Dr. Day is a cardiologist and Medical Director of Heart Rhythm Services at his practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Stanford University. He is board certified in Cardiology and Cardiac Electrophysiology.
5 Smartphone Apps to Fix Sleep Problems
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a smartphone in the bedroom is one of the main reasons why most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. While most experts blame smartphones for sleep problems, I personally believe smartphones can actually fix sleep problems.
How My iPhone Helps Me Sleep
As most readers know, I have struggled with sleep for most of my life. A few years ago, I finally figured out that if I could just do five things religiously, I could finally fix my sleep problems.
What has worked for me, may or may not help you. If these five tips don’t help you, keep reading as there are many more tips later in this article.
1. Strict bedtime of 10 pm
My iPhone helps me keep a strict bedtime of 10 pm. The blue light coming from my iPhone automatically turns off at 9 pm. I also get a reminder at 9:45 pm to get ready for bed.
2. 20,000 steps daily
The pedometer app makes sure I stay physically active throughout the day. I have found that as long as I can hit 20,000 steps daily, my body and mind are finally tired enough to go to sleep by 10 pm.
I realize that these are a lot of steps and are beyond the reach of most people. Fortunately, most of my patients only need half these steps to accomplish the same thing.
3. Eliminate to-dos
I used to lay in bed at night worrying about all the to-dos hanging over my head. Fortunately, my phone has fixed this. By using my iPhone to eliminate, delegate, or reschedule all to-dos prior to leaving the hospital in the evening, my mind is then free to sleep knowing that everything is under control.
4. No caffeine after 12 pm
I love dark chocolate. The darker the better.
The only problem is that if I have any after 12 pm, it doesn’t love me back. As I am very sensitive to caffeine, I can only eat dark chocolate in the morning if I want any shot at sleeping at night. Fortunately, iPhone reminders help me to avoid any dark chocolate later in the day.
5. Don’t drink in the evening unless dehydrated
Once I hit age 40, I found that I often had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Sadly, once this happens, I rarely can get back to sleep. Once again, my iPhone reminds me not to drink anything in the evening unless I’m dehydrated.
My International Sleep Experiment
While these four rules have helped me fix my sleep problems, these rules only work when I am living in harmony with my natural circadian rhythm. Basically, this is when my daily sleep/wake schedule is linked to the sun.
Unfortunately, as soon as I travel internationally, I struggle with sleep again. With this in mind, I tried an international sleep experiment this past weekend.
Last Thursday, I flew China to speak at a cardiology conference in Beijing. As I was only scheduled to be in China a total of 41 hours, I kept my body on Utah time. This experiment consisted of scheduling all my lectures and meetings either before noon or after dinner China time.
As noon in China correlated with 10 pm in Salt Lake City, I could keep my same Utah 10 pm bedtime. Thus, when the noon hour arrived in China, I made my hotel room as dark as possible and went to sleep. Even my flights were timed so that I could sleep at 10 pm Utah time.
The only downside was that I lived like a vampire in China. I was up all night and slept during the day. Fortunately, I have been to Beijing so many times that I have already seen the sights.
Results of My International Sleep Experiment
I’m happy to report that my international sleep experiment worked well. I didn’t have any jet lag or sleep challenges when I returned home.
However, I did feel the constant pull of my body trying to adjust to a new circadian rhythm in China. I’m sure that another day or two in Beijing would have completely thrown off my experiment.
The Daylight Savings Time Heart Attack Risk
Most people are completely unaware of the risk of not living in harmony with your natural circadian rhythm. Even just an hour change can have significant consequences.
For example, a recent study of 42,060 heart attack victims in Michigan found that the one extra hour of sleep you get in the fall, when the US goes off daylight savings time, decreases your heart attack risk by 21%. Conversely, going back on daylight savings time in the spring, when Americans lose an hour of sleep, increases your heart attack risk by 24%.
The key message of this, and other studies, is that throwing off your circadian rhythm by even just an hour can affect your heart. When people are given more time to sleep, the risk goes down. Likewise, when sleep is compromised, your heart attack risk goes up.
Is it any wonder then that shift workers are at such high risk of a heart attack? As most shift workers live outside of their natural circadian rhythm, their hearts are always under stress.
Fortunately, for most US blog readers, on Sunday, November 6th we go off of daylight savings time again. So enjoy that extra hour of sleep as well as a 24% lower risk of a heart attack on Monday, November 7th.
Circadian Rhythm and Longevity
While there are limited studies on longevity and circadian rhythm, one study caught my attention. Brazilian researchers want to find out if there was a link between health, longevity and sleep.
To answer this question, these Brazilian researchers dissected the sleep patterns of Sao Paulo’s healthiest old people. The average age of these people was 92 with some as old as 105.
Researchers had these healthiest old people in Sao Paulo sleep several nights in their laboratory hooked up to all sorts of monitoring equipment. They also ran many blood tests and other experiments.
At the end of this massive undertaking, the only thing these Brazilian researchers could find was that the healthiest old people kept a strict bedtime and awakening time. Thus, their conclusion was that living in sync with your circadian rhythm is a key factor to longevity. Even if your goal is not to live to 100, studies show that staying within your circadian rhythm may prevent a heart attack or cancer.
5 Smartphone Apps to Fix Sleep Problems
Just as smartphones may rob you of precious sleep, they may also bless you with restorative sleep. As your health and your heart depending on “living in rhythm,” let me share five smartphone apps to fix sleep problems.
1. Bedtime App
In my experience, the number one reason why most of my patients are chronically sleep deprived is because they go to bed too late. Many people feel like staying up late is their only chance to have a little time for themselves.
What people fail to realize is that sleep deprivation decreases productivity so you will probably be even more behind the next day. Indeed, studies show that strict bedtimes improve sleep and decrease daytime fatigue.
To help you maintain a consistent bedtime, Apple has now included bedtime management software as a standard feature with ios 10. With “bedtime,” you can set your bedtime with reminders, program how long you want to sleep, and see your sleep analysis. For Android users, I like the free Sleepy Time app to accomplish the same thing.
2. Do Not Disturb App
When it comes to sleep disruption, you don’t need a study to tell you that getting awakened is bad for your health. Fortunately, both the iPhone and the Android phone have a Do Not Disturb built in feature.
The way this works is simple. You can program your phone so that it never awakens you unless it is an emergency from a specific person. For example, you could program this feature so that the only reason why your phone will ever make a sound or vibrate in the night is if a child or aged parent is in trouble.
3. Blue Light Blocking Apps
In the last few years, there have been many studies showing that blue light from electronic devices stimulates your brain and blocks sleep. For example, studies show that even a quick peak at your phone could delay sleep by 30 minutes.
Fortunately, the iPhone now has a built in feature, called Night Shift, which blocks blue light from the screen. This is fully programmable so that it can turn on or off at any time.
For me, I have the blue light on my iPhone automatically shut off at 9 pm. For Android users, you can download the free Night Shift Blue Light app to do the same thing.
4. White Noise App
Noises can also rob you of priceless sleep. The neighbor’s dog, or your child using the bathroom, could make it so that you can’t get back to sleep.
Fortunately, there is a solution to drown out noises. Replace variable noise with a constant low level of noise, called white noise.
Studies show that white noise, even in an intensive care unit (ICU) setting, can improve sleep for patients. What works for ICU patients can also help you at home.
While neither the iPhone or the Android has a built in white noise feature, there are many free white noise apps that you can download. One example is White Noise Free. This app is available for both iPhone and Android users.
5. Pedometer App
Studies show that people sleep 35% better, and have less daytime fatigue, with daily exercise. While I need 20,000 steps daily to sleep well at night, most of my patients only need 10,000 to get the same result.
Just be careful not to exercise vigorously right before bed as this could delay sleep. While you can use the built in pedometers on smartphones, personally I like the Pacer app which is free for both iPhone and Android users.
Take Home Message
The key take away from this article is that to maximize health and longevity, live within your body’s natural circadian rhythm. If you are not sure what that is, just follow the sun. Even throwing your body off an hour could put you at increased risk of a heart attack.
While smart phones have been blamed for our sleep crisis, the same technology also exists to improve your sleep. Try the 5 apps in this article to fix sleep problems.
Does your smartphone help or hurt your sleep? Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.