Sleep mode: Mobile apps and the optimisation of sleep-wake rhythms




Sleep, Digital Health, Quantified Self, Psychoacoustics, Sleep Sciences, Apps, Mobile Media


This article contributes to the critical analysis of sleep and its technological mediation by analysing how sleep is modulated through mobile applications. Drawing on an analysis of the features in the most popular sleep apps in the Apple App store, this paper investigates the dominant types of sleep apps available for everyday use. We analyse how their functions implicate sleeping bodies within new patterns of management and optimisation. We show how sleep apps remediate the monitoring technologies of the sleep science lab to make claims of accuracy and efficacy. However, the analysis also reveals how sleep apps go beyond simply monitoring sleep patterns by directly intervening in and mediating sleep-wake rhythms. This occurs through two key acoustic features common within sleep apps — ‘smart wake up’ alarms and ‘brainwave entrainment’ sound frequencies. We show how these features operate to organise transitions between waking and sleeping states. In doing so, we argue that these functions draw on histories or genealogies of both acoustic media and sleep science in the attempt to optimise the practices and rhythms associated with sleeping bodies.

Author Biographies

Christopher O'Neill, University of Melbourne

PhD candidate, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

Bjorn Nansen

Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Melbourne.




How to Cite

O’Neill, C., & Nansen, B. (2019). Sleep mode: Mobile apps and the optimisation of sleep-wake rhythms. First Monday, 24(6).