Apps for naps?

Friday, January 23, 2015

It’s ironic the president and co-founder of a sleep therapy company has little trouble catching Zs himself. But that didn’t stop Eric Cohen, president of National Sleep Therapy (NST), from testing two sleep apps.

With sleep apnea affecting 18 million Americans, it’s no surprise programmers are locking their sights on sleep-related products. 

“There’s a percentage of the population who wants to take control of their own health. And within that, there’s an interest in sleep,” said Cohen, who reviewed the apps during a recent installment of CPAP Talk Live!, a virtual support group sponsored by NST.

“With these apps, there’s probably some learning if you really pay attention to them, especially if you have trouble sleeping,” he said. “I normally don’t, but there are plenty of people with sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg.” 

Cohen tested two popular apps: Sleep Cycle, which tracks sleep quality, and Relax and Sleep Well, an app that uses hypnotherapy techniques. 

He used Sleep Cycle for four nights. The app uses the phone’s accelerometer to measure body movements and determine sleep stage. Based on that, the alarm wakes the user during their lightest sleep phase.

The hope is that the 99-cent app might identify what’s causing a sleep problem. It’s helpful, but Cohen wasn’t sold. 

“It sort of confirmed what I felt,” he said. “Then the question is, OK, if I use this app, I can see if I’m in deep sleep or restless sleep. Then what do I do with it?”

The second app, Relax and Sleep Well, is a free self-hypnosis meditation app used by more than 1 million people. 

Cohen wasn’t a fan of listening to someone tell him how to fall asleep.  

“I kept thinking, ‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done for work,’” he said. “Then I realized I had fallen asleep and woken up.” 

Still, Cohen isn’t ready to dismiss sleep apps altogether. Already, consumer technologies like FitBit, are having an impact. 

“These apps don’t do it for me, but I wasn’t even aware this whole culture or set of products existed,” Cohen said. “We want to let people decide on their own if it’s something they want to explore.”