What makes Sleep Cycle the most downloaded alarm clock app?

The promise of a pleasant Monday morning

Any App Store shopper will identify the orange icon with an alarm clock at least just for seeing it on the charts for so long. It never appealed to me to check it out despite the recommendations from friends and the steady stream of downloads over the years. For a utility app, not a game, Sleep Cycle is a true commercial success. Since its latest update brings some interesting integration with the stuff the iPhone 5S capable of, I decided to take the plunge and check it out.

Sleep Cycle promises to help you feel fresher, less groggy, in the morning by waking you up at the right time. The app plays with the idea that if you wake up during a light sleep phase you'll feel more rested and relaxed. A traditional alarm clock will go off at the time it was set without considering any sleep phase — which could be the reason why you may be awaken *wrecked *, as the developer puts it.

What the app does it to use the accelerometer and microphone on the device to track the amount of movement on your bed — the iPhone has to be placed on a specific location on the mattress. After the first nights used for calibration, the app will associate a lot of movement with a light phase while a deep sleep cycle happens with no movement at all. An article on Wikipedia says that on the deepest stage, REM sleep, your body is almost paralysed, so I using the accelerometer to track movement on the mattress makes sense.

Sleeping stages

This background information is necessary to understand how the app will guess what's going on in your dreams. The reality is closer to sleeper with your iPhone next to your head, choosing the time you want to be awaken and allow the app you do so 30 minutes before the time you usually do. If it notices you are not on a deep sleep stage, voila, the alarm goes off.

The app does a very good job at explaining the theory and the logic behind it. The tutorial and FAQ are comprehensive, showing the amount of good feedback the developer has received from users over the last four years. Once you have read the documentation out of curiosity and gone through the settings to tailor it to your preferences (custom tones there!), there's not much to do other than to fall asleep.

With less than a week using it I don't have much to say other that the first night I was incredibly self-conscious knowing there was something checking if I moved in bed or not. For some real hands-on experience you need to read this review on mymorningroutine.com after 891 nights using it and counting. There are some cool graphs with the information collected and tricks such as toggling a diagram view on landscape orientation.

Having steered away from sleeping utility apps — the only exception was the fun Sleep Talk Recorder — I'm curious to see why so many people are downloading this. Is the promise of better lifestyle quality enough? Will this make any difference?

Top photo - April Jonhson