When’s the last time you got a great night of sleep? For most of us, the answer is something like, “about five years ago, that one night, on vacation….” and you’ve probably been searching for ways your phone can help with the best free apps to help you sleep.
One in every three adults in the United States doesn’t get the recommended seven or more hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A lack of sleep is linked to a myriad of chronic diseases and conditions, too, like type-2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, obesity, depression, car crashes, and work accidents. It’s gotten so bad that the CDC has even called sleep deprivation an ongoing “public health epidemic.”
While technology and screentime are often to blame for messing with our sleep—especially for teens—it can also help us get the zzz’s we desperately need. Here are some of the best apps and tech tools to help you go nighty-night faster and wake up feeling rested.
Tap an app, take a nap
The Calm app (iOS, Android) is one of the most popular on the market today as a meditation guide and anxiety-buster, but it’s also packed with content designed to carry you to dreamland. Once you download the app, you can select Sleep Stories and listen to Matthew McConaughey, Harry Styles, Kate Winslet, or Mandy Moore read you a slow, relaxing yarn. (I’m partial to Idris Elba’s Kingdom of the Sky, for what it’s worth). They provide the relaxing distraction your brain needs to transition from a bustling day to a restful night.
Mediation’s great for easing anxiety, restoring focus and clearing your mind, but it’s equally great for helping you relax and sleep more soundly. Calm includes daily meditations with various themes and lessons on how to get the most out of your meditation time. There are also soundscapes — like a crackling campfire or evening crickets — that can send your mind from racing to chilled-out in a matter of minutes. Calm is like a toolbox for relaxation, and it’s well worth the $70 annual subscription to unlock everything.
Of course, Calm isn’t the only game in town regarding meditation and sleep. Headspace (iOS, Android) is another excellent option that many people swear by, and it includes mindfulness lessons, music, and meditations designed specifically for sleep. It asks the same $70 per year to unlock the full suite of content.
Journal yourself to dreamland
Sometimes I need to dump a bunch of thoughts out of my brain to get some rest. Research shows that journaling or even making to-do lists before bed can help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed.
You can journal on paper, of course, but several easy-to-use apps save a tree and help you unload your brain so you can get a good night’s rest. 5 Minute Journal (iOS, Android) is an excellent choice for beginners who might not know where to start. It provides positive prompts and suggestions that make it easy to unpack your thoughts. The app is free for essential functions but runs anywhere from $40/year to $100/lifetime for its full suite of features, including mood tracking and photo or video journaling. The company also offers hardcover, old-fashioned journals ($29) with prompts as well.
Day One (iOS, Android, Mac) is another popular journaling app that syncs across mobile and desktop and even includes browser extensions so you can use it just about anywhere. Its straightforward user interface makes it super easy to get started without fanfare. After you’ve unloaded all your feelings into the app, it keeps those thoughts secure with end-to-end encryption and automatic backups so that you can rest easy. The app is free for its basic functions but costs $35 per year to unlock all of its features, which includes audio recording with voice-to-text transcription.
Catch these awesome apps and a whole bunch of awesome sleep gadgets with me on The Today Show on Thursday, July 21st!