Sleep – you only realise how important it is when it starts to evade you. It’s one of the most important physiological needs of the human body.
A night of deep and satisfying sleep has become increasingly rare in today’s modern world. High-stress levels and mounting mental health problems have resulted in a surge of poor sleep among the world’s population as a whole.
Those that have experienced a night or two without sleep can attest to the immense discomfort that follows. Difficulty in concentrating, confusion, increased appetite, and mood instability are only the tip of the iceberg of symptoms that are associated with chronic insufficient sleep.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is important for many of the body’s functions, including the physical regeneration and repair of blood vessels. Sleep also plays a vital role in mental and emotional wellbeing, quality of life, and the body’s ability to recover from illness.
For babies, children, and teenagers, sleep is one of the most essential processes for growth and brain development. Inadequate sleep leads to poor emotional and physical regulation during waking times. Poor sleep can have a detrimental effect on the brain’s ability to absorb information and integrate that into learning patterns. For adults, sleep is essential for optimal productivity during the day. The ability to concentrate, make executive decisions, and remain emotionally regulated and engaged relies on the brain’s ability to rest at night.
Poor sleep is linked to a multitude of disorders. It contributes to the mental decline of those who later have dementia. It also increases the risk of suffering a stroke, heart attack, developing diabetes, kidney disease, and other chronic illnesses.
Inadequate sleep also increases the risk of dying due to accidents, like car accidents. This is because the reduced cognitive function that results from sleep deprivation can lead to an impairment of judgement (much like alcohol consumption) and an inability to stay awake.
Traditional methods to improve sleep
While there are proven and effective treatments for sleep, they don’t always get to the root cause of poor sleep. This means that when the treatment ceases, the effects end, too. Thus, insomnia and poor sleep remain an ever-present issue. Certain medications are also habit-forming and not recommended for long-term use. This makes it complicated for those that suffer from insomnia and poor sleep, as a chronic condition.
For some, the only remedy lies in seeing a doctor. Some of the common treatments for poor sleep include:
- Traditional remedies for sleeping including sleep medications: These medications can be challenging for some to use as they can cause a number of side effects, like grogginess during the day. They’re also challenging to use because acquiring them will require a doctor’s consultation and prescription ahead of time. It’s not always easy to predict when a night of insomnia might occur ahead of time and they can be associated with side-effects.
- Other traditional sleep remedies include herbal remedies and essential oils, like lavender. While effective for some, they fail to provide predictable relief for a majority of users. The efficacy of these remedies also depends on the cause of the sleeplessness. For example, a stress-related poor sleep might require a different approach from sleeplessness due to physical discomfort.
- There are also habitual routines that can assist with sleeplessness. For example, staying away from caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants from the late afternoon can help to reduce insomnia. Those that battle with stress can try meditation and deep breathing techniques to reduce the stress response in the body that impedes sleep. Experts also claim that installing a blue light filter on screens will assist the eyes and help the body to settle into a better state.
- Habits that improve the body’s natural serotonin production will assist with falling asleep. Serotonin becomes melatonin when the eyes are exposed to low light environments. Melatonin is the hormone that creates a drowsy feeling, enabling the body to fall asleep
The role of digital health in helping to improve sleep
Digital health is no longer a futuristic concept. It is here and thriving.
It is a powerful tool that empowers the individual to self-heal at the moment that it’s needed, safely and effectively. Embracing technology opens a new world of possibilities to both practitioners and patients, as many functions are more streamlined and help is more accessible.
By understanding the physiology of sleep and the internal environment that is needed to achieve sleep, it is possible to create tools that assist people in falling asleep. Mobile apps have become a widespread solution to several daily functions and healthcare in people’s lives. From making creative tasks easier and faster for the average individual, through to self-diagnosis and self-medication, mobile apps have proven easy to use, effective, and versatile.
How can they assist with improving sleep? Mobile apps can help to create a routine before bedtime that trains the brain to learn to recognise when it is time to sleep. This takes time but offers a long-term solution for those that battle to build a rhythm for themselves.
Sleeping apps can also help to induce a state of calm through deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. Deep breathing ceases the release of cortisol and takes the body out of a state of fight or flight – this is especially useful for those that battle to “switch off” at night after work.
Five sleeping apps to help improve sleep:
With so many people using Sleepio as a sleep tool, it’s easy to see that the company offers reliable results via their sleep app. They tackle sleeping challenges from a holistic perspective, factoring in a user’s thoughts, lifestyle choices, and schedule. The app doesn’t offer an as-needed service. Instead, the users work alongside a sleep expert once the user’s goals have been established. A schedule is created, helping users achieve long term results. This app is ideal for anyone:
- Seeking deeper sleep
- Looking for ways to stay asleep ALL night
- Wanting to wake up feeling refreshed
- Keen to improve their daily performance
- Fall asleep and stay asleep drug-free
Understanding sleep can help optimise rest. Sleep works in cycles; there are lighter sleep cycles and deeper sleep cycles. This is measured by the heart rate, REM (rapid eye movement) and a few other signals that this innovative mobile app taps into. For those that love metrics, Sleep Cycle offers an insight into your sleeping cycles. It’s designed to analyse sleep and ensure that users wake up during the lightest sleep cycle so that they can emerge refreshed and ready for the day. Their tagline: “Sleep Cycle tracks and analyses your sleep, waking you up at the most perfect time, feeling rested”.
This app is endorsed by Roy Hibbert, an NBA star, who claims the app cured his insomnia. In contrast to sleepio, Pzizz can be used on an as-needed basis. They utilise psychoacoustic principles to get the brain into a calm and relaxed state so that sleep is easily achieved. The sounds they use are backed by science. The mobile app’s developers claim that it does more than help its users to fall asleep: “Get the world’s most advanced sleep and power nap system to fall asleep fast, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed.”
Pillow offers both an ongoing and as-needed solution for sleeplessness. Like Sleep Cycle, this app tracks your sleep cycles by monitoring your movements, heart rate, and sounds to find your sleep cycles and wake at the most opportune moment so that you can rise feeling refreshed. Their key claim is that they are non-invasive requiring no buttons, no downloads and no hassle. The app gives you an opportunity to monitor your sleep and track external factors that may be impeding your ability to enjoy deep and proper sleep cycles.
The future of improving sleep through technological advancements
As science reveals more about the process and physiology behind sleep, the better tech companies can meet the needs of consumers who battle to sleep. The most promising results come from clearly defined goals, factoring in the potential for particular challenges. Choosing the mobile app that offers unique features that benefit a particular goal is a key to success.
Sleeping apps take a well-rounded approach to treating sleep difficulties. They aim to find the patterns in the lifestyles of insomniacs that might be exacerbating their condition. A number of apps also come with features that include music or specific sounds designed to activate a sense of calm and relaxation in the body. On particularly stressful days, this can assist in creating the mood for sleep. As part of a holistic approach to wellbeing, apps have the potential to help many.
Image: Jackrabbit Mobile, Sleepio and Pillow App