The average person needs seven to eight hours of sleep every night, which enables your brain to store memories, and your body to repair and grow muscle and tissue.
Lack of sleep causes irritability, lack of concentration and reduced language skills, and is also linked to a rise in depression and anxiety, along with weight gain. So missing out on those precious hours can have a huge impact on both your mental and physical health.
Sleep occurs in cycles which each last for around 90-120 minutes and usually, we will sleep for five cycles each night. Every cycle progresses between four stages before either beginning again or waking up.
Stage one of sleep is similar to the state of meditating, which lasts for five-ten minutes, and in this stage it’s easy to be woken up. The second stage, light sleep, lasts for around 20 minutes, when your heart rate and temperature drop. This is how you spend most of your time asleep as scientists believe that in every sleep session, we spend 40-60% of our time in stage two.
Following this, you enter deep sleep in stage three for around 30 minutes, followed by stage four – REM sleep. This is when you dream and your brain stores memories; your brain is active and your heart rate and breathing speed up.
The REM cycles get longer throughout the night. Stages three and four are where it’s most difficult to wake up, and your body repairs and builds up energy for the next day.
You may find it hard to sleep in silence, as a sudden noise is more noticeable and likely to wake you up, or be bothered by the sound of traffic or a snoring partner, particularly if the noise is not part of your usual sleeping environment.
This is why some people find it easier to sleep with the gentle hum of white noise in the background.
White noise is of the same volume at all frequencies, whereas pink noise is louder in the lower frequencies – the same as in some natural sounds such as heartbeats and the sound of traffic.
Sleeping with pink noise has been found to improve listeners’ memories the following day. If you want to give it a try, why not test out a pink noise sleep app?
Getting better sleep is something we all hope to achieve at some point and luckily there are plenty of digital aids out there which can be downloaded with one tap. There are three types of apps that can help you with getting better sleep: apps to help you fall asleep, apps that keep you from waking up, and apps that track the length and quality of your sleep.
As some apps are designed for you to listen as you fall asleep, or to listen all night, you could invest in a pair of Sleepphones, which are more comfortable than lying on earbud-style headphones.
13 best sleep apps for insomnia for iOS and Android
Calm is a soothing meditation app for iOS and Android. It offers a range of guided meditations to help you cope with stress and anxiety, along with a special selection of sleep stories to help you relax if meditation’s not your thing.
The stories are read by a host of celebrities including Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley, so you can choose the voice most likely to help you nod off to sleep.
There’s a selection of meditation programmes to help you relax at bedtime and you can choose natural soundtracks to accompany your sessions, such as the sound of falling rain or the wind in the trees.
They’ve recently added specially created sleep music tracks and sleep soundscapes (such as ocean waves), to lull you to sleep too.
Prices start from $4.99 (£3.70).
Pzizz – Sleep, nap, focus
The Pzizz sleep app for iOS and Android counts author JK Rowling among its fans. Pzizz claims to use psychoacoustic principles (the psychology of sound) to help you to unwind and fall asleep quickly.
The app plays you ‘dreamscapes’ – combinations of voiceovers, sound effects and music – to settle your busy mind and get you ready for sleep. The app costs $9.99 monthly (£7.47) or $99.99 (£74.72) for a year.
Sleep Genius is available for iOS and Android, and costs £4.89. Designed by four specialists in music, sleep and neuroscience, they recommend going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
The app’s algorithms are designed to make your brain sleep longer and deeper, and fall asleep more quickly; it has four sleep programs.
The alarms are designed to gently wake you over a five-minute period. And it recommends having a daily 30-minute power nap, which is generally stage one and stage two of sleep, so you wake up feeling refreshed.
Find the perfect soundtrack to help you sleep at night with Relaxio’s Sleep Sounds app for Android. There are all sorts of customisable options with this one as you can choose the noises you play, ranging from refreshing rain to airplane sounds and an evening beach, as well as the length of time they play for. That way you’ll be fast asleep before the gentle hum of your chosen soundtrack comes to an end.
Sleep Well Hypnosis
Sleep Well Hypnosis (free on both Android and iOS) uses hypnosis techniques in combination with white noise and calming music.
Created by a certified hypnotherapist, it recommends a daily 25-minute session, either during the day or at bedtime, to help you fall asleep. You should feel the benefits within one to three weeks.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is designed to help you with the mental aspects of not sleeping – a racing mind, worrying during the night, and frustration when you can’t sleep.
The Sleepio app is part of a programme that can help with problems falling asleep, waking during the night, or waking up too early. They also offer guidance for shift workers, parents and dealing with jet lag. It costs $300 a year, with an iOS app available, but unfortunately there’s no Android version at the moment.
This app, designed for iOS, has a library full of meditation and relaxation sessions focused on different themes including creativity, stress and mindfulness.
Make meditation part of your everyday as Inscape suggests sessions based on your use and what you want to achieve, so if sleep is the goal, the meditations it choses will be designed to help you relax and drift off once you’re in bed.
The SHUTi programme also uses CBT-I techniques, and suggests you follow a 40-minute session once a week for six weeks, complete a short daily sleep diary, and practise your new strategies.
It costs from $215 a year and currently works in a web browser only, with online diaries, integration with a Fitbit and interactive lessons.
Sleepo for Android is free, and has both white noise and pink noise in a library of relaxing sounds in four categories: rain, nature, city sounds, and meditation.
Once you’ve found the perfect mix for you, you can easily save the combination to the app so it is simple to come back to it time and time again.
BrainWaves – Binaural Beats app
The BrainWaves – Binaural Beats app for Android has 10 preset sounds, including Concentrate and Creative. For night-time listening there’s a Sleep preset, in the Delta wave section.
It has to be used with headphones so you hear the different frequencies in each ear, and you can also select your own frequencies for left and right sides for a really customised experience.
Sleep Cycle is a free app for both Android and iOS – it’s designed to run on your phone under your pillow as you sleep, and can detect snoring. It uses either your phone’s microphone or its accelerometer to track your movements. If you keep your phone beside you as you sleep, it will analyse the data to report on your night’s rest including whether you were snoring. (There will be no denying it now!)
It will also wake you gently when it detects your light sleep phase close to your alarm time, and has a choice of two snooze modes.
Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracker
Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracker is a clever little app currently available on iOS only. If you own an Apple Watch, you can link the app up to that to track your sleep patterns, but it can be used without (you’ll need to place the phone on your mattress for it to work).
Pillow can be used as an alarm clock to wake you up when you’re at your lightest sleep stage, waking you up more gently than a traditional alarm clock. It can track whether you snore or have sleep apnoea, and can even let you know if you talk in your sleep!
This app is free, but there is a charge for in-app purchases.
Dream Moods Dream Dictionary
After a great night’s sleep you may wake up during a REM stage of sleep and remember what you were dreaming of. The free Dream Moods Dream Dictionary app for Android and iOS has more than 5,000 symbols you can search through to see what your dream could mean, as well as a password-protected diary section so you can record your dreams to look back on.
Why can’t I sleep? podcast with Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
If you’re still struggling to sleep, we’d recommend listening to our interview on the In The Moment Magazine podcast with Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and most major podcast providers, or online below.
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Photos by Alexandra Gorn, Tracey Hocking, and Frankie K. on Unsplash