The difference between a house and a home is how much you love living there. LaunchPad explores the innovative technologies that help you care for your space more effectively.
I am aware, because I also read the internet, that the best sleep advice is to keep your phone out of the bedroom: a room that is for sleep and sex, but never texting. Unplug! Unwind! Keep your phone in the living room and get a real alarm clock, just like in the olden days. I do not personally remember these halcyon times, but I imagine everyone was dewy and well-rested.
But I love my phone. Also, what if something happens overnight about which I must be notified by text message? I am anxious, and also weak. My phone stays in the bedroom.
The good news is that the bedside phone can also be a force for good, thanks to a whole crop of apps designed to help you sleep better. Here’s how to turn your device into a glowing little sleep machine.
mySleepButton: The great thing about mySleepButton is how active it is. No one tells you to relax. There are no soothing rain sounds. Instead, a neutral voice — you choose male or female — reads a list of random words, and you picture those words in your mind (“motorcycle,” “pen”), and then you fall asleep. It’s a method Luc Beaudoin of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver calls “cognitive shuffling” — basically, you lull yourself to sleep by guiding your mind from one arbitrary image to another without building any kind of narrative between them. (Quartz has a more thorough explanation of Beaudoin’s approach.)
You can try it out on iOS for free (Android is $2.99). Full word lists, or “packs” — one of simple objects (“a robot”); one of scenes to imagine (“folding a blanket”); one where you picture yourself drawing various things (“sparklers on a cake”) — range from $1.99 and $6.99 ($.99 to $4.99 on Android). Female voice/drawing objects is the best one, though reasonable people can disagree.
Calm: Crowned Apple’s favorite app of 2017, Calm could soothe most of your life, if you wanted it to: It offers a library of musical soundscapes for assorted occasions (focus, relaxation, sleep), guided meditation sessions for various purposes (stress management, self-esteem, sleep again), and — my personal favorite — “Sleep Stories,” which are like extremely low-key podcasts that don’t actually demand your attention. Last night, for example, I fell asleep to “Hidden Bali,” which I’m pretty sure was about exploring the island of Bali. I don’t really know, though. I fell asleep. There are also fiction options, including “Stephen Fry’s Lullabies,” in which — as the name suggests — Stephen Fry dulcetly reads lullabies. Truly, there is something for everyone.
Available for iOS and Android, most of Calm’s sleep-specific features aren’t included with the free version, but you can try out premium for free for seven days before committing to a subscription ($12.99/monthly or $59.99 annually).
Pzizz: According to the website, Pzizz uses “effective psychoacoustic principles to create beautiful dreamscapes that will help you fall asleep fast, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed.” In practice, this means that a hypnotic voice (male or female) guides you in gentle meditation, laid over a menagerie of soothing nature-inspired soundscapes, including “Tropic of Capricorn,” “Forever Lake,” and “In the Wind,” as well as relaxation classics such as “Ocean” and “Rain.” Though — to maximize effectiveness — the app promises you’ll get a unique version each time. While the voice and music fade out, Pzizz runs throughout the night to help keep you asleep, and you can set an alarm for the morning. There’s also a “nap” mode, for short-term resting, and a “focus” mode, for productivity.
A very limited version is free for iOS or Android; the full Pzizz Pro membership, with all the dreamscapes, is $9.99/month or $99.99/year after a 1-week free trial.
Ruya: Ruya is not exactly a sleep app, in the traditional sense, but rather a “game of tranquility” with a soundtrack that will “pull you into a state of peaceful flow.” Peaceful flow is excellent for getting ready to sleep; it is the opposite of my regular flow, which I would describe as “generally panicked.” It is, at its core, a matching game, but a peaceful one, with surreal graphics and a pleasantly melancholy soundtrack. It is oddly addictive, but never stressful, and requires just enough focus to quiet my mind before bed. Probably, it is better, on some level, not to stare at a screen at all, but if you’re going to do it — I am going to do it — Ruya is about as calming as it gets.
Ruya is available for iOS and Android.
This is, of course, a small fraction of the possibilities. It does not, for example, include the pantheon of apps designed not to help you fall asleep, but to track the sleep you are getting. There is Sleep Cycle alarm clock (Free on iOS or Android, though it offers “deeper insights” with a paid subscription), an old standby among sleep apps, which analyzes and graphs the length and depth of your sleep, and then gently wakes you up when you’re in the “lightest possible sleep state” so you’ll feel maximally rested. There is Pillow (for iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch only; sorry Android). There is Sleep Time. There are so many that soon they will run out of names for them all.
But what if you don’t want to just monitor your sleep or fall asleep? What if you want to actually — in real time — change your sleep while you are sleeping? Perhaps a smart mattress is just the thing.
What exactly your smart mattress can do depends somewhat on which one you get, but the idea is that the bed itself monitors your sleep, and then, using the information, makes physical adjustments depending on your (unconscious) needs. Eight Sleep, for example, has sensors embedded in their covers to track your movement, breathing, and heart rate. (It also knows when to wake you up, comes with “dual zone” heat controls, and connects with other WiFi-enabled devices in your home; prices start at $699). ReST Bed ($2,799 and up) tweaks its own firmness during the night based on your sleep data using a “whisper quiet pump.” An Italian manufacturer called Magniflex, reports Fortune, sells a $20,000 MagniSmartech bed that can “automatically sense if someone is snoring and adjust their position to stop them without waking them.”
Maybe, someday in the future, none of us will ever snore again, on account of our brilliant mattresses, and our children will ask us what snoring was, and we will not know what to tell them. Until that day, I will be enjoying the sounds of Hidden Bali.
Rachel Sugar writes about culture and food. She lives in New York City.