Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock

Sleep Cycle is a bio-alarm clock and sleep tracker which uses your iPhone’s accelerometer to monitor your movements through the night and wake you when its alarm will be least disruptive to your natural sleep cycle.

A bio-alarm is like the opposite of a snooze button. So instead of the scattershot approach of setting your traditional alarm for 6AM and hitting snooze until you absolutely must get out of bed at 6:30, you’ll set Sleep Cycle for 6:30AM and count on your iPhone to decide when during the preceding thirty minutes you are already most alert and close to wakefulness anyway. As a result, you only have to wake once (per day, sorry) at a closer-to-ideal time, helping you to start the morning feeling more refreshed and less groggy.

Sleep Cycle - Good Morning

Now everybody’s sleep and sleep patterns are different, and what helps one person is going to be useless to others (that’s right; get bent, valerian). So you shouldn’t read too much into it that Sleep Cycle’s bio-alarm works as advertised for me. Especially since I bought this more for the sleep graphs in the first place.

See, as a chronic insomniac and geek, I’m a firm believer that if I’m going to learn how to manage my particular set of sleep issues, then the first and most fun step is data collection. Compared with similar solutions like Sleeptracker watches ($179), the FitBit accelerometer ($99), and the upcoming iPhone accessory WakeMate ($49), and especially compared with more comprehensive programs like sleep labs with EEG machines and teams of specialists to operate them (sometimes more than 99 cents; check with your insurance provider), I was more than willing to gamble a dollar on an iPhone app.

Sleep Cycle - Placement

So for the past few months, before I go to sleep each night, I put my iPhone in airplane mode (because I’m exactly that paranoid about cell phone radiation so close to my brain for extended lengths of time), open up Sleep Cycle, and place my iPhone next to my pillow, underneath the comforter. (Note: even if the app ends up working on an iPad, I wouldn’t advise it. Unless you’re already sleeping with your iPad. In which case go to town.)

Later I review the graph and whatever variables might have affected my sleep, note trends, and ultimately have the chance to make positive, informed changes about this area of my well being. Most recently I’ve figured out that I need to take the ayurvedic approach of exercising as early in the day as possible–not just the minimum of four hours or so before bedtime as is commonly suggested–to keep physical activity from disrupting my sleep. (Of course, all of this analysis crap is optional. This app is worth it for the bio-alarm alone.)

Sleep Cycle - Statistics

The graphs are simplistic, but I can at least partially vouch for their accuracy. A typical night for me might look like the following (you can manually email your daily stats or post them to Facebook if you have friends you don’t want anymore; I email mine directly into Evernote):

Sleep Cycle - Graph

But on the rare night when I’ve taken a pharmaceutical sleep aid which helps with sleep onset but suppresses the dream state, my chart looks more like this:

Sleep Cycle - Drugged Graph

And until accelerometers learn how to detect paranoia, there’s no way the iPhone can know whether I’ve taken drugs, is there? Is there?!?

The wakeup chimes range from tolerable to pleasant, and the interface–even with all this exposition to cover–is surprisingly intuitive. And somehow the accelerometer does a decent job tracking my movements and ignoring my wife’s. In future versions I’d like to see more customization and export options, a way to automate the daily email/export, and a bit more extraction of the data on the statics page (sleep onset time, for example). And I can’t wait for the multitasking feature set of iPhone 4.0 which should let me use a separate sleep onset app (like the equally impressive Pzizz) on the same night that I use Sleep Cycle. (And if anyone with a jailbroken phone has tried this, let us know in the comments; you just might convince me to jailbreak.)

But for 99 cents, this is already simply a fantastic starter set of tools to help with sleep tracking and waking up gently, and it might be a while before we get some verifiable data about whether it delivers similar, better, or worse results versus solutions a hundred times as expensive. I expect good things from future apps and updates, as the developer is quick to respond to questions and suggestions. 

Just don’t request a snooze alarm.

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