Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, yet many of us don't get enough sleep. Our habits and our lifestyle are often related to our sleep deficit. Too much caffeine, nicotine or alcohol, late snacks, hard work, stress, looking at the phone, computer or TV screens until the second we go to bed, they all can affect how we sleep.
But once we hit the alarm in the morning, we probably won't blame our habits for our sleep deprivation and for feeling grumpy and moody, arguing with our significant other, driving more carelessly, or performing poorly at work.
Furthermore, if we kept ignoring the signs warning us that we lack the quality sleep, we might put ourselves at risk of developing chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Wouldn't it be nice if the alarm clock that wakes us in the morning can also tell how well we've slept?
There are many tools, particularly mobile apps for Android and iPhone, that can do this by analyzing your sleep, waking you up at the ideal time and telling you your sleeping patterns, which can help you identify reasons for not sleeping well or enough.
We have already reviewed one sleep tracking and analysis alarm clock named Pillow app, which works as a handy sleep tracker on iOS devices, but not on Android.
The app we review today is available on both platforms and it's called Sleep Cycle. This app primarily functions as an intelligent alarm clock (as its creators call it) that analyzes your sleep and promises to wake you up during your lightest sleep phase, so you would wake up feeling rested instead of groggy and disoriented.
The app is no-frills when it comes to basic alarm functionality. You set the time you want to wake up at, and let the app take care of the rest, which happens 'under the hood' (of course, the app lets you fine tune some of the settings).
Upon starting the app it will take you through the brief tour, or more precisely few panels explaining how the app works. You'd need to enable the app to use your microphone and send notifications for alarm. After you've finished, you can proceed to the next page where you can set your alarm clock.
To use Sleep Cycle functionalities, simply set an alarm for the absolute latest you want to wake up, plug in your phone and place it on the bed or on the nightstand. You don't need to place it under your pillow as some similar apps suggest.
As you sleep, the app detects your movement and noise throughout the night using the sensors in your phone (the accelerometer inside my iPhone in this case) to determine in which sleep phase (deep sleep, light sleep, or wake phase) you're currently are.
Sleep Cycle app will trigger the alarm during your lightest sleep within 30 minutes before the wake time you set. For example, if you set your alarm for 7:15 a.m., the app will monitor your movement and turn on the alarm when you're in the lightest phase of your sleep between 6:45 and 7:15.
This means that the app won't necessarily wake you up at 7:15 as you set, but it could be 7:00 one day, or 6:54 another, or whenever you're the most restless during the 30-minute frame. But, even if you're in the deepest sleep at 7:15 (the absolute latest time), the app would ignore that and the alarm would keep ringing until you're awake. This gradual approach is apparently the natural way to wake up and would help you feel more rested in the mornings.
This 30-minute time frame is a default value that can be changed in the settings to be between 90 and 10 minutes long. The app would try to wake you at the optimal time in your 'wake-up phase' during the time frame you set.
As soon as you set the alarm and hit the sack, the Sleep Cycle app starts keeping track of your sleep phases and it would do that throughout the night. It collects the data and displays it in the morning, including the graph featuring ups and downs that represent your sleep phases from being in a deep sleep to being awake.
The app also shows how much time you've spent in bed, the quality of your sleep in percents, and your snoring with the duration and the ability to listen how loud you snore (now you can be sure that your wife isn't lying about it).
Viewing sleep quality and listening to your snoring is available only if you purchase premium for $1.99/month or $9.99/year, which also unlocks other features, such as ability to view trends, track wake up moods, see how weather might affect your sleep, check your heart rate, pair the Sleep Cycle app with smart bulb, and add sleep notes that could help you identify behaviors and habits that may affect your sleep quality.
Besides these notes, I couldn't actually figure out how this app can actually help us track our sleeping habits, except for the duration of sleep and its phases.
It's obvious that we won't sleep well if we stayed late watching TV or if we had pizza or soda at 11:48 p.m. But, what if we didn't do any of that and we still can't sleep well? Sleep Cycle app doesn't provide any hints, even in the premium version. It's up to users to guess if their late snack or looking at the phone screen before bed caused their insomnia.
Users can export Sleep Cycle database in CSV format, which doesn't require a premium subscription, only an email account set. The app also includes reminders, but they won't remind you to set the alarm every night, which is quite strange.
To me, detecting snoring was actually a highlight of this app. Snoring – jokes aside – is often a true problem that can affect sleep quality. It may indicate that there could be some underlying health problem, such as sleep apnea, or cardiovascular or respiratory condition that requires medical attention.
It would be good if Sleep Cycle app makes the same recommendation for all people who snore. However, it doesn't. It just provides the data and let the users interpret them, which means that many of potential warning signs stay ignored.
I guess that shouldn't be a huge drawback because Sleep Cycle doesn't claim to be a medical app. It is an advanced alarm clock that tracks sleeping phases and provides users with data it does not interpret. It's worth giving it a shot, especially if you're interested in viewing your sleep cycles and ready to pay for premium because the free version is quite limited.
Benefit: All people who need an alarm clock that can also analyze and tell how well they sleep