Sleep is a natural requirement of our bodies, so you’d think that sleeping like a log should be as easy as falling off one. For some of us it is, but for many people, getting to sleep and staying asleep are anything but easy.
Fortunately, your phone can double as a sleep coach, a smart alarm clock can provide a gentle re-entry into waking life and if gadgets fail to put you to sleep, the web can provide you with tips and advice on all aspects of slumber.
The important thing to keep in mind when you search for a solution to your sleeping problems is that our sleeping patterns are highly personal. The sleep app that a friend swears by may leave you staring at the ceiling all night and while you may have a horrible time getting to sleep, your partner may switch off like a light, but loathe waking up.
The sleep apps and gadgets that are available are similarly diverse. Some focus on relaxation techniques, others on using patterns of light or sound, while others use an all-round approach and cultivate self-knowledge. It may be that a power nap during the day will make the difference for you — there’s an app for that. Or as many people find, simply trying a device or an app may kick start your own efforts to change ingrained habits and sleep better.
Technology can help you get to sleep and it can do the opposite. A 2007 study showed that using some types of technology before bedtime can render you irredeemably wakeful. Light from your computer screen can disrupt your circadian rhythms and inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that tells your brain it’s time to sleep. Similarly, watching a drama or even the news or a sports event on telly can limit melatonin production as well as getting you revved up instead of calmed down ready for sleep. If you leave your phone on all night, you leave yourself open to numerous disruptions, including alarms, phone calls and text messages.
Serious sleep disorders
Not all sleep problems are created equal. Some people have serious sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) for which a one-dollar app is not a fix.
If you think you may have a serious sleep problem, you need to see your doctor. Conditions such as sleep apnea usually require an overnight stay in a sleep lab for proper diagnosis. Several sites provide useful information that may help you recognise whether you need to see a medical professional. Check out the Sleep Disorders Tutorial at tinyurl.com/4g377u9 and Wikipedia’s article on sleep disorders at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_disorder.
This combination of sounds and binaural brain training enables you to get a daytime nap and turbo-charge the rest of your day.
For: iOS and Android
This beautifully crafted app couples a sleep monitor with a pedometer to help you improve your sleep and your activity level.
Let Andrew Johnson’s Gaelic lilt lull you to sleep in this 30-minute guided meditation.
Accelerometer-based, Sleep Cycle tracks your sleep patterns to wake you gently at a time when you’re sleeping lightly.
The name may not sound soothing, but this lovely spinning lantern coupled with the included sounds or your own music makes a calming bedside companion.
Hypnotist Paul McKenna can put you to sleep. At least, that’s what he claims in I Can Make You Sleep (ICMY Sleep) and he’s pretty convincing, too. He provides a smorgasbord of techniques all underpinned by a set of commonsense guidelines designed to change bad habits and restore confidence in your ability to get sound sleep. Learn how to get to sleep more easily, get back to sleep during a disturbed night and stop your mind racing using the videos, and most importantly, the 30-minute hypnotic sleep ‘trance’. The app may be pricey, but that’s a reflection of the time and effort that’s clearly gone into its making.
Tip: Avoid night-time disturbances
To avoid being jarred awake by a call or notification when using a sleep app on your phone, switch on Airplane mode. It will save your battery as well as eliminate many disturbances. With some apps, you can turn down the device’s general volume control while still hearing desirable, in-app sounds.
When sleep eludes you, creating a more soothing environment may be all that’s needed to nudge you into a more somnolent state. Sound+Sleep, from Adaptive Sound Technologies, helps to create such an environment through sound. It features numerous nature and meditation SoundStories, plus a clever feature that increases the volume to mask other disruptive sounds. The SoundStories are recorded directly in the wild, which adds complexity and eliminates the annoying repetitiveness in similar products. Once you’ve selected your favourite sound scheme, volume and duration, the settings are saved for instant reuse. The portable Nomad version is compact and has the added benefit of doubling as a speaker for your iPhone or iPad while you’re on the road.
Price: US$129.95; Nomad, US$149.95
How you wake up contributes to how rested you feel during the day. For a really classy wake-up, it’s hard to beat the Zen Timepiece. It features a brass bowl set atop a beautiful wooden plinth with an inset digital clock. The resonant gong strikes once initially to gently wake you and then it strikes with increasing frequency through a 10-minute cycle.
Children’s Sleep Problems
Having trouble getting your baby or young child to sleep? Try this page loaded with information, advice and resources for the desperate parent.
TeensHealth: Common Sleep Problems
How do you get enough sleep when you’re balancing the multiple stresses of being a teenager? Here’s a site offering help.
Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health
There’s plenty of good information in the ‘Patients’ section of this site, especially for those who have serious sleep disorders, plus an opportunity to volunteer for sleep research.
The Anti-Jet-Lag Diet
Globetrotting can send your sleep patterns into a spin. Try the anti-jetlag diet to get back into rhythm after your flights.
Sleep 4 Health
Here you’ll find chiropractic and alternative medicine information including sleeping tips, children’s sleeping and alternative treatments for sleep health.