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Four apps (and some audio recordings) to help you get a better night's sleep

Kirk McElhearn | Jan. 12, 2015
If you just got back from CES – or are exhausted from reading about it – use these apps to unwind this weekend.

We live in a stressful world, and, more and more, we're solicited by our work all day long, thanks to our devices that keep us connected by phone, email, and text messages before and after working hours. It can be hard to relax and to get a good night's sleep, if you've got a lot going on. Fortunately, these same devices can help us calm down and catch some shut-eye. Here are four apps--and some audio recordings--that can help you do stay calm, and sleep better. 

Relax your breath 
Sometimes, on a stressful day, you want to get a quick bit of calm. You may want to chill out for a few minutes before, or after, an important meeting, or you may simply want to keep your stress level down during the day. You can do this by breathing; not the same breathing you do most of the day, but a type of controlled breathing. If you slow your breathing, it can relax you; but it's not easy to do this on your own, but Breathing Zone ($4) can help.

Start by checking how fast you're breathing using the app and your iOS device's microphone. Then, set a target breathing rate, which is several breaths per minute lower than your current rate. Start the app, and follow its guidance as it slowly helps you slow down your breathing. You can have voice instruction, musical guides, or just a visual animation to help you slow down your breath.

If you use this app regularly, you can lower the target rate progressively, helping calm yourself. It's easy to use, and I find it very effective. (It's worth noting that the FDA has approved some devices that work in a similar manner as tools to reduce blood pressure. This app suggests that it may also have such an effect.) 

Meditate and calm your mind
For longer-term relaxation, why not try meditating? Meditation is not some new-agey Eastern thing; it's a simple, practical exercise you can do to help your mind and body be calmer. Headspace (free) is a great way to discover meditation, and learn how to do it on your own. Start with ten free ten-minute meditations, then, if you wish to subscribe to Headspace's program ($8 a month for a year), continue through daily guided meditations that increase in length.

Headspace makes meditation easy and encourages you to do it every day. In addition to the guided meditations, the app lets you set reminders, shows statistics of how long you've meditated, and lets you set up meditation buddies. It's a bit cute, but if you're new to meditation, it's an easy way to get started.


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