These sleep apps are designed to calm the mind using music, stories, meditation and more.
- Posted on Oct 10, 2019
You’ve heard the trick to getting a good night’s sleep is turning your phone off before bed, but what if your phone can actually improve your sleep health?
Each of these apps promises to help listeners catch more Zzz’s by using cutting edge tech, clinically-proven techniques and comforting storytelling.
Here are some of the best apps you can try if you struggle with your nightly sleep routine.
Apple’s 2017 App of the Year relies on the proven value of meditation to help you unwind before bed and keep you sleeping soundly all night long. The most appealing feature for insomniacs might be the sleep stories (some are narrated by Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry) which take listeners on a soothing journey featuring soft background noise. Created by co-founders Alex Tew and Michael Acton Smith, the app also offers guided lessons on movements and breathing exercises that can help relax your body. Calm offers a 30-day free trial, after which users can subscribe for $60 a year to gain access to the app's full library of stories, meditations, and soundscapes.
Think of app developer Northcube's Sleep Cycle as an updated alarm clock. Using your device’s microphone, the app tracks your sleep patterns. You simply set a window of time, during which you prefer to be woken up, and the app wakes you in the lightest phase of sleep during that window by monitoring breathing and other sounds to make sure you're out of REM. This leaves you feeling less groggy or grumpy in the morning. If you want to dive deeper into the reasons behind your sleep patterns, Sleep Cycle lets you input your daily routine—the food you eat, your caffeine intake, etc.—and uses the information to create strategies for improving your sleep health.
Like Calm, Headspace is an award-winning meditation app, but it offers a different set of tools for people looking to get some shut-eye. Sleepcasts are 40-50 minute stories you can listen to while you nod off. The app lets you control the volume of the speaker’s voice and of the ambient background noises, making it more customizable than Calm. But where Headspace—a program created by ordained Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe—excels is in its guided meditations, which walk users through deep breathing exercises and even help people fall back asleep, if they tend to wake up in the middle of the night.
What sets the bedtime stories for adults available on Relax & Sleep Well apart from other apps is the narrator. Glenn Harrold is a famous hypnotherapist with decades of experience in changing people’s behaviors, who brings his hypnosis skills to sleep health via the app. It’s like a free hypnotherapy session, with recorded meditations that lull you to sleep, while also training your brain to relax before bed. You're given four free hypnosis sessions to see if the app works for you, but you'll have to purchase more meditations after that.
If you’ve downloaded the latest Apple iPhone update, blue light isn’t a problem you have to worry about. Most newer iPhones come with Night Mode, which automatically shifts the colors on your screen to the warmer end of the spectrum, thus promoting better sleep. But if you’re an Android user, Twilight adapts the light on your phone to the time of day, filtering out blue light after sunset—a must, considering there have been plenty of studies linking the blue light emitted by tech devices to sleep quality and insomnia. The app is free and easily downloadable on most Androids.
Sleep Genius was developed based on research from scientists meant to help NASA astronauts fall asleep faster. If it’s good enough for space cowboys (and cowgirls), it’s good enough for us Earth-dwellers. The app uses clinically tested audio that is based on neuroscience to help control sleep patterns in each stage of REM. Its Revive Cycle Alarm reduces stress by gradually waking you up with short, gentle bursts of sound that build in volume over the course of a few minutes. Through the use of four techniques—neurosensory algorithms, pink noise, multiband binaural beats and psychoacoustic music—Sleep Genius promises to help set new wake cycle patterns over time. It even has a Power Nap setting in case you need a midday boost. The app costs $4.99 to download.
If meditation isn’t your thing, or if the idea of constantly picking new tracks while attempting to fall asleep sounds tiring, then Relax Melodies might be the tool for you. The app—created by Ipnos, a wellness app developer—features guided meditations, but the real draw is the extensive library of soothing nature sounds, white noise, and binaural beats, all of which you can mix and match to create your own unique playlist. There are a handful of free sounds and meditations for users to try with optional in-app purchases.
Sleep Fan is an app that utilizes a time-tested motto: keep it simple. You won’t find sleep stories, meditations or psychoacoustics here. Instead, the app makes fan sounds that help block out noises and guide you to a night of deeper sleep. It’s a free, simple tool, but for those who enjoy relaxing to the low hum of machinery, it can make a huge difference.
Technically, this isn’t a sleep app, but it deserves a place on this list because of how many listeners swear by its ability to bore people to sleep. Oddly enough, that’s exactly the purpose of this podcast of bedtime stories told by the reliably monotonous voice of host Drew Ackerman, a regular Joe who created the show after struggling with insomnia. If a symphony of melodies and meditations is overwhelming, Ackerman’s droll storytelling—tales of his dog, a bus ride or going for a walk—might just be the trick to knocking yourself out. It's available wherever you get your podcasts.