Consumer Reports: Can your phone help you sleep?

About 80 percent of people polled in a Consumer Reports survey say they have problems sleeping at least once a week.

While many take sleep medication or see a therapist to get some rest, a growing number are turning to soothing apps on their phones.

So, do they work? Consumer Reports investigates.

Nanci Luis Hernandez has a lively family and a busy full-time job. She struggles every night to get enough sleep, often logging four hours or fewer before the alarm rings.

"I'll be lying in bed and my mind is just going a mile a minute," she said.

Over the counter meds have provided some relief, but they're not recommended for long-term use. Could Nanci get some help on her phone?

Sleep apps are booming. Downloads of several of them have increased 20 percent in the past year.

"While there has been some research on the effectiveness of sleep apps, it's preliminary at best," said Consumer Reports Health Editor Diane Umansky.

There are several different types of sleep apps available. White noise apps might help by blocking out that barking dog or those rowdy neighbors.

Other apps lead you through guided imagery, meditation, and even hypnosis to calm your racing mind.

A third type of app tracks your sleep patterns, like how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you spend in deeper stages of sleep.

And then there are apps that use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, similar to the techniques a trained therapist would use to help you fix bad sleep habits.

"The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that cognitive behavioral therapy is the best first step in treating chronic insomnia," Umansky said. "That's because it can help you change the thoughts and behaviors that can lead to sleep problems."

The cognitive behavioral apps may work best in conjunction with in person CBT therapy.

Nanci says worrying is what keeps her awake and she'd love to find a way to put her concerns aside so she can sleep.

Consumer Reports also notes that the fine print on most apps say that they are marketed as "entertainment" or "lifestyle" apps, not medical devices, meaning their effectiveness hasn't been evaluated by the FDA.
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