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Sleep Apps Can Help You Beat Insomnia — But Only If You Use the Right Ones

If you’re one of the millions of Americans suffering from insomnia, you may have tried dozens of apps for sleep to find nighttime relief. While these sleep apps may send you off to dreamland in a matter of minutes, most don’t actually treat insomnia — which is the real root of the problem.

Instead, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the way to alleviate sleep woes or outright prevent them from recurring. This method involves changing a person’s sleep habits while debunking sleep myths that make it even harder to have a restful night. For example, one CBT-I technique is improving your sleep environment by investing in a comfy bed, ensuring the room is cool and dark, and covering up clocks so you can’t anxiously stare at them during the night.

Touted as “the single best cure for insomnia that no one is talking about,” CBT-I usually involves seeing a sleep therapist, which can get expensive if it’s not covered by your insurance. Fortunately, CBT-I methods have made their way to sleep programs like Sleepio and SHUTi, making them more available to troubled sleepers worldwide.

However, good sleep can come at a price. Sleepio is currently only available through certain employers (you can see whether your employer is on the list at Sleepio’s website), while SHUTi is $149 for 26 weeks. Fortunately, there is also a free CBT-I app called CBT-I Coach that was developed by the Veteran’s Administration and is available in the App Store for iPhones and Google Play for Androids. 

In 2016, the American College of Physicians recommended CBT-I as an initial treatment for insomnia. “The evidence is quite strong to support the effectiveness of CBT-I treatment and there really aren’t a lot of side effects,” Jason Ong, an associate professor of neurology specializing in sleep medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told NPR. “In the long run, CBT-I tends to perform quite well in maintaining the benefits” because it’s all about creating and maintaining good sleep habits.

That said, sleep apps — even those based on CBT-I principles — may not be effective for everyone. If you find that these programs on your smartphone work, that’s great. However, you can’t go wrong simply consulting a doctor first about any of your sleep problems. Be sure of the diagnosis before you shell out for sleep apps.

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