The daytime stupor and lethargy that follows a night of insufficient sleep is well-known to most people. But a lack of sleep does more than merely make you feel tired; sleep deficiency also has been linked to a number of serious conditions—obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, to name just a few. One study conducted among teenagers showed that the risk of putting on excess weight goes up with every hour of sleep that is lost.
Our ancestors had to make do with counting sheep in order to help them fall asleep. We have it much easier today, with a number of apps that can help induce drowsiness. Here’s a quick overview of why sleep matters, and a list of some of the best sleep apps on the market today.
You really do need sleep
While a lack of sleep can leave you down and out, a good night’s rest can give you a boost in countless ways. Getting quality sleep helps your body repair blood and heart vessels. Sleep also gives your brain a much-needed break after a hectic day at work or school. Moreover, it allows you to be completely alert while awake. This results in better decision-making and a high level of attentiveness. You’re more likely to sharpen your brain’s retainment ability when you’re getting a good night’s sleep.
And the benefits don’t stop there. Healthy sleep does wonders for your immune system, which, in turn, help protect you from common infections. For fitness regulars, pulling an all-nighter or binge-watch your favorite TV show late into the night can affect your workout the next day.
Simply put, chasing that perfect physique is not just about how much you work out. It’s linked with your diet and your body’s regenerative abilities. A healthy amount of sleep helps your body recover from exercising. When you’re asleep, your body builds muscle more effectively, setting you on the right path toward staying fit.
Sleep deficiency, on the other hand, causes an imbalance between ghrelin and leptin levels. The former is the “hunger hormone,” and the latter is the “hormone of energy expenditure.” This imbalance messes with your nutritional intake to an extent that pretty much no amount of working out can rectify. If you’re on a strict diet, increased ghrelin levels will have you craving food at all the wrong times.
A Stanford University study found that athletes who got more sleep fared better on the field and had lower heart rates than their sleep-deprived counterparts. The cyclical nature of sleep and exercise implies that if you sacrifice the former, you reduce the effectiveness of your workout regime.
Despite all these clear benefits, 1 in 3 Americans don’t get sufficient sleep, according to the CDC. At least seven hours is considered optimal, and a key finding of the study was a link between obesity and sleep shortage. For instance, a large number of southeastern U.S. states residents reported less than seven hours of sleep a day. Previous studies have shown increased obesity and chronic diseases in this region.
The best apps for better sleep
Now that you’ve been reminded that sleep really does matter, here’s a slew of apps to help you ease into golden slumbers—for the benefit of your body, mind and fitness.
- Digipill: This app has figured out a great way to reduce stress caused by insomnia. All you need to do is select an audio pill—a tailor-made, meditative, aural experience that combines soothing sounds and words—and climb into bed. The first audio pill is free when you download the app, and you can purchase new ones from its “Pharmacy,” all designed to make your drift off. Digipill is an innovative way to beat wakefulness.
- Sleep Pillow Sounds: Sometimes, all you need is a calming distraction to put you to sleep. This straightforward app has more than 300,000 ambient sounds and mixes that help you relax in bed. Its vast library is sure to have the perfect sound for every sleep-seeker.
- Pzizz: Pzizz makes the list because of its customization possibilities. Set the length of your audio track from 10 minutes to 10 hours and lie back as you float away in a perfect slumber. Pzizz allows you to tweak not just the overall volume, but even the sound effects and vocal tracks. Based on the science of psychoacoustics, this app challenges you to their seven-day sleep challenge. If that works for you, try their Ultimate Sleep Experience.
- Calm: Overthinking can be one of the main reasons why you lie awake in bed at night. A short meditation session might just help, and Calm offers exactly that. Topics like non-judgement and inner peace can really help a person relax their nerves before hitting the sack.
- Recolor: The adult coloring book phenomenon caught on pretty quickly. Recolor offers that in app form. Choose from a variety of images that need to be colored in using a vibrant in-app palette. Recolor allows you to break away from the day’s ups and downs and color yourself to sleep.
- Sleep Cycle: This comprehensive app tracks your sleep patterns and analyzes your sleep quality. By using sound and vibration, the app detects whether you’re in deep, light sleep or REM. Sleep Cycle even tracks your snoring. The dashboard keeps a record of your sleep and wake times, thus giving you an all-around picture of how well you’re tucking in. The data collected allows you to set a 30-minute window, and the app then decides the best wake-up time within that period. Needless to say, this is way better than an irritating, precise alarm.
Insomnia, whether mild or chronic, can increase stress while reducing energy levels. Your body needs to rest, and if an app can help, why not? Sleeping for the right amount of time on a daily basis will not only help keep you alert, it will also keep health problems away—and boost your fitness prowess.