Smartphones seem to be able to do just about anything these days, but when a friend of mine suggested the Sleep Cycle app for my iPhone, I had to do a double take. Could my phone really measure the quality of my sleep cycles? It turns out it can, roughly speaking. An accurate measurement of your sleep cycles would require a visit to a lab with electrodes stuck to your head in a controlled environment.
But given this isn’t practical in one’s day to day life, then apps to measure sleep, like Sleep Cycle, may just be a helpful alternative. The Sleep Cycle app uses the accelerometer in your iPhone to detect your movements while you sleep. You move in different ways throughout the night, and these movements are tied in with the different phases of sleep you pass through, from light sleep, to REM sleep to deep sleep, and back again.
Over time it builds up enough data to highlight patterns in your sleep, providing some nice graphs and charts for your review. The Sleep Cycle app also comes with a rather nifty alarm which wakes you in the lightest phase of sleep so you don’t wake up groggy. The app does this by looking at the data it collects over time and picking the appropriate time to wake you between the time you nominate and the time you are in the lightest phase of sleep.
The app has proven to be a useful rough guide to my sleep patterns. It has accurately detected at what time I’ve woken up during the night. On the days I’ve had better sleep, the app records a better sleep quality percentage, and likewise when I’ve had worse sleep. The data it reports over time is useful too, particularly in reporting averages of time slept and days of the week I sleep better.
On the other hand, the graphs produced by the app seem strange at times. A perfect sleep graph would indicate ups and downs between REM and deep sleep, in 90 minute intervals. I haven’t had a consistent graph yet, and on some nights, a graph that looks decidedly unhealthy reports a high percentage of sleep quality, while a better looking graph can report less quality sleep. Not sure how that works, but then again, this app is only providing a rough guide to sleep quality.
Smartphones are wonderful devices that become more powerful and useful with each iteration and software update. I’ve only discussed one specific example here as it relates to the iPhone, but whether you have an iPhone, Android phone, Windows phone or other device, there will likely be an app you can use to measure your sleep. What else will developers think of in the future?