The Best Sleep Tracking Apps for iPhone

Ever seen the sky turn green? I have. Good ol' Nebraska... Photo by Zooey | CC

Ever seen the sky turn green? I have. Good ol’ Nebraska… Photo by Zooey | CC

I got interested in sleep tracking when I wanted to figure how badly I was really sleeping. Before I had children, I slept like the dead. I’d routinely sleep through classic Nebraska storms with thunder, lightning, hail… the works.

Unfortunately, since having my oldest child, I’ve turned into a light sleeper, and struggled with insomnia and disturbed sleep as a result. And she was a good sleeper almost from the start. Since the arrival of my younger child, who is a terrible sleeper, my sleep problems have only gotten worse.

I’ve tried several different sleep tracking apps for iPhone, and here are my conclusions.

Note: most of these apps have alarms, but my alarm clock is the two year old that crawls into bed with me most mornings around 5:30 AM, so I’ve never tested the alarms on any of them, only the sleep tracking features.

Edit 11/14/2014 – added Sleep Better app by Runtastic

Sleep101

Sleep101 (AppStore Link) Sleep101
Developer: Zeo Inc.
Rated: 4+4
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Sleep101 was the first free sleep tracking app I tried. The company that built it has since gone out of business and the app is no longer supported, but it does still work. Sleep101 has several features that I really loved, like estimating what time you actually fall asleep, instead of simply the time you went to bed and turned the app on. It also tells you how much time you spent in deep vs disrupted sleep.

Unfortunately, after using it for several days, I wasn’t that impressed with the app’s accuracy. It missed several periods when I was not just disturbed, but awake and moving around. It also used nearly all of the battery in a single night. So while this app is feature-rich and might have been great with ongoing development to improve its accuracy and battery use, I can’t recommend it as-is.

SleepCycle

Sleep Cycle alarm clock (AppStore Link) Sleep Cycle alarm clock
Developer: Northcube AB
Rated: 4+5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

If its consistent spot on Apple’s top paid and highest grossing charts are any indication, this is probably the most popular sleep tracking app, and for good reason. It’s a beautifully designed app with lots of useful features, such as the ability to add “sleep notes” to track the effect of specific things, such as caffeine and exercise, on your sleep, and your mood the next morning.

My issue with Sleep Cycle was simply that I don’t sleep in “cycles” anymore. (At least not to the extent that the app could pick up.) On nights when I’m undisturbed, I still sleep like the dead, barely moving for 6-9 hours. On nights when I am disturbed, the graph just shows spike after spike, but because of the sinuous curves employed on SleepCycle’s visualization, it’s difficult to estimate exactly when and for how long the disturbance affected my sleep. The sleep quality algorithm also seemed a little odd, as it would give me numbers in excess of 90% even on mornings when I woke up feeling wretched.

Overall, I can see why this app is so popular and highly regarded, and I absolutely loved its sleep notes and mood tracking features, but it just didn’t work for me.

Sleep Time

Sleep Time+ : Sleep Cycle Smart Alarm Clock, Sleep Tracker with Sleep Cycle Analysis and Soundscapes for Better Sleep (AppStore Link) Sleep Time+ : Sleep Cycle Smart Alarm Clock, Sleep Tracker with Sleep Cycle Analysis and Soundscapes for Better Sleep
Developer: Azumio Inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: $1.99 Download from the App Store

To be honest, I tried this one only briefly, because I found it after I was already using my favorite sleep tracking app (see below). I gave it a test run of a night or two to see if I liked it better, didn’t, and deleted it. It has the same issue with curvy graphs as Sleep Cycle (though the color coding makes it a bit more useful), and I simply didn’t find the graphs to be that accurate. If you’d like to test it out yourself, there is a free version with limited features that you can use to try it out before shelling out $1.99 for the full version.

MotionX 24/7: Sleep Cycle Alarm, Snore, Apnea, Heart Rate Monitor, Weight Loss, Activity Tracker

Sleeptracker® 24/7 standalone sleep tracker, alarm (AppStore Link) Sleeptracker® 24/7 standalone sleep tracker, alarm
Developer: Fullpower Technologies, Inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: $0.99 Download from the App Store

I haven’t tried this app, but it’s inexpensive and very well reviewed. It also offers activity tracking such as counting steps.

and now, drumroll…

My Favorite Sleep Tracking iPhone App

(Bonus, it’s free!)

SleepBot

SleepBot - Smart Cycle Alarm with Motion & Sound Tracker (AppStore Link) SleepBot - Smart Cycle Alarm with Motion & Sound Tracker
Developer: SleepBot LLC
Rated: 4+4
Price: Free Download from the App Store

SleepBot is my favorite sleep tracking app for iPhone because it’s the most accurate representation of my sleep habits (or lack thereof). The graph is both color coded and spiky, rather than curvy, so it gives a clearer picture of exactly when the disturbance started and how long it lasted. On nights when I feel like I’m thrashing around and sleeping badly, the graph shows me thrashing around and sleeping badly, and on nights when I go to sleep quickly and wake up feeling like a new person, the graph shows little or no movement all night. The battery drain isn’t excessive either – about 20% if I put my phone on airplane mode overnight.

sleepbot

How I slept last night (not bad at all)

In addition to motion tracking, SleepBot also offers a sound tracking feature that allows you to play back specific parts of the night to see if you talk in your sleep, snore, suffer from sleep apnea, etc. but I’ve never used this feature. However, it’s gotten some interesting press from people who’ve claimed it demonstrated potential paranormal activity (doors slamming mysteriously), as well as people who’ve successfully used it to diagnose external disturbances, such as mice.

Another feature of SleepBot is the ability to set a goal to sleep a certain number of hours every night. The app will then let you know if you’re running a deficit for the week, and by how much. This feature can be eye-opening on weeks when you’re going to bed too late or getting up too early, but I think it would be more useful if there was a way to pause tracking if, for example, you get up to go to the bathroom, nurse a baby, or get a drink of water. Especially if you have very disturbed sleep, such as a mother with a breastfeeding newborn, you either have to leave the tracker running and record much more sleep than you’re actually getting, then simply eyeball the chart to get a true estimate, or end your session when you get up, start an new one when you lie down, and end up with a bunch of different short sessions per night, which is less useful if you want to get a visual picture of the whole night’s sleep.

Additionally, though I prefer the actual sleep tracking of SleepBot, I do think SleepCycle offers more actionable information about how to improve your sleep.

For example, if you’re using SleepBot, you’re given the opportunity to rate your sleep and add freeform notes when you wake up and stop the tracker. Although this is a nice feature, I personally preferred SleepCycle’s sleep notes feature, which is less flexible but enables graphs that show the effects of different types of sleep aids and disturbances (such as caffeine, stress, and exercise) on your sleep quality. Thanks to SleepCycle’s mood tracking feature, it also offers information about how your sleep quality affects your mood in the morning. SleepBot’s freeform notes are helpful, but SleepCycle’s graphs do a better job of helping you recognize patterns. On the other hand, if the thing that is disturbing or improving your sleep isn’t covered by SleepCycle’s pre-defined options, maybe the freeform notes would be more helpful.

Overall, though SleepBot is my personal favorite, I think most people would be equally happy with either SleepBot or SleepCycle. If, like me, you’re frequently up as a result of external disturbances, such as toddlers who don’t believe in sleep, full bladders, or street noises, you might find SleepBot more accurate, but if you’d like help recognizing how lifestyle choices affect your sleep, SleepCycle is probably a better bet.

Sleep Better – added 11/14/2014

Sleep Better - Sleep Cycle Tracker & Alarm Clock (AppStore Link) Sleep Better - Sleep Cycle Tracker & Alarm Clock
Developer: runtastic
Rated: 4+3.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

sleepbetterappruntasticSleep Better is the brainchild of Runtastic, the respected fitness app developer. Like the other apps featured here, it offers sleep tracking and a smart alarm with a fairly basic feature set that includes sleep efficiency analysis and a record of your mood when you wake up. If you pay for the full version, you can also get dream notes and some additional stats and trackers, such as moon phase analysis and the ability to track how factors such as stress, caffeine, and workouts affect your sleep, as well as additional ringtones for the alarm and more.

I was impressed by the app’s attractive user interface, but less so by its motion sensor. On several of my test nights, it showed that I was in light sleep for nearly the entire night. I plan to experiment for a few more nights (and try different placements for my phone), but at this point SleepBot continues to have the motion sensor that seems to reflect my movements most accurately. Sleep Better’s attractive interface and advanced feature set (in the paid version) should offer strong competition for SleepCycle, however.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Checked this one out under the impression that it also had a built-in sleep tracker, but it seems that it actually uses the SleepTime app for that, and I prefer SleepBot. […]

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