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What to look for in a Sleep App and Podcast

March 17, 2021 3:22 pm

There are a lot of different apps which promise to help you to improve your sleep habits, but which one is the best one for you?  Start by considering what you are looking for.  If you’re interested in learning new relaxation, meditation, or mindfulness skills then look for programs, books, and apps that will help you learn those skills.  If you already have other tools for meditation and breathing, then look for sleep podcasts that will help support falling asleep at bedtime. If you’re looking for something more structured than a podcast but aren’t in the market for a comprehensive meditation and sleep app, then look for guided meditation or relaxation exercises which can be books, audiobooks, or podcasts.

Since sleep is a part of a healthy lifestyle, many apps designed to promote mindfulness will also have sections on helping with sleep.  These apps will help you learn deep breathing techniques, meditation exercises, and mindfulness skills.  They will also include sleep stories, soothing music, and soundscapes (including white and pink noise) which can be played at bedtime.  Many of the most popular apps are available with a subscription.  Some offer free versions which include a few of their features, and most have a free trial option.  Some sleep apps are available for free download (occasionally requiring in-app purchases).  These free apps are usually designed specifically for sleep, and may not offer other features such as mindfulness training, etc.

While using meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness helps to treat insomnia, it’s not always easy to put those practices to use.  While you’re working on building those skills, you may want to look at more passive distraction methods to help fall asleep more quickly at bedtime.  Reading books is a great tool, but what can you do after the lights are turned off?  While listening to audiobooks may help some people, apps and podcasts designed for sleep are usually narrated in soft soothing monotone voices, and some will include instructions for the listener to do some deep breathing or muscle-relaxing exercises.   These podcasts can range from a narrator whispering stories, to hypnosis, to bedtime stories (like Good Night Rebel Girls).   You can find these podcasts through a music streaming or audiobook subscription service, or through a quick internet search.

Now let’s talk about some logistics.  All of the above options will need to be used through an electronic device (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop), so you’ll need to make sure you’re minimizing blue light exposure, as well as time spent on the device so you’re not tempted to use the device to play games, watch shows, etc.  To limit blue light exposure, set your screen to a low brightness, use the blue light filter and/or grayscale option.  You can also set up times where a “Do Not Disturb” or “Bedtime”  setting automatically turns on which can filter out unnecessary alerts, and put restrictions on some apps.   You can use the speaker on your phone or device, use headphones, or an external speaker.

Some speakers will allow you to use voice commands which help minimize use of your device.  Some apps and speakers will also have sleep timers, or allow you to set up a playlist or queue.  Using a meditation exercise that can be repeated throughout the night may be helpful for people who wake up in the middle of the night and need help falling back asleep.

Fortunately, there are a lot of helpful resources available to help if you have trouble falling asleep.  Remember, these should be used along with good sleep hygiene practices!  If you’re still struggling with insomnia, reach out to a sleep provider for help.

This blog was written by Dr. Aarthi Vemana, Co-Director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Sleep Center.