Portal – Focus, Sleep, Escape
From spring barley fields in Devon to Monteverde’s cloud forest in Costa Rica, Portal transports users around the world, helping them drift off to sleep with the assistance of some of nature’s most relaxing sounds.
We loved the concept and found the app helped us sleep no matter what our mood. From summer thunderstorms (our favourite), to the rustle of palm tree leaves, there’s a sound to suit everyone – plus you can mix Portal’s audio with other apps if you find that audiobooks or podcasts help you snooze. As an added bonus, the app’s sleep timer and alarm integrate with Philips Hue lighting systems, adding an extra dimension to the ambience with the lights fading in and out.
There are also distinct functions for “focusing” and “escaping”, should you want to add in a little mindfulness to your daily routine. Plus, the latest update means you no longer have to leave the app open and your phone unlocked for the alarm to work. Whether we fancied a quick nap or just wanted to switch off after a long day, this was our go-to sleep aid.
Launched in 2009, Sleep Cycle is reportedly the most downloaded intelligent alarm clock and sleep tracker. And it’s not hard to see why. The app is simple to use and provides detailed sleep statistics and daily graphs by monitoring your movements in bed, so you can see exactly how long it took you to fall asleep, and how your sleep cycle changed during the night. We found this function extremely accurate, even when the phone was placed on our bedside table or on the floor near our bed, and it helped us understand our sleep better.
The best thing about this app, however, is its customisable alarm. Users are asked to set a wake-up window, from an instant alarm to up to 90 minutes (for example, any time between 7am and 8.30am). The app then wakes you up in a light sleep phase, meaning you get up feeling well rested.
Calm is perhaps better known in mindfulness circles, but we’d urge anyone who is having issues falling to sleep to download the app. From the very beginning, when you open Calm, you’ll be greeted with the gentle sound of the outdoors. It varies from person to person, but we loved this touch and found it helped us relax.
As well as guided “daily calm” sessions, which help you unwind and refocus your attention before bed, you can pick from exclusive music tracks engineered to help you sleep. There are also calming tales narrated by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey. We genuinely found the latter helped us unwind in the evenings and brought back the wonderful nostalgia of being read a bedtime story.
White Noise Lite
We were familiar with the concept of “white noise”, but not with how it could be applied usefully – so we were pleasantly surprised that this app significantly improved our sleep. Through using it, we learned that even when we sleep, we’re alert for sounds – whether it is police sirens or the neighbour’s television. The app plays looped background sounds over a wide range of frequencies throughout the night, helping to mask interruptions so you stay asleep.
More than 40 sounds are available, from heavy rain to frogs, a clothes dryer to an oscillating fan, and we could also mix multiple tracks together to make a unique sound suited to our environment and mood. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can download thousands of new and additional sounds for free via a separate app, while the makers encourage users to email them if there’s a specific sound they would like and can’t find.
We loved that personal touch, and found that this app really did help us stay asleep by blocking distractions. You can also use it to increase your focus at work and, apparently, pacify crying babies. If you’re distracted by the on-screen adverts, you can upgrade to the brand’s premium app, which also includes improved audio and more alarms.