[App Fridays] This sleep tracker helps you get the rest you need, wake up refreshed

Sleep Cycle uses your phone's microphone to track your movements as you sleep, and uses sound and vibration analysis to stir you from slumber during your lightest phase of sleep.

[App Fridays] This sleep tracker helps you get the rest you need, wake up refreshed

Friday May 15, 2020,

6 min Read

The Dalai Lama spoke for all of us when he said: “Sleep is the best meditation.”

The benefits of sound sleep are well known. Not getting the required hours of zzzzz can lead to weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, an impaired immune system, and a greater risk of death.

sleep cycle

But falling and staying asleep can be tough amid high stress. And as the world tackles the coronavirus pandemic, the negative news, social distancing, work from home, and anxiety have wreaked havoc on our sleep cycles.  

Bengaluru-based sleep solutions company Wakefit recently surveyed about 1,500 people across India to analyse their lifestyle and sleeping patterns during the lockdown.

It found that 46 percent of the respondents used to sleep before 11 pm prior to the lockdown, and only 39 percent now go to bed before 11 pm. About 25 percent used to go to bed after midnight earlier, and 35 percent have started going to bed after 12 - a 40 percent rise in late night sleepers since the lockdown. For many, 3 am is the new 11 pm!

The internet is full of advice on how to maintain sleep hygiene, including going to bed and rising at the same time every day, banning nicotine from your life, and avoiding large meals, caffeine, alcohol, and gadget time before bedtime. But what if you can’t get those hours of sleep despite all that? Perhaps a sleep app could help you sleep like a log.

We try out Sleep Cycle, which tracks and analyses your sleep patterns to help you sleep well and wake up refreshed and raring to go.

Launched in 2009, Sleep Cycle is the most downloaded intelligent alarm clock and sleep tracker. With rating of 4.5 stars and more than five million downloads on Android’s Play Store, clearly it’s helping many across the world get their beauty sleep.

Getting started

Let us explore the app and see how it helps.

As soon as you open the app, you notice that the UI is “dark” and very calming. “Dark” mode is the thing these days for mobile users as it saves battery life as averts eye strain.

Sign up with your Gmail or Apple account, and the app takes you to its alarm page. After you set a time, the app even shows you where you should keep the phone while of sleeping. It suggests you keep your phone connected to the charger.

sleep cycle

The app guides you through its usage, step by step. The home screen states that to ensure accurate use, you need to keep the app screen “on” and not exit it. The UI is similar to how your locked phone generally looks: a clock in the centre, and your upcoming alarm.

A “sleep aid” button on top of the home screen has sleep sounds and stories. They are unique, calming, and short.

But the key feature of the app is the smart alarm.

Smart sleep, better mornings

Waking up easily is all about timing. Sleep Cycle’s alarm clock tracks sleep patterns and wakes you up when you are in light sleep. This feels like waking up naturally rested without an alarm clock, and bodes well for a better day and better sleep the following night.

In one of its blogs, the company explains that we usually go through five stages of sleep. The first is light sleep, and involves drifting in and out of sleep. The eyes move slowly, your muscle activity is slow, and it’s easy to wake up. In the second stage, your body starts preparing for deep sleep. Eye movements and brain waves slow down, body temperature drops, and heart rate slows down. The third stage sees you in deep sleep. Extremely slow brain waves called delta waves are intermixed with smaller, faster brain waves.

In stage four, you stay in deep sleep and your brain almost exclusively produces slow delta waves, guiding you towards the fifth stage. Stage five is also called REM sleep – the eyes are closed but move rapidly from side to side, due to the intense dream and brain activity.

Sleep Cycle uses sound analysis to identify sleep states, tracking your movements in bed. The app used patented technology for this, using the phone mic to analyse your movements.

The app uses a wake-up phase (30 minutes by default) that ends at your desired alarm time. During this phase, Sleep Cycle will monitor signals from your body to wake you softly when you are in the lightest possible sleep stage (stage 1-2). 

How Sleep Cycle works

We really like the ease of use on the app, like hitting snooze by simply double tapping on the phone. The app also has Intelligent Snooze, which lets you snooze through your wake-up phase. Each snooze duration becomes shorter, gently bringing you from asleep to completely awake at your desired time.

The app also offers regular Snooze – you can choose a specific snooze time between one and 20 minutes, and can snooze an unlimited number of times. You can change modes under Settings, and completely disable Snooze.

The app is simple to use and provides detailed sleep statistics and daily graphs by monitoring your movements in bed. This lets you see exactly how long it took you to fall asleep, and how your sleep cycle changed during the night.

We found this function extremely accurate, even when the phone was placed on the bedside table or the floor, and it helped us understand our sleep better.

The best thing about the app is the customisable alarm. Users are asked to set a wake-up window, from an instant alarm to up to 45 minutes (for example, any time between 8 am and 8.45 am). The app then wakes you up when you are in a light sleep phase, meaning you get up feeling well rested.

sleep cycle

The alarm tones are soothing. The free version lets you choose from four tones while the premium one offers more options. You can also connect the app with fitness devices.

Free features include sleep analysis with Sleep Cycle patented sound technology, or accelerometer, detailed sleep statistics and graphs, snooze by shaking or double-tapping the phone lightly, and the customisable wake-up window.

Premium features include long-term sleep tracker trends, comparison of sleep data with world sleep statistics, snore trends, sleep aid to help you fall asleep easier, sleep notes, wake-up mood tracking, and online backup.

The free version should suffice for most of us, but those who really struggle to get their shut-eye can consider getting a premium subscription for Rs 1,200 per year.

The verdict

This app solves a key problem: waking up at the right time, in a good mood.

Since the app enables you to start your day feeling better, the possibility of the day being more productive is higher. The detailed analysis of your sleep helps figure out what you are doing wrong.

We will definitely recommend this app, especially if your body clock is all over the place. It will help ensure sleep hygiene by promoting regular patterns and healthy habits.

Download and get ready for a good night’s sleep!

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)