All of us have had to plow through at least one difficult day of school or work after a less-than-optimal night of sleep, or even an all nighter. But what happens when a rough night becomes the norm? The Centers for Disease Control collects data about the sleep habits of Americans, and reports that one in three of us are getting fewer than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. Whether you can't fall asleep, can't stay asleep, or both, insomnia is not only miserable, but bad for your health. I'm one of those insomniacs that can't stay asleep; waking up more nights than not after only about four hours of shut-eye, and not being able to drift off again for at least an hour or two. If you're like me, and have spent many wakeful hours wishing you could just relax and sleep, it's time to find some help. While relaxing bedtime routines, meditation for sleep, natural insomnia remedies, calming teas, and even sleeping pills can help, there's one more thing I think you should try: a sleep app for your iPhone! I tried Sleep Genius for two weeks, and am still using it every night. Sleep Genius is a sleep app that combines soothing sleep music, a gentle alarm, a relaxation program for anxiety at any time, and even a power nap feature! Read on to learn more about Sleep Genius, and why I think you should give this sleep app a home on your iPhone.
Sleep Genius ($4.99)
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What It Does
A lot of work and expertise went into creating Sleep Genius, including collaboration between auditory neuroscientists, sleep researchers, and musicians. The resulting program is so effective that NASA uses it to encourage relaxation and healthful sleep for a group of people that you can imagine could have high rates of anxiety and insomnia—astronauts!
The Sleep Genius app is broken into four main features: Sleep, Revive Cycle Alarm, Relaxation Program, and Power Nap.
Sleep Cycle Hack
The Sleep feature helps users calculate their perfect bedtime and keep it consistent, then plays a choice of four meditative music and nature sound blends for either 90 or 180 minutes, or even all night. This does involve a bit of set up and calculation, as Sleep Genius recommends users subtract seven and a half hours from their ideal wakeup time, then move the sleep clock back another fifteen minutes for the time it will (ideally) take them to fall asleep. This is based on research that shows the average person needs five ninety minute cycles of sleep to wake up feeling refreshed. Sleep Genius also suggests that you adjust the clock further back for any time you spend awake in the middle of the night. This all means that if you're a middle of the night insomniac like me, you'll need to go to bed pretty early to follow all the suggestions; if after the first week you still aren't feeling rested when you wake up, you need to adjust the Sleep feature another fifteen minutes back and test for another week.
A Gentle Alarm
The Revive Cycle Alarm offers three choices of gentle, repetitive tones that gradually increase in volume over a five minute period. This is designed to gently wake you up, rather than jarring you like a conventional phone alarm or alarm clock does. Word of warning though, if your phone volume isn't all the way up you may not hear the alarm. Also, if you're a deep sleeper, you should set up a back up alarm with your regular phone alarm or alarm clock. I've slept through the Revive Cycle Alarm twice now, which doesn't make for a timely or pleasant morning!
Calming Meditation Music
The Sleep Genius Relaxation Program is a 30-minute program of acoustic music and nature sounds designed to reduce anxiety and stress. This works by triggering the relaxation response in the brain, which induces a meditative state, calming and hopefully stopping any fight or flight responses that are currently underway. Sleep Genius developers recommend using the Relaxation Program in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed in order to fully experience the physically and mentally calming effects of the session.
Perfect Power Nap Hack
Power Nap is exactly what it sounds like, a Sleep Genius feature that facilitates a quick, reviving mid-day snooze. A combination of soothing piano music and chimes helps app users drift off, and after 24 minutes a gradually increasing gentle alarm begins. This feature is based on research that shows a fifteen-to-twenty-minute nap increases alertness, motor performance, and even creativity! A longer nap can cause the out-of-it, sluggish feeling we've all experienced after a mid-day sleep. The Sleep Genius developers must have figured that five minutes to drift off, five minutes to wake up, and 19 minutes to sleep made for the perfect nap hack.
Why We Love It
Because it works. Really, it does!
I didn't have high expectations when I downloaded this app; after all, it's not reasonable to expect that $4.99 would cure insomnia that's been going strong for almost two years now. At first, my own preconceptions about sleep apps in general and Sleep Genius in particular were confirmed. Although I set my Sleep program as recommended, I still woke up almost every night the first week, unable to get back to sleep for what seemed like eons. However, rather than turning on the light and reading or playing around on Pinterest, I was determined to lie quietly and listen to the sleep music in the hopes that it would shorten the duration of my wake window. The gentle music seemed to taunt me at first, "Ooh! I'm so soooothing, but you're still awaaaake..." But I did notice that the anxiety that usually accompanies my insomnia was significantly reduced. I felt just a little edgy, rather than convinced that I would never sleep again and therefore fail at life.
In the second week sleep crept up on me, and on Saturday I realized that I'd only had two wake windows, as opposed to my usual four or five. What's more, they had seemed significantly shorter—I had picked up my phone to check the time when I woke up, but drifted off again quickly enough that I hadn't felt the need to pick up my phone again and become anxious over how much sleep I was losing.
As for the Relaxation Program, I still haven't used it for myelf, but it did help my three year old settle down for a long winter's nap over the weekend. I put the phone on a shelf outside her bedroom door so she wouldn't be tempted to play with it, turned on the program, and within 20 minutes she was asleep. This is a major coup for me, considering she's hitting that tough age where kids transition out of a daily nap, but are certainly cranky enough in the afternoons to benefit from one.
Power Nap, I must confess, I haven't used yet. There just isn't time during the day for napping, at least not right now. Plus I'm pretty convinced that my two morning coffees wouldn't really allow me to fall asleep even if I did block off the time for a nap. But maybe now that I'm feeling more rested, I can cut back to just one cup and try for a power nap on the weekends. Maybe.
Insomnia App Win
Overall, I'm super pleased with Sleep Genius, other than the issue of needing a backup alarm because the Revive Cycle Alarm is a little too gentle. I can honestly say Sleep Genius is the best sleep app I've ever tried, but then again it's the only sleep app I've ever tried! That being said, it works so well I feel no need to download any other options.
Here's to hoping this app helps you with your sleep issues too. Happy snoozing!