What to Look For in a Sleep App & Podcast

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Fairfax Neonatal Associates

By Dr. Aarthi Vemana, Pediatric & Adolescent Sleep Center

There are many different apps that promise to help you improve your sleep habits, but which one is the best one for you? Start by considering what you are looking for. For example, if you’re interested in learning new relaxation, meditation, or mindfulness skills, look for programs, books, and apps to help you learn those skills.

If you already have other tools for meditation and breathing, then look for sleep podcasts that will help support falling asleep at bedtime. If you’re looking for something more structured than a podcast but aren’t in the market for a comprehensive meditation and sleep app, then look for guided meditation or relaxation exercises, such as books, audiobooks, or podcasts.

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Since sleep is a part of a healthy lifestyle, many apps designed to promote mindfulness will also have sections on helping with sleep. These apps will help you learn deep breathing techniques, meditation exercises, and mindfulness skills. They will also include sleep stories, soothing music, and soundscapes (including white and pink noise) which can be played at bedtime.

Many of the most popular apps are available with a subscription. Some offer free versions, including a few of their features, and most have a free trial option. Some sleep apps are available for free download (occasionally requiring in-app purchases). These free apps are usually designed specifically for sleep and may not offer other features such as mindfulness training.

While using meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness helps to treat insomnia, it’s not always easy to put those practices to use. While you’re working on building those skills, you may want to look at more passive distraction methods to help you fall asleep more quickly at bedtime. Reading books is a great tool, but what can you do after the lights are turned off?

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While listening to audiobooks may help some people, apps, and podcasts designed for sleep are usually narrated in soft, soothing, monotone voices. Some will include instructions for the listener to do some deep breathing or muscle-relaxing exercises. These podcasts can range from a narrator whispering stories to hypnosis and bedtime stories (like Good Night Rebel Girls). You can find these podcasts through a music streaming or audiobook subscription service or a quick internet search.

Now let’s talk about some logistics. All the above options will need to be used through an electronic device (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop), so you’ll need to make sure you’re minimizing blue light exposure, as well as time spent on the device, so you’re not tempted to use the device to play games, watch shows, etc. To limit blue light exposure, set your screen to low brightness, use the blue light filter and/or grayscale option. You can also set up times where a “Do Not Disturb” or “Bedtime” setting automatically turns on, which can filter out unnecessary alerts and put restrictions on some apps. You can use the speaker on your phone or device, use headphones, or an external speaker.

Some speakers will allow you to use voice commands which help minimize the use of your device. Some apps and speakers will also have sleep timers or allow you to set up a playlist or queue. Using a meditation exercise that can be repeated throughout the night may be helpful for people who wake up in the middle of the night and need help falling back asleep.

Fortunately, there are a lot of helpful resources available to help if you have trouble falling asleep. Remember, these should be used along with good sleep hygiene practices! If you’re still struggling with insomnia, reach out to a sleep provider for help.

As the only American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredited sleep center in Northern Virginia, the specialists at Fairfax Neonatal Associates’ Pediatric & Adolescent Sleep Center evaluate and treat sleep-related problems specific to pediatrics and adolescents. Patients, ages 20 and younger, are seen by board-certified Pediatric Pulmonologists who are dedicated to fully treating a wide range of sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and more.

Learn more about Dr. Aarthi Vemana, this post’s author here, and all of Fairfax Neonatal Associates’ providers here. Connect with their Pediatric & Adolescent Sleep Center online or by calling (703) 226-2290.

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