Getting a better night's rest: Could your phone help you sleep?

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, July 18, 2019
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A recent survey found 80% of participants say they have a sleep problem at least once a week. Some turn to meds, others to therapy, but a growing number are turning to sleep apps. Could your phone help you get better sleep?

A remarkable number of people have difficulty sleeping. Some 80% in a recent nationally representative survey by Consumer Reports said they had problems sleeping at least once a week. While many take sleep meds and some may even consult a therapist, a growing number are turning to soothing apps on their phones.

But can an app really help you get a better night's sleep?

Over-the-counter meds can provide some relief, but they're not recommended for long-term use. That may be why sleep apps are booming; downloads of several of them have increased 20% in the past year.

However, Diane Umansky, sleep editor at Consumer Reports says, "While there has been some research on the effectiveness of sleep apps, it's preliminary at best."

There are several different types of sleep apps available. White-noise apps might help by blocking out barking dogs or rowdy neighbors. Other apps lead you through guided imagery, meditation and even hypnosis to calm your racing mind.

A third type of app tracks your sleep patterns, for example, how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you spend in the deeper stages of sleep.

Then there are apps that use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, similar to what a therapist would use, to help fix bad sleep habits.

Unmansky said, "The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that cognitive behavioral therapy is the best first step in treating chronic insomnia. That's because it can help you change the thoughts and behaviors that can lead to sleep problems."

Experts add that the cognitive behavioral apps may work best with in-person CBT therapy.

Consumer Reports also notes that the fine print on most apps says they're marketed as "entertainment" or "lifestyle" apps, not medical devices, meaning that their effectiveness hasn't been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.