Now open your mobile app store and search for “sleep”. You're sure to find hundreds of results, promising to improve your sleep in a number of ways. But do these apps really work? It's very difficult to know which apps are trustworthy. Also, in some cases they can make your sleep worse! In this post we'll discuss what sleep apps are really like and how they can help you sleep better.
Why so many apps?
There are two big reasons why we have so many apps available: the frequency of sleep disturbances and the way we use smartphones.
The frequency of sleep disorders in our population is very high! Diseases such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea can be diagnosed in up to 30% of people. Complaints about sleep quality are even more common, ranging from 60 to 80% of people. Furthermore, most of these people would like to have better sleep and would be willing to seek some kind of treatment. This shows how new alternatives are needed for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.
As for the cell phone, it's been part of our life for some time (even, you're probably reading this post on your cell phone...). This explains why the cell phone has gained so many features. In addition to their original communication goals, cell phones contain apps for all kinds of services (social networks, travel, banking, news, shopping, food, etc.). The truth is that it is almost impossible for us to imagine our lives without a smartphone in our hands.
Now let's put the two things together: 1. The frequency of sleep disturbances is very high and 2. Most people use and seek services and answers by cell phone. So, wouldn't it be great to be able to offer options to improve sleep through the cell phone?
Many companies noticed this demand and because of that the applications started to appear. But as in any case where there is a lot of demand, not all services offered are of high quality. While some of these apps may work fine, others are not guaranteed to work...
Are apps trustworthy?
Concern about the safety and effectiveness of sleep apps is very serious. That's because using some apps can make sleep worse! Furthermore, when insomnia knocks on our door, the urgency of getting some kind of information or treatment can make us choose options that have no confirmation.
Knowing this, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (one of the world's most respected agencies in this area) recently issued a statement warning against the use of apps and other portable devices for sleep. This document is very clear in saying that applications have no clinical applicability and are not a substitute for consultations and exams. However, this same society recognizes that technology has grown rapidly, and it is undeniable that in the future these applications will be very accurate and useful.
We are, therefore, halfway there. The apps aren't perfect yet, but they are developing more and more!
Which apps work?
There are many types of sleep apps, but the main ones are those that monitor your sleep (called sleep trackers) and those that promise to treat your insomnia.
Sleep trackers have come a long way, and can be quite accurate. However, one must be careful with what they promise. They can measure what time you slept, what time you woke up, and how much sleep you had per night. However, be careful when an application gives information that goes beyond that. Any information about stages or phases of sleep is very difficult to get by cell phone, because in most cases the only information you get is through the movement sensor (the cell phone's accelerometer). Technology has evolved in this area, but apps that try to tell you how much “shallow sleep” and “deep sleep” you've had per night are still unreliable.
About treating insomnia using the cell phone, there are many options! Most use things like meditation, relaxation, music, among others. All of these alternatives work, but in some cases they may not be enough, especially in cases of chronic insomnia. In these cases, two options are best:
1. Apps about good sleep habits (also called sleep hygiene), which give tips and advice
2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy applications, which seek to correct behaviors that worsen sleep and perpetuate insomnia.
This therapy is currently the main treatment for insomnia (as opposed to medication, which should be the second option and never used for more than three months). Your ability to treat and reverse symptoms is very good! Some studies have shown that this therapy is also effective through applications. Unfortunately, the best apps with this type of therapy are not yet available in Brazil.
When can apps make your sleep worse?
There are two characteristics that can make your sleep much worse. If an application requires any of them, be wary of the results...
The first one is the excess of interactivity. Insomnia is a disease where the brain is unable to slow down at night. So we got to the room and at the time we were supposed to sleep, our head doesn't stop! In this case, any activity done while sleeping can make the situation worse, especially if it requires interactivity. Therefore, apps that require interaction or filling in information close to bedtime are not a good option.
The second one is luminosity. Our brain uses natural light as its main clue as to whether it's time to be awake or asleep. This is how the brain secretes melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone that is only secreted when we are in the dark. The big problem is that artificial lights confuse the brain, making it act like it's daylight and completely inhibiting the release of melatonin. Bright lights placed close to the eyes can make the situation much worse. This is exactly what we do when we use the cell phone in bed: we have a very intense light source placed less than 10 cm from our eyes!
So which app should I use?
For now, no app has all the features to improve your sleep. But rest assured, you'll soon have them all on one platform: SleepUp!
We are developing an app that will bring together sleep tracker, sleep hygiene, complementary treatment (including mindfulness), wearable devices and cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition, there will be the possibility of having your follow-up monitored by a multidisciplinary team of sleep specialists, through chat and video.Stay tuned for our news and follow us on social media!