Apple's 11 picks for sleep health apps

By Jonah Comstock
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In the Medical and Health and Fitness sections of Apple's app store, the company often creates curated lists around particular health or wellness areas. While the app store isn't transparent about its methodology, the list gives us an insight into what apps Apple is promoting and what apps consumers are seeing when they go looking for a particular kind of health app.

Sleep is an area of increasing interest to Apple, which has hired a number of sleep experts in the past and recently acquired sleep-tracking startup Beddit

Here are the nine apps Apple promotes in its "Sleep and Snooze" category in the app store.

Sleep Cycle alarm clock

Sleep Cycle provides both sleep monitoring, using the phone's microphone and accelerometer, and a smart alarm clock that uses that data to wake users at an optimal moment in their sleep cycle. A longtime player in the market, Sleep Cycle launched the first version of this app way back in 2009.

The app is free, but a premium subscription for $29.99 adds a slew of additional features like heart rate monitoring, longer term tracking of trends, and tools for monitoring other factors that might affect sleep or be affected by sleep, such as weather or mood.

Pillow: Sleep tracking & analysis alarm clock

Similar to Sleep Cycle, Pillow includes sleep tracking and analysis and a smart alarm clock. Pillow also integrates into different parts of the Apple ecosystem, working with both Apple Health and the Apple Watch, which can glean additional information via its heart rate tracker. 

The premium version of Pillow is just $4.99 and it unlocks personalized recommendations based on the data. Other premium features include more options for the alarm itself and "powernap modes" for tracking sleep during the day.

S+ by ResMed

The S+ app is one part of the S+ system, the first consumer product (launched in 2014) from medical device company ResMed, which has previously focused on clinical offerings for sleep apnea. In total, the platform includes a non-contact, cellular-enabled device that uses a motion sensor to detect respiration and movement without touching the body, an app, and a cloud-based analytics engine. The full system retails for $149, and the hardware is needed to use most app features.

To bed

While many of the apps on this list are feature-rich, incorporating many kinds of monitoring, analysis, and alarms, To bed is a little more minimalist, pairing a simple bedtime functionality with a striking visual design. Users simply tell the app their age and when they want to wake up, and it reminds them when they should go to bed. The app knows not to issue reminders on weekends, and can be notified of vacations or other breaks in a normal schedule.

Sleep ++

Though it offers a range of health tracking options, the Apple Watch doesn't have an official sleep tracker, likely due to the fact that most users charge their Watch at night. However, that hasn't stopped third parties from developing software that uses the sensors on the Watch, like the motion and heart rate sensors, to turn the wearable into a sleep tracker.

Sleep++ is one such app. The app tracks restful and restless sleep and tells the user when their best sleep was, as well as reporting exactly how many hours the user slept.

UP – Smart Coach for Health

UP Smart Coach, a companion app for the Jawbone UP wearable line, is admittedly a slightly awkward entry on the list, given that Jawbone has recently begun liquidation proceedings. For the moment, though, users can continue to use the app's features, which include automatic sleep tracking as well as activity and diet coaching. The app does not require a tracker to be used.

Wake Alarm Clock

The iPhone has long had an alarm clock as part of the clock app that comes standard with the device, but for some people, to paraphrase an old song, waking up is hard to do. So the Wake Alarm Clock has some extra features for the heavy-sleeping crowd: a progressive alarm that gets louder gradually, a shake mode that forces the user to to shake the phone and get their blood pumping and wake them up, and a “slap and flip” mode that makes the phone act more like an old-school alarm clock that you just have to hit to snooze.

Sleep Better - Sleep Cycle Tracker & Alarm Clock

Sleep Better is an app from Runtastic, an Austrian fitness app company that was bought by Adidas in 2015. Although Runtastic makes a wearable, the Orbit, this sleep tracker just uses the phone itself, placed on the user's bed near their pillow. It can track sleep duration, cycles, and efficiency. The app encourages users to track other parts of their life like exercise and diet to see how it affects their sleep, and integrates with Apple Health to facilitate those comparisons.

Sleep Genius​: Revive Cycle Alarm, Nap, Relaxation

Sleep Genius offers a research-based relaxation program to address insomnia and sleep issues. For $4.99 users can get access to four relaxation problems, a power nap program, and a sleep cycle-based alarm.

Beddit Sleep Monitor

Beddit, a recent Apple acquisition, makes a sleep monitoring device that goes under a user's sheet and over their mattress. The under-the-sheets strap uses ballistocardiography to measyre bed time, awakenings and bed exits, sleep time, sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), testing heart rate, sleep quality, and breathing movements, which also analyzes if the user is snoring. From there the strap uses Bluetooth to connect with the companion app, which offers personalized coaching, a wellness diary, a history of sleep recordings and a social sharing option. The app cannot be used without the device.

Smart Alarm Clock: sleep cycle & snoring recorder

FInally, Smart Alarm Clock is another alarm clock app that tracks sleep cycles. The app lets users select a time range in which they'd like to wake up and then uses an algorithm to track sleep cycles, waking the user up at the right moment. It also lets users monitor the sounds they make in their sleep.