PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For Stacey Hester sleep can be hard to come by.

“I’m always so busy, and here, here, here, and here,” she said. “Being able to shut my brain off, to actually even go to sleep was a problem.”

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She tried melatonin, Benadryl, and Ambien.

“It would make me feel very drowsy, I still wouldn’t be able to shut my brain off,” she recalled. “I would even try things, you know, like sing a song, count my breaths, count imaginary sheep.”

She thought about white noise and the ocean. Then it dawned on her, maybe her phone could help. She tried different apps with calming sounds for bedtime. Some sounds weren’t realistic.

Then she found an app she loves.

“Rainstorm, it has city atmosphere sounds, it has waves, it has thunder, it has birds, it has all these different ones, and you can mix and match them together,” she said.

Her favorite combination?

“Slow waves, with rain and thunder, it sounds like a thunderstorm on the beach,” she said.

She also likes that she can set the app on a timer. It used to take her hours to fall asleep. Now it takes just thirty minutes.

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If she happens to wake up in the middle of the night, she won’t be annoyed by a sound app on continuous play.

The best part is the app is free.

Allegheny Health Network sleep specialist, Dr. Daniel Shade, has this advice: if you use an app to help you sleep, don’t use your phone as a phone.

“You don’t want to be getting calls in the middle of the night, you don’t want to be answering texts,” Dr. Shade said.

Also, be careful about apps that claim to track your sleep. They’re often linked to a watch or something you wear to bed.

They detect movement to correlate to being asleep or being awake, but that isn’t always accurate and doesn’t give any information about the quality of sleep.

Patients often ask Dr. Shade which bedtime apps are best.

“Find one that you think is soothing to you,” Dr. Shade recommends. “Try it for a while and see if you feel better in the morning. I can’t tell you whether you’re going to be getting more deep sleep or more REM sleep, but if you feel better, great.”

As for Stacey, Rainstorm has done just that.

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“I tend to wake up feeling like I’m ready to go through the day now,” Stacey said.

Dr. Maria Simbra