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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.

Get a better night's sleep
Do you wake up groggy after a long night's sleep? Sometimes, this can happen when your alarm clock wakes you at the wrong time: when you're in a deep sleep cycle. Runtastic's Sleep Better (free) can monitor your sleep, and wake you up when you're in a light sleep cycle, making those first steps in the morning a little better.

This app works by detecting your movements in bed. You place your iPhone on your mattress, launch the app, and let it run overnight. Set the alarm for a specific 30-minute "wake-up window," and it will wake you when you're not in deep sleep. I find the whole sleep tracking thing to be dubious: there have been nights when, according to the app, my sleep was, say, 96 percent efficient, but I still felt tired when I awoke.

All the app does is measure movements in bed, and I suspect that if you don't sleep alone, it detects your partner's movements as well. But the alarm feature, which wakes you when you're not in deep sleep, can be useful. Note that Runtastic will send you lots of emails after you create an account to use this app, annoying you to buy a "gold" membership. Click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the first one.

Get to sleep more easily
Some people find it hard to get to sleep, and find that playing different sounds can help. These can range from white noise, to mask ambient sounds, to relaxing nature sounds. While I don't use these myself to get to sleep, I do find it relaxing to listen to sounds of calm waves breaking on a shore, or the rustling of leaves and chirps of birds in a forest.

Relaxing Sounds (free with in-app purchases) plays sounds like heavy rain, serene waterfalls, calming fireplace, and singing birds (but I don't see how that grand clock will help anyone fall asleep!). With in-app purchases, you can buy ten other sounds, at $1 each, or $4 for all of them. Set a timer to play the sounds as long as you need to fall asleep, and have a good night's rest.

Nature sounds to relax 
If you find the sounds of nature relaxing, why not put some on your iOS device to help you relax wherever you are? There are lots of albums on the iTunes Store that contain music like this, but I found a couple that are real bargains. Nature Sounds 1 ($10, but listed incorrectly on the iTunes Store as Ocean Wave Sounds) and Nature Sounds 2 (22 Hours) from Sound Dreamer each contain eleven two-hour recordings of natural sounds. They have ocean wave sounds, whale calls, river sounds, birds, rain, calm lake waves, waterfalls, and sounds such as "campfire and bird sounds," "small brook and crickets," and more. Each one lasts two hours--more than enough to help you go to sleep, to listen to during your commute, or for when you want to take a break during a busy day.


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