Your cellphone is mostly your enemy when it comes to sleep.
But that clever little device can also hold apps designed to send you into dreamland — or at least let you know just how much good sleep you're getting.
And many of us can use some help. The National Sleep Foundation found that 43% of Americans ages 13 to 64 said they rarely or never got a good night's sleep on weeknights. And 60% said they had sleep problems every night or almost every night, including snoring, waking in the night or not feeling refreshed upon waking. Almost everyone surveyed, 95%, reported using a television, computer, video game or cellphone at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.
That's not good.
"The light from these devices reduces the levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps us fall asleep. People who use these devices take longer to fall asleep and spend less time in restorative REM [rapid-eye movement] sleep," said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
But sometimes a smartphone can actually help. There are countless apps that are meant to help send you off to sleep or help you keep track of your sleeping (and snoring) habits. So shop around. Here are a few we like:
The Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock app is hugely popular. It's described as "an intelligent alarm clock that analyzes your sleep and wakes you in the lightest sleep phase — the natural way to wake up feeling rested and relaxed." The app analyzes and graphs your sleep quality. It also lets you add sleep notes and wakes you at your lightest sleep time using soothing tones. Cost: $2.
Sleep Time Smart Alarm Clock combines an alarm clock and sleep tracker with sleep cycle analysis and soundscape for better sleep. It also calculates the right moment to wake you up. Cost: Free.
The Deep Sleep With Andrew Johnson app is for people who have trouble falling asleep. It provides a guided meditation designed to help you relax, featuring the voice of hypnotherapist Johnson, whose "soothing voice" is said to take you "on a journey to a more peaceful place, and leaves you deeply relaxed with a clear mind as you drift off to sleep." Cost: $2.99.
Yoga for Insomnia is based on traditional hatha yoga practices and incorporates poses that stretch and relax the body. According to its designers "it provides a structured series of yoga poses which aim to reduce insomnia." Cost: $2.99.
SnoreLab: This app is meant to allow you to record, measure and track your snoring and know your "Snore Score." According to the app designers SnoreLab "allows you to test the effectiveness of snoring remedies and measure the impact of special factors such as alcohol on your snoring." Cost: Free.
Sleep apps should not be seen as a substitute for seeing a physician, said Dr. Steven Y. Park, author of "Sleep, Interrupted": "The apps are basically noise recorders, and an app can't diagnose a sleep disorder. They also give patients a false sense of security when the app tells them they don't snore. But you can have sleep apnea without snoring as well."
The only way to measure sleep is to submit to a formal sleep study that measures brain activity while the patient is asleep, he said.
Despite such limitations, the doctor said the growing use of sleep apps has an upside.
"It tells me that people are concerned about their sleep quality and how much they sleep. And the results of their app readings might drive them to consult a physician and see if they have an underlying sleep disorder."