Sleep apps designed to help insomniacs

SAN ANTONIO – Between taking care of her family, the pets and the house chores, on top of her full-time job, Nancy Luis Hernandez is busy.  

And sleep? Hernandez said she's lucky to get four hours a night. Worry keeps her awake. 

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

Over-the-counter meds have helped, but they're not for long-term use. So, could her phone be the answer?  

Sleep apps are booming. The downloads of several of them have increased by 20 percent in the past year. 

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

There are several types of sleep apps available.

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

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

A third type tracks your sleep patterns, such as how long it takes to fall asleep and how long we spend in deeper stages of sleep.

There are also apps that use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, similar to the techniques trained therapists 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," Umansky said. "That's because it can help you change the thoughts and behaviors that can lead to sleep  problems."

The cognitive behavioral apps may work best in conjunction with in-person therapy, experts say.

The fine print on most apps says that they are marketed as entertainment or lifestyle apps, not medical devices. That means their effectiveness has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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