There's already been a question about devices that can help you monitor your sleep and their possible benefits, but I'm interested specifically in the apps for mobile devices that claim to be able to do this. For this question, I'm not actually interested in if it can be used to benefit your health or make you less "groggy". I'm just interested in whether these apps can actually monitor your sleep cycles to any reliable degree.

These mobile device apps (such as Sleep Time by Azumio or Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock by Maciek Drejak Labs) claim that by placing the phone on your bed near you, they can measure your movement and make some estimates about when you are in a lighter sleep and when you go into deep/REM sleep. I can see how this wold be possible, but I'm doubtful if the results would be at all reliable.

Are there any sources with some data that show that kinds of apps have some merit? Are there any that show they are completely useless? Thank you much!

  • Anecdotally, I'll say that the graph shown by Sleep Time by Azumio seems to decently correlate with my groggy remembrances of "Yeah, I looked at the clock at 3:30." Aug 23, 2013 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


In this study on body movement during sleep there's a quote that says:

(...) in both infants and young adults body movements occur preferentially in REM sleep1

So apparently there's a relation between the sleep cycle and body movement, with movement occuring during the lightest stage.

This study tried different methods of detecting body movement during the night -- iPhone's Sleep Cycle, something called WISP (a wireless accelerometer) and Dance Dance Revolution pads (which is by far the most awesome) -- to find out if they could correctly report the sleep phase of a subject.

They provide a small comparison between the methods and even though they didn't go into much detail, the iPhone captured two transitions that both the WISP system and the DDR pads failed to notice. There's no clarification on whether they confirmed these cycles with any other method, but they did say:

Therefore, we can say that, by training our system with the transitions detected by the iPhone application, it is possible to detect all the transitions between sleep cycles by our system.

This credits the iPhone app with a better tuned sleep cycle detection.

1 W.B. Webb, L.M. Dreblow, A modified method for scoring slow wave sleep of older subjects, Sleep 5 (1982) 195–199.

  • Thought the WISP study was of low quality. To my opinion they just seem to assume detecting body movement corresponds to changes in sleep state merely because commercial products seem to do so as well. They don't reference any research that actually proves the relationship between movement and sleep states. Furthermore it was executed by a Computer Science Department, not a Sleep Research Department.
    – MrJre
    Sep 19, 2013 at 10:34
  • @MrJre Two studies were linked in the answer. The first one indicates the relationship between sleep states and body movement. The second (the WISP study) goes from that assertion to measure the effectiveness of different methods in detecting these movements.
    – Gabe
    Sep 19, 2013 at 15:15

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