Consumer Watch: Can apps help you sleep better?

A remarkable number of people have difficulty sleeping.

In a recent national survey, some 80% say they have problems with sleeping at least once a week.

While many take sleep meds and some may even consult a therapist, a growing number are turning to soothing apps on their phones.

Nanci Luis Hernandez has a lively family and a busy full-time job.

And she struggles every night to get enough sleep - often logging 4 hours or fewer before the alarm rings.

"I'll be lying in bed and my mind is just going a mile a minute," she says.

Over-the-counter meds have provided some relief, but they're not recommended for long-term use.

Could Nanci get some help on her phone?

Sleep apps are booming.

Downloads of several of them have increased by 20% in the past year.

Diane Umansky, Consumer Reports Health Editor, says, "While there has been some research on the effectiveness of sleep apps, it's preliminary at best."

There are several different types of sleep apps available.

White noise apps might help by blocking out that barking dog or those rowdy neighbors.

Other apps lead you through guided imagery, meditation and even hypnosis to calm your racing mind.

A third type of app tracks your sleep patterns - like how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you spend in deeper stages of sleep.

And then there are apps that use cognitive behavioral therapy - or CBT - similar to the techniques a trained therapist would use to help you fix bad sleep habits.

"The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that cognitive behavioral therapy is the best first step in treating chronic insomnia. That's because it can help you change the thoughts and behaviors that can lead to sleep problems," says Umansky.

Cognitive behavioral apps may work best in conjunction with in-person CBT therapy.

Nanci says worrying is what keeps her awake and she'd love to find a way to put her concerns aside so she can sleep.
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