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Sleep trackers: can smartphones improve sleep?

Sleep tracker apps are becoming increasingly popular, but they cannot replace sleep labs. Experts point out the advantages and disadvantages of sleep apps.

The alarm goes off and you haven't really slept yet. Was it just too late yesterday? Are you simply not an early riser? Or would it have been better if the alarm clock had rung ten minutes earlier and not wrenched you out of your dream?

Sleep tracker apps can do different things

So-called sleep tracker apps advertise that they can answer these questions - and they also promise better sleep. Do you keep your word? The apps can do different things: The simplest concept is the pre-installed iPhone clock app with the bedtime function. Since the update to iOS 10, it reminds smartphone owners to go to bed and measures the length of their sleep. The ad-supported Sleep Better app (iOS and Android) and the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock (iOS and Android), on the other hand, also measure sleep movements and the effects of factors such as exercise, stress and diet on sleep behavior. Sleep Better also offers a dream diary.

Smartphone detects movements during sleep

“As a rule, you should place your smartphone next to your pillow,” says Julia Struck from “Computerbild”, explaining how it works. "The app should recognize how you've slept from the movement of the mattress." This works via the acceleration sensor in the smartphone - even in flight mode, which many people switch to their phones at night so as not to be disturbed while they sleep.

Noises are also evaluated

In addition to motion analysis, apps such as SleepBot (iOS and Android) or Pillow (iOS) evaluate the noises in the bedroom. In this way, users should be able to find out whether they snore, talk in their sleep or sleep worse when it is noisy in the house or on the street. The apps present the results to the user in graphical form in the morning. In this way, he should be able to recognize whether his movements during sleep are related to noises. The SnoreLab app (iOS and Android) has specialized entirely in this function and wants to help the user to get under control of his snoring.

Understand sleep habits better with sleep trackers

Anyone who consistently uses a sleep tracker over a longer period of time will definitely find out more about their sleeping habits and how everyday life affects their sleep: do you sleep worse when the day was stressful, better after a glass of red wine or a long walk? How long does a good night's sleep have to last?

Sleep apps are not a substitute for the sleep laboratory

Prof. Ingo Fietze is a sleep researcher at the Berlin Charité and welcomes the fact that the apps make users aware of their sleep behavior: “On average, you should sleep 7.5 hours. With apps like this, you have control over your amount of sleep and at the end of the week you can see whether you have achieved your target. " However, he also points out that an app cannot be compared to an examination in a sleep laboratory, which also measures brain and muscle activity as well as eye movements.

Sleep phase alarm clock should make it easier to get up

A function that seems particularly tempting and is part of almost all sleep trackers is the so-called smart alarm. This does not wake the sleeper at a fixed time, but within a period of time: Instead of exactly 6:30 a.m., the mobile phone rings between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. - when sleep is easy. This makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning, the developers promise.

Best to wake up on your own

Alfred Wiater from the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM) takes a critical view of the function: "The best start to the day is certainly guaranteed if you wake up well rested." Anyone who has to get up one way or another when the alarm goes off will definitely make a good decision with the Smart Alarm: "Sleep trackers can definitely do more than just placebo." Nevertheless, they are often imprecise and can therefore sometimes even promote sleep disorders instead of counteracting them.

What happens to the collected data?

Julia Struck also has data protection concerns: “Anyone who uses sleep trackers on their smartphones should be aware that the data is being collected. The app knows how much you move and how long you sleep. " What exactly happens to the data later is not known. "However, the providers often secure extensive rights to them." In order to be able to use all functions of the apps, you often have to register and enter your date of birth, gender and name in addition to an email address.

Consult an expert in the case of chronic insomnia

Sleep trackers can therefore help to get to know your own sleep behavior and to sensitize you to a restful sleep. But that only applies to healthy people. If you have chronic sleep problems, apps are no substitute for medical treatment, emphasizes Prof. Fietze: "Permanently disturbed sleep needs the sleep expert."

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Source: dpa

| Updated: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 11:01 am

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