Waking up with Sleep Cycle

By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, January 14, 2015 At 10:23 AM

Two weeks into 2015 and I'm finally posting for the first time this year.  Oops!

I've been busy, despite my New Year's resolution to simplify, although to be fair that's a long-term goal that is going to require changes throughout the year.

One thing I'm currently trying to simplify, however, is the act of waking up in the morning.

I've never been good at waking up in the mornings, as long-time readers of this blog well know.  My sleep schedule has varied a lot over the years.  For a while when I was freelancing full-time, I would work until  3am or 4am every night, and then sleep until 11am or noon every day.  Lately I've been slipping back into a late schedule like that (my nanny hours during the school year don't require me to get up early).  I've been trying to get up earlier, but it's not uncommon for me to sleep through my alarms (or snooze them in my sleep) for an hour or longer, particularly if my brain knows I don't really have to be up at any certain time.

Actually waking up early is even worse -- I have to set three or four alarms, usually at least half an hour before I have to be up.  Unfortunately, I am helping out a family I babysit for that just had a new baby, so I'll be waking up early and working weekday mornings for a few months.  Going from waking up at 11am every day to 7am is hard!

By chance a few days ago I heard about the app called Sleep Cycle.  It's an alarm for your iPhone that detects your sleep cycles based on how you move during the night, and wakes you up when you're sleeping the lightest.  You set a time that you have to be up by, and then you set a waking-up period (default is half an hour).  The alarm allows you to snooze it until your wake-up time, and you can set it to "intelligent" snooze, where the snooze periods gradually become shorter to help you slowly wake up.

I wasn't sure how the Sleep Cycle app would work for me, since I am fairly certain I sleep very deeply.  I rarely wake during the night, and I almost never remember my dreams.  And as I expected, the app didn't find a time during my 30-minute wake-up window where I was sleeping in a light-enough cycle to wake me.  Instead, it woke me just three minutes from my wake-up time.

I liked the result though.  I snoozed it twice, not realizing at the time that it was only letting me snooze for a minutes.  But when I did wake up, I felt much more alert than I usually do in the mornings.

Now this could be a result of any number of factors.  It could be because the alarm sound is new, or because I was expecting it and wondering how it would work for me, so I was a little better primed to wake up quickly.  It could also be because I went to bed a little earlier last night (already exhausted from several mornings in a row of waking up around 7am), or because the "intelligent" snooze didn't give me enough time to actually fall back asleep between snoozes.  I do think the fact that the app asks about your waking mood, and has you put your finger over the camera and flash to check your heart rate, probably also helped by engaging my brain before I was even out of the bed.

The app also tracks your sleep patterns overnight, which is interesting to see the next morning.  Once I've used it for five days, it'll start analyzing the quality of my sleep, too.  You can also set tags to make notes of important factors that could affect your sleep, so that you don't forget those things when you flip back through your results.  I do wish it were possible to edit these notes, but that's one of my only gripes so far, and it's a minor one.

Another nice thing is that you can set the alarm to wake you up to one of the songs on your phone, or with a random alarm sound, so that people like me don't get used to or learn to ignore a specific alarm sound.

My final and biggest wish is that there were different settings for different days.  The app does allow you to turn a weekend setting on, and also to set which days reflect the weekend for you (only one day a week for me right now, since I babysit early Sunday mornings too).  I can't actually figure out what the point of this is, though, since there is on alternate alarm sound on the weekend.  Does it track your sleep patterns still, but disable the alarm?

I'm really hoping that his will simplify my morning routines, and also hopefully help me to feel more awake in the mornings, especially while I am getting up early every morning.  If I like it, there is also a power nap app by the same people that wakes you up before you fall into deep sleep, so that you don't feel groggy when you wake up.

I'll post again soon with another review of Sleep Cycle, once I've been using it long enough to get a better feel for whether it'll work for me.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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