A few years ago, when I struggled with sleep issues—namely difficulty falling asleep, trouble getting up and daytime tiredness despite logging my eight hours—someone suggested I try the Sleep Cycle app. The graphs piqued my interest. I liked the idea that I could get a visual on my nightly slumber. The sleep aid and alarm won me over. I got lulled to sleep by ocean waves or white noise, which faded away once the app sensed I’d fallen asleep. Rather than being jarred awake, I felt gently stirred to consciousness.Though Sleep Cycle helped me gain an understanding of my sleep habits and sleep better, I got lazy and eventually stopped using it. Recently, I decided to take up Sleep Cycle again, mostly for that fantastic alarm. I found its other features just as helpful as I negotiated changes to my exercise volume and the season’s shorter, darker days.
Northcube’s Sleep Cycle is many things. As already mentioned, it’s as a sleep aid and an alarm clock—both have numerous sound options to suit your tastes. It also tracks and analyzes your sleep patterns, heart rate and wake up mood. You can make notes in a sleep journal, too—exercise, stress level, caffeine intake, whatever feels worth tracking with your sleep.
Here’s how it works: You place the phone, face down, near your pillow. As explained on Sleep Cycle’s website, the app uses your phone’s accelerometer to monitor your movement throughout the night and determine your sleep phase. That is how it determines the quality of your sleep and as well as decides when to wake you.
Rather than set an alarm for a specific time, you set an alarm for a 30-minute window. Let’s say you want to wake by 6:30 am, that window will be from 6:00 am to 6:30 am. Sleep Cycle then wakes you during your lightest sleep phase. Much more pleasant than being jarred from a dead sleep, right?
Definitely. This really made a difference for me, especially on dark autumn mornings. I found myself waking less groggy and more refreshed. I hit snooze once in the week I began using the app. One thing I disliked about this app was the idea of sleeping with my phone near my head. If you share this apprehension, Sleep Cycle advises placing your phone in airplane mode.
Sleep Cycle is fully integrated with Apple’s Health app and with your permission sends it sleep analysis and heart rate data following the first night of use. The app is also compatible with a Philips Hue light, AirPlay speakers and the RunKeeper app. You can post to Facebook from it and also export your sleep data.
I expect to continue using Sleep Cycle this time around. I’m kind of hooked. I truly feel it has not only improved how I wake, but also how alert I am throughout the day. At first I just credited the alarm clock, but I now see patterns in what nights I sleep better than others. It seems the more you use Sleep Cycle, the more you get out of it, which I suppose can be said of most apps.
Oh, and I recently learned the makers of Sleep Cycle also offered a Power Nap app. A strong believer in naps, though I feel less like taking them these days, I’ll be adding that one to my iPhone, too.
Great for: Sleep Cycle is the app for anyone who wishes their morning alarm could have better timing or a gentler delivery. Since the app also helps us analyze our nightly slumber and see how our daily lives may impact it, Sleep Cycle is also a win for those
of us who could stand to improve our nightly sleep. Read: Probably most of us. Americans have the lowest sleep quality in the world, according to Sleep Cycle data.
Cost: 99 cents
Apple — Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Optimized for iPhone 5, iPhone 6 ad iPhone 6 Plus.
Android — Requires Android 4.0 and up.