We could all do with a little help getting to sleep from time to time and sleep apps are a great way to relax you ready for slumber.
If you suffer from insomnia, or just struggle every now and again to drift off, you may find that using one of these sleep aid apps will help you.
According to the NHS, 1 in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with the stress of modern life largely to blame.
As well as being frustrating, sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on your physical health. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.
So, a solid night's sleep is essential for a long and healthy life. To help you out, we’ve rounded up our favourite sleep apps so you can catch those zzzs in no time, plus share some research on how walking more can help you sleep better.
From those that help you practice mindfulness and guided meditation, to sleep apps with different relaxing sounds you can listen to - such as white noise, rain and nature sounds - to ones that help you get in a better routine by tracking your sleep phases, here are our top picks:
Guided meditation and storytime apps
Prof Christian Cajochen, who heads the Centre for Chronobiology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, says: “I would recommend mindfulness apps like Sleepio, since they are based on good evidence coming from research in sleep medicine, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia.”
In fact, in a recent study involving over 7,000 NHS patients, Sleepio - a six-week digital treatment for insomnia - helped 56 per cent of users beat the condition.
Sleepio is a 6 week online program designed by sleep experts and based on cognitive and behavioral techniques. Simply sign up online, do the sleep test, and create an account. Sleepio recommends you do each session on your desktop where you'll be able to access the online community of peers, graduates and sleep experts. You can also download the app, which is designed to supplement the online programme, free from the App Store.
Although well known for general mindfulness practice, we love to use Headspace before settling down for the night. The app helps you to switch off after a long day with meditation and breathing to prepare your mind for sleep as well as Sleepcasts where soothing voices read you calming stories. There are also guided exercises if you find yourself waking up in the end. Free to download on iTunes and Android with in-app purchases.
One of the most popular sleep apps out there, Calm is hailed by millions of people for helping them to experience better sleep and reduce stress and anxiety. While itu2019s ideal for beginners, there are also options for intermediate and advanced listeners too. Guided meditation sessions are available from as short as 3 minutes, right up to 25 minutes so you can choose the ideal length to fit with your schedule. The app also offers Sleep Stories, bedtime stories for both adults and children, voiced by well-known talent such as Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey. Free to download on iTunes and Android with in-app purchases.
White noise apps
A 2016 Consumer Reports survey of 4,000 people with sleep problems found that more than half of those who tried white-noise machines said the devices did help them sleep. Other research, including a 2015 analysis in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, has shown that soothing music may have that same effect.
“They can be helpful for some individuals who live in noisy environments because an abrupt change in sound level can interfere with sleep," says Nathanial Watson, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "And they can be soothing for people who are sensitive to changes in their environment."
Offering a broad library of carefully selected sounds to help you fall asleep such as a hairdryer, urban rain and even a cat purring, Sleep offers clever features such as a fade out timer where you can decide the time that you want sounds to gently melt away so thereu2019s no need to worry about switching off your phone. Free to download on iTunes and Android with in-app purchases.
Rain Rain Sleep Sounds
Certain sounds naturally make us feel more sleepy and Rain Rain Sleep Sounds lets you choose from over 100 high-quality sleep-inducing sound effects to help lull you to sleep. Popular options include Thunderstorm, Pink Noise, Crackling Fire, Ocean Waves and so many more. You can even combine multiple sounds with individual volume so the experience is entirely tailored to you. Free to download on iTunes and Android with in-app purchases.
Sleep trackers work by helping you keep tabs on how much sleep you're actually getting, to make you more aware of your sleeping habits.
While this can prove very helpful and effective for some, experts warn that for others it may prove to worsen your insomnia.
“For some people, the tracking can get a little overboard,” explains Kelly Baron, PhD, MPH, DBSM, director of Behavioural Sleep Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
In her research, she found that focusing too much on your numbers can get in the way of your slumber.
For example, you may worry about scoring a solid 8 hours of sleep, so you go to bed extra early. But if you turn in when you’re not tired, you’re more likely to toss and turn throughout the night. So, use tracking apps with caution - they are to help you improve your sleep, not set goals to achieve.
Dubbed a smart alarm clock, Sleep Cycle tracks your sleep patterns from bedtime to morning, providing you with detailed analysis on when you are in a deep sleep and light sleep so you can use the data to help you sleep better. It will also wake you up while youu2019re in light sleep, a much more natural time to wake, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and start the day feeling your absolute best. Free to download on iTunes and Android with in-app purchases.
Place your phone on the mattress near your pillow and Pillow (the app!) will analyse your sleep cycle based on the latest scientific findings in sleep research. You can also use Pillow as a smart alarm clock to wake up at the lightest possible sleep stage and start your day refreshed and relaxed. plus record important audio events such as snoring, sleep apnea, and sleep talking. Free to download on iTunes.
How to improve your sleep
Of course there are lots of lifestyle changes you can also make to help you improve your sleep. From establishing a good bedtime routine, which you repeat every evening, to getting up at the same time each day.
To improve your sleep quality, it's also worth considering how your daily activities affect your sleep, such as the food you eat and how much exercise you do.
A study published last year in the journal Sleep Health, found that if we increase the time we spend walking each day, we will sleep better at night.
The study’s results are encouraging, for they suggest that we don’t have to engage in a structured, high-intensity exercise programme to improve our sleep.
Simply taking more steps during the day — perhaps adding a 20-minute stroll to a lunch break at work or walking the dog for an extra 15 minutes — may be enough to help us sleep more soundly.
How about setting yourself the challenge of Walk1000Miles to really get those miles adding up?
Run by our friends at Country Walking magazine, it's a great way to get out and about in the countryside, make friends, lose weight and most of all have fun!