Drifting off to dreamland with help from your phone

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Forget counting sheep! Now you can use your smartphone to help you sleep, with apps that claim to help you snooze or even track the quality of your rest.

Voiceover actor Scott Reyns used to take sleep aids to help drift off to dreamland between recording sessions.

"As an actor, I'm basically on call. Sometimes the hours get a little crazy," Reyns said.

Now, he turns to technology when it's time to turn in.

"Apps help me with my sleep in a couple of different ways," Reyns said. "The one that I use mainly has a feature that is a kind of a gradual alarm."

Smartphone apps for sleep, like the one Reyns uses, are designed to help with relaxation techniques, provide white noise or even measure how well you rest with an alarm to wake you during the best part of your sleep cycle.

Sharon Vaknin is a senior associate editor at CNET , a technology information website.

"Sleep aid apps can actually track your movements by using your smartphone's built in accelerometer, and what the accelerometer does is detect motion," Vaknin said. "So it's become so easy and cheap to track your sleep that more and more people are jumping on board with the trend."

And more and more people could use the help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic with as many as 70 million Americans suffering from sleep problems.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson agrees.

"We live in a toxic environment for sleep, and people really don't prioritize sleep," he said.

Watson is with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine . He emphasized lack of sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity and even a shorter life.

And while apps can be useful tools to help you doze off or learn more about your sleep, Watson said they're not able to diagnose or treat a sleep illness.  

Watson recommended going to bed in a dark room with no electronics. But in a world where so many are reluctant to unplug, he said the apps have some benefits.

"It gets people thinking about their sleep and how to improve it, and that's good," Watson said. "The downside is that you bring this technology into the bedroom environment. It might introduce temptation to get on a social networking site or to text your friends, or you might receive phone calls at night."

Reyns said he can't afford to miss client calls, so he has no plans to completely power down before he goes to sleep.

˜The main thing for me is just making sure I get enough sleep, and sleep when I have to so that I'm ready to get behind the mic when I have to," he said.

If you do decide to try one of these sleep apps, CNET's Sharon Vaknin offered these tips: Keep your phone plugged in because tracking apps can use up to 30 percent of your battery life.

Also, keep your phone in a place where air will circulate and not under a pillow to prevent it from overheating.

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