Friday, February 11, 2011

App Review: Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock for iPhone

"Good morning!"
To me, on most days, that simple phrase is the most oxymoronic way for someone to greet me. I'm certainly not a morning person. In fact, often the hardest part of my day is getting out of bed on time. Granted, part of the blame should fall to me because I frequently stay up later than I should on 'school nights', but mostly I blame my bed for being so darn comfy. I should preface this review by saying that I typically set 3 alarms every morning and usually only get up after the third. On many occasions where I've only had a few hours of sleep before I have to get up again, my brain will decide all on it's own not to consciously register the sound of the alarm, but rather turn the alarm off and continue sleeping. This presents me with a rather obvious problem, and so to deal with the issue I of course opted to find a technological solution to my problem versus just going to bed a littler bit earlier because after all, even Nas knows that sleep is the cousin of death.
Sufficed to say, I need all the help I can get in the morning to get out of bed, so when I heard about this app I was very excited to try it out.

Before getting into the app, there are a few things you should know about sleep cycles. This is a little excerpt from a study by Applied Cognitive Studies.
"For our purposes, it suffices to say that one sleep cycle lasts an average of 90 minutes: 65 minutes of normal, or non-REM (rapid eye movement), sleep; 20 minutes of REM sleep (in which we dream); and a final 5 minutes of non-REM sleep. The REM sleep phases are shorter during earlier cycles (less than 20 minutes) and longer during later ones (more than 20 minutes). If we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up, on the average, after a multiple of 90 minutes–for example, after 4 1/2 hours, 6 hours, 7 1/2 hours, or 9 hours, but not after 7 or 8 hours, which are not multiples of 90 minutes."

Essentially, what this tells us is that it's actually better (will leave you feeling more well rested) to get LESS sleep provided you're asleep for a multiple of 90 minutes and that the key to being well rested is not how much you sleep, but how many complete sleep cycles you complete.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock is a really nifty app that unlike most other apps on the market, has only one main purpose; to get you up on time. Though simple in premise, the way this app accomplishes the task is a bit more interesting than simply buzzing away incessantly when the time comes. After setting a 'wake-up window', Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock monitors your sleep patterns all night long as you move between lighter and more deep sleep cycles and will wake you up when you reach a point of light sleep within your target 'wake-up window'. The benefit of this system is that you're never startled out of a deep sleep by your alarm; leaving you feeling better rested right when you wake up and allowing you to get up out of bed after the first alarm.

How does it do this you ask? Sleep Cycle doesn't attach to your body in any way, nor does it scan your brain with some sort of patented Apple mind ray. The app works by tracking your movement as you sleep by way of the accelerometers built into your iPhone. Simply plug in your iPhone's power adapter and place it face-down on the corner of your mattress (not under your pillow or mattress). Plugging the phone in before bed is a must in this case as the app is constantly monitoring your movements, and consequently, using up battery power. As you move into a period of light sleep, you tend to toss and turn more than when you're in a period of deeper sleep. The app records these movements and over the course of the night, builds a graph of your sleep patterns and wakes you up when you reach a point of light sleep within your target time. If you don't reach a period of light sleep within your target window, the app will sound the alarm automatically at the end of the window. The developers recommend a period of at least 30 minutes to ensure you'll be at a point of light sleep when the alarm goes off.

Sleep Cycle lets you choose from the app's list of calming and soothing alarm sounds, or you can customize your sound by choosing a song from your iPhone's library. Recently I've been waking up to the sultry sounds of Phoenix's "North" but the possibilities are endless and half the fun of setting the alarm is choosing what song you think will serenade you out of sleep the best. The app will also track your sleep patterns and you can view daily graphs that show you how your sleep patterns change throughout the night.


It's very interesting to have a look at what you were up to while you were asleep. As you can see from the screenshot above, I had a much more restless sleep on Wednesday compared to Tuesday and I can remember feeling much more well rested on Wednesday morning than I did on Thursday morning. When using this app, it almost feels as though you're already awake by the time the alarm goes off, and it's much easier to get out of bed.

I highly recommend this app to anyone who has trouble getting up in the morning or to those of you who tend to feel tired throughout the day even though you're putting in the hours under the sheets. The app is available from th iTunes App Store for $0.99, and in my mind is quite the bargain.

Have a look at the developer's site here for more info.

Sweet dreams!