There may be just one issue at the heart of your insomnia or several factors working in combination to rob you of your sleep. Let’s go over a few of the prime culprits, as well as strategies for overcoming their negative effects.

      Blue Light

      According to the National Sleep Foundation, the blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs suppresses production of the sleep hormone melatonin and throws off circadian rhythm. This can lead to a difficult time falling asleep, as well as an overall reduction of time spent in the restorative REM cycle. Problem is, most of us enjoy watching a movie, scrolling social media, or reading an e-book before bed to unwind. So, what to do? Don't worry, we'll go over a few options to help you cut back on the blue light effect if you must indulge. 

      Night Shift

      Enabling Night Shift mode on your iPhone or iPad allows your device to change display colors from cooler blue tones to warmer yellows, reducing the harmful effects of blue light on your sleep cycle. To enable this setting:

      • Open the Settings app, then scroll down and tap on Display & Brightness, then tap on Night Shift.
      • From this page, you’ll be able to toggle on Scheduled, choose the time you’d like Night Shift to begin and end, and decide on the color temperature of your display. The warmer the color, the less blue light you’ll be exposed to.

      Blue Light Filtering Glasses

      You can take your avoidance of blue light a step further by purchasing special blue light filtering glasses. You can buy either a reading or non-prescription pair for on Amazon for less than $25, and wear them for any electronics usage, including TV viewing, up to two hours before bedtime. Once I learned about how blue light impacts wakefulness, I began to use my blue light filtering glasses only after lunch. This way I could benefit from the wakeful effects of blue light in the morning when I need help staying awake, and still save my eyes from strain by using the glasses in the afternoon.

      Sun Lamp

      In a further effort to maintain wakefulness during the day, I purchased a sun lamp from TaoTronics for $32.99. Lights like this one mimic natural sunlight and promote alertness and an improved mood.

      Caffeine & Water

      Lifesum (Free)

      When my SleepScore Max asked questions about caffeine, I had to guess at how much coffee I’d had. The Lifesum app allows me to immediately enter caffeinated beverages into my food log. Cutting back to two cups a day eliminated my issue with falling asleep quickly! The app also logs water consumption, and I realized that I was drinking a minimal amount of water during the work day, then compensating at night, which of course led to a few too many trips to the bathroom when I should have been sleeping.

      Comfort

      Eight Sleep Smart Mattress (Starting at $995)

      While buying a smart bed from Eight Sleep is a considerable investment, it not only monitors your sleep but is also built for comfort. iPhone Life’s CEO David has one at home and loves it. Built-in sensors monitor your sleep quality, and each morning the Eight app gives you a report of how you slept including a proprietary sleep score, a breakdown of the various stages of sleep, and suggestions for how to improve your sleep. Much like me, David found the results to be surprising helpful as it didn’t always line up with the subjective experience of a night’s slept. The King mattress also works for two people, so you and your partner can each get your own report. Finally, the mattress is HomeKit compatible, so if you have a smart home, you can program it to lock your door when you get in bed or make your coffee when you wake up.

      Temperature

      The National Sleep Foundation recommends a nighttime temperature between 60 and 67 degrees to help your body go to sleep and stay there. The Sleep Score Max offers a built-in thermometer so you can tell whether or not you’ve hit that mark. There are also many digital alarm clocks with a thermometer feature, so you can know your bedroom temperature and adjust it as needed.
       

      Stress & Anxiety

      Another major cause of insomnia is stress and anxiety, and if this is the source of your sleeplessness, I can sympathize. When I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s often with a sense of dread and a pounding heart, and that’s when I turn to apps to help me settle down and relax, even if I can’t go back to sleep. Your selection of insomnia apps will be based on your own preferences; often what helps one person go to sleep will stimulate someone else! The author of an essay I read recommended listening to a boring audiobook to drift off to sleep, her choice being The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. To that suggestion I gave an offended snort; I found that book absolutely fascinating! Let’s go over a few of the apps that may help you relax.
       

      Sleep Genius ($4.99)

      I used this app quite a bit last year and found the soothing music effective for going to sleep faster and spending less time awake in the middle of the night. This is an app I still turn to for middle-of-the-night episodes that aren’t accompanied by anxiety. If I do have anxiety, though, Sleep Genius is not enough to help me settle down.
       

      Audible ($14.95/month)

      Audible has been a standby for me when I struggle with nighttime anxiety. I’ve accumulated many soothing favorites over the years, and it’s wonderful to have access to them any time I need them. I find books about natural history and farming very soothing, my current favorite is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
       

      mySleepButton (Free)

      This app uses guided imagery and mindfulness to help lull you to sleep. I have to say it didn’t work for me but has an overall 4.5 rating in the App Store, and many people seem to be benefiting from it. It doesn’t hurt to give this a shot during one of your long nights!
       

      Apple Podcasts (Free)

      If you’d rather not pay for an Audible subscription, the Apple Podcasts app has thousands of listening options. I’ve found Krista Tippet’s spirituality podcast On Being very soothing, and several friends have recommended the adult story time podcast Sleep With Me.

      Did It Work?

      I hope that some of these suggestions will help you sleep better. As for me, the quest continues. I’ve eliminated my issue with falling asleep quickly but not the middle-of-the-night insomnia. What’s more, my Sleep Score Max tells me I’m out of bed or awake for many periods that I don’t recall, leading me to believe that I could very well be a sleepwalker. One major clue I have to this issue is the week when I was prescribed a steroid to manage my asthma. Side effects included zero anxiety and the best week of sleep I’ve had in years, leading me to believe that my anxiety and insomnia may be related to inflammation. Part two of my effort to get better rest will entail an anti-inflammatory diet, which I’m beginning today! Check back next issue for my progress and tips, as I’ll, of course, be using apps and gear to accomplish my research.
              Master your iPhone in one minute a day: Sign up here to get our FREE Tip of the Day delivered right to your inbox.
              Leanne Hays's picture

              Leanne Hays is a Feature Web Writer at iPhone Life.  She loves reading and blogging, and is never without a book in her backpack or an audiobook on her phone. Short-term goals include finishing painting her house and starting an aquaponics farm, long-term goals include a bike tour of Italy and writing a novel.