I wish I was being paid for this review. I’m not.
One of the most horrible sounds of the modern world is the noise of a really harsh alarm going off early in the morning. It’s a cruel and unforgiving noise that heralds a difficult, unwelcome task; starting another day. That’s why I used to set my alarm to nice, soft noises. Unfortunately, even they used to protrude into my sleep with a certain jarring nastiness, so I tried something else entirely: Sleep Cycle.
Sleep Cycle is an app available through Google Play or the App Store. iPhone and Android users can both download it. It is completely free to get and use, but comes with the option to pay for a premium subscription (about $30 per year) and get more features. Back when I got it, no subscription was required, just a one-off payment, so I have the premium version at a much lower cost.
Sleep Cycle is based on the way we, well, sleep in cycles. We move between light sleep, slow-wave sleep and REM state.
In slow-wave sleep we are deeply asleep. This period is crucial to physical healing after injury or sickness, and vital in memory formation. We are more likely to remember dreams that we have in the slow-wave state than in REM, and sleep-walking and sleep-eating occurs during this period.
In REM sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement, our eyeballs will move rapidly and we will have vivid and more chaotic dreams. Most dreams occur during the REM state.
A cycle of light –> slow wave –> occurs roughly every 90 minutes. Sleep Cycle uses an accelerometre and microphone to monitor your movements throughout the night and track them on a little graph.
In some ways, the app works like any other alarm. You tell it when you want to wake up, and you will be woken up more or less at that time.
What makes it different is that Sleep Cycle will then analyse your sleep for a period of time just before that alarm time (the default is 30 minutes but I have mine set to 15), and, when it thinks you are as close to waking as you’re going to get, it goes off. The theory goes that, by waking when you are closest to consciousness, you will be less tired and grumpy. A normal alarm will wake you whether you are ready to be woken or not and doesn’t care if you don’t like it. Sleep Cycle will gently nudge you awake with music that starts super quietly and gradually gets louder, to bring you gently out of your slumbers. It’s a much nicer way to wake up.
And yes, you can snooze it, but science says you shouldn’t.
In addition to the gentleness of being woken like this, I also like Sleep Cycle for its statistics. I love a good graph.
Sleep Cycle plots your sleep movements throughout the night and graphs how close you are to waking at any given point. It tells you the hours you spent in bed, its estimation of your sleep quality from 1-100, and how many minutes you snored. It also has a step counter, which is really not that accurate, particularly if you don’t carry your phone with you everywhere (I don’t).
On the picture above, you will see a note that says “Woke up” with a little white face next to it. That meant I felt “meh” when I woke – neither bad nor good. You’ll also see my heart-rate when I woke just under that.
As you can see, in this picture, those options aren’t there. Those are some of the differences between free and premium.
On the free version, you can measure sleep, get the cool graphs, have all the nice alarm tones, and hit snooze. On the premium version, you can also enter notes, such as whether you drank tea or coffee, if you worked out, and if your day was stressful. You get the mood on wake-up. iPhones (sorry, Android users), also get heart-rate measuring, weather tracking (and analysis of the effect of weather on your sleep), and integration with Philips Hue lights, if you have any.
For me, it was worth getting premium at whatever low cost I got it for back in 2015 or 2016, whenever it was. Now, with the subscription, I probably wouldn’t bother – the important stuff is all free. The extras are cool, but I don’t think they are entirely accurate (drinking caffeinated tea gives me a better sleep?). If you have money to burn and are really interested in sleep analytics, go for it, but I don’t think there is a huge amount of point for the average person who just wants an alarm with a bit extra.
So, go forth, download the free version, and see what your sleep looks like!
Do you have a preferred way of waking up? Do you disagree and think Premium Sleep Cycle is worth the money? Let me know in the comments.