Drifting off to dream land with a little help from your smartphone

(WXYZ) - Forget counting sheep!  Now you can use your smartphone to help you sleep, with oodles of apps that claim to help you snooze, or even track the quality of your rest.  But, don't the sleep experts suggest you power down before lying down for the night?

Voice 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," Reyns said.  "Sometimes the hours get a little crazy."

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

"Apps help me with my sleep in a couple of different ways.  You know, the one that I use mainly, it has a feature that is kind of a gradual alarm," Reyns said.  "It also has a way to estimate my sleep based on how much I'm in a deep sleep."

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

CNET's Senior Associate Editor Sharon Vaknin said, "the sleep aid apps can actually track your movements by using your smartphone's built in accelerometer and what the accelerometer does is detect motion.  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 CDC has called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, with as many as 70 million Americans suffering from sleep problems.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine said, "we live in a toxic environment for sleep, and people really don't prioritize sleep."

Dr. Watson says short 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, they're not able to diagnose sleep illness and they're certainly not able to treat it."

He recommends going to bed in a dark room with no electronics.  But, in a world where so many are reluctant to unplug, the apps can have some benefits.

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

Scott says he can't afford to miss client calls, so he has no plans to completely power down his phone before he slumbers.  But, says his sleep app helps him focus on quality rest.

"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," Reyns said.

If you do decide to try one of these sleep apps, CNET's Sharon Vaknin has some tech tips: keep your phone unplugged because tracking apps can use up to 30 percent of your battery life.  Also, keep your phone in a place where air will circulate, not under a pillow, to prevent it from overheating.

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