Wind down with the help of a meditation app or use your technology to track the quality of your rest.

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When it comes to sleep and smart devices, you might associate your electronics with blue light-induced insomnia and endless scrolling at 3 a.m. And while those are legitimate concerns, in this day and age, it's important to know how you can take advantage of your technology to actually help you catch some Zs. "We live in 2021," stresses Dr. Abhinav Singh, facility director of the Indiana Sleep Center. "We can't tell someone to unplug all of their devices, shut off their electricity, light a candle, and go to bed with ear plugs. That's not going to happen." Instead, you can be realistic about what's harmful, what's manageable, and what's beneficial when it comes to smart phones and sleep. To help you achieve better rest, we spoke with doctors and digital health experts about ways to use your smart devices to improve sleep habits.

Reduce or Modify Your Screen Time

Work on a healthier relationship with your smart phone before trying to use it to improve your sleep quality, Dr. Singh explains. It's important to understand how exactly these devices can disrupt your sleeping patterns—including whether blue light or addictive scrolling is keeping you awake. "Turning on evening mode and dulling screens helps in theory, but blue light is probably only 30 percent of the problem," Dr. Singh says, noting that 70 percent of the problem "is that we're jamming content into our eyes and brains, which is revving us up as we're trying to sleep." The issue with blue light is that it represses your body's melatonin production and delays tiredness, but if you're staying up late to play around with different apps anyway, reducing light exposure alone isn't really going to matter, Dr. Singh explains.

So, what are some ways you can modify your screen time to effectively combat insomnia? The first step Dr. Singh recommends is to set your smart phone to evening mode at the same time each night—specifically two to three hours before you plan to go to bed. In this same timeframe, you should also set your cell to "Do Not Disturb" (with permissions for phone numbers of select family members and friends to be able to reach you in an emergency) and disable any push notifications.

Rear View Of Young Woman Using Wellbeing Mobile App On Smart Phone
Credit: Oscar Wong / Getty Images

Use Audio Apps to Calm Your Mind

Dr. Singh especially recommends downloading audio-based apps, since they eliminate the visual complication altogether. You're likely familiar with the mediation apps Calm and Headspace—both of which Dr. Singh suggests to patients—but you can also give Insight Timer a try. "Insight Timer is an app with lots of 15-, 20-, and 30-minute guided voice lectures with music," Dr. Singh says. "It's nothing magical, but it anchors your mind. You're laying down and you're giving yourself a ritual to anchor your mind onto somebody's voice instead of letting it run in a million directions." Typical lectures help you settle into your body by directing you to progressively relax different parts of your frame.

Manage Sleep Apnea

People who are treating sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by irregular breathing, may find smart devices especially helpful, says Carlos M. Nunez, M.D., chief medical officer for ResMed, a company specializing in digital health and cloud-connected medical devices. ResMed recently launched a new CPAP machine (a device commonly used by sleep apnea patients) that is designed to be used with an app simultaneously. "The AirSense 11 CPAP includes a Personal Therapy Assistant through myAir, an online support program and app that uses data from your machine to let you know how you slept the night before and to track your progress," Dr. Nunez explains. "People who use myAir have been shown to sleep one hour longer per night on average during the first 90 days of CPAP therapy than other CPAP users."

In fact, any type of digital sleep tracker can help you follow through with routines and treatment plans to manage sleep apnea. "Research shows that adherence rates increase to as high as 87 percent when a patient is being monitored remotely by their doctor and tracks their own CPAP use on a smart phone app," Dr. Nunez says.

Collect Data You Can Share with Your Doctor

"If you're concerned about your health and the quality of sleep, talk to your doctor," Dr. Nunez says, adding that your healthcare provider might ask you to track your sleep with an app or fitness wearable (like a watch) with sleep tracking features. Thankfully, numerous digital tools are available so you can find the best fit for your sleep habits. If you need a jumping off point, start with Sleep Cycle, an app that analyzes your sleep patterns and monitors whether you're snoring or sleep talking. For wearable devices, Oura Ring tracks sleep patterns by recording motion and body heat to provide personalized advice based on gathered data, and Apple Watch records when you're sleeping with motion detecting technology.

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