Whether you want to understand your mind and body more or simply need something to help you drift off, support is out there at the tap of a button. Here, James Dixon compares the best sleep apps today.
Around a third of us suffer from sleep deprivation, a condition caused by inadequate sleep. In recent years, the prevalence of sleep deprivation has increased, which is of grave concern – it can have a direct impact on your cognitive and emotional state, and on your mental and physical wellbeing.
Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of sleep deprivation can help prevent these health concerns from affecting us.
One of these treatment forms is relatively new – sleep apps. They are a breed of app designed specifically to help you to improve your sleep quality and quantity through a range of means, from teaching you healthy sleep habits and tracking, monitoring, and then tweaking your sleep routines, to promoting relaxation and setting your mind and body up for success.
If you have complex and deep-seated sleep concerns, you may require extensive insight and feedback to identify the root of the problem. You may benefit from more comprehensive coaching and advice.
Sleep Reset is a great bet. It provides access to an actual sleep coach, along with tracking abilities, user-friendly navigation, and ongoing support. Although it comes with a high price tag, the benefits it offers can be life-changing.
What are sleep apps?
Smartphones have become an essential component of daily life, including our sleep routines, with approximately three quarters of the US population owning one. They are used for various purposes, including streaming news, accessing social media, playing games, scheduling our lives, and even aiding in our quality of sleep.
New sleep apps have the potential to be a useful resource for improving sleep quality. If you are experiencing sleep disturbances or think that you may be sleep-deprived, it may be worthwhile to consider using one.
Sleep apps offer a range of features, such as playing soothing sounds, teaching relaxation methods, providing guidance from sleep experts, and functioning as alarm clocks with extra capabilities.
By using the accelerometer in smartphones, sleep tracking apps can gather and evaluate sleep-related information, such as movement patterns and audio recordings. These apps can also wake users during the lighter stages of their sleep cycle and offer insights to assist with data interpretation.
It is important to consider the type of support needed when choosing a sleep app. Sleep tracking features may include tracking time awake, time asleep, position changes, resting heart rate, and different stages of sleep cycles.
App-based alarms may use soft sounds or vibrations that grow progressively more intense to ensure you wake up on time. Relaxing music, white noise, ambient and nature sounds, binaural beats, and sleep stories can help you relax and fall asleep more easily.
Some apps also offer video tutorials on meditation and guided breathing. For people with ongoing sleep issues, some apps put you in touch with relevant healthcare professionals or certified sleep coaches who can help you in forming a plan of action for improving your sleep.
Although studies on the efficacy of sleep apps are still in progress, and more data are needed, many individuals find them to be convenient, cost-effective, and beneficial for enhancing their sleep quality and enabling them to adopt healthy habits.
Our top sleep apps
If you struggle with relaxing before bed to get a good night’s sleep, the Calm app may be just what you need.
It offers a range of features designed to help you unwind and prepare for a restful night’s sleep. With soothing music, sleep stories, guided meditation programs, and breathing exercises, the Calm app is a comprehensive tool for anyone looking to improve their sleep quality.
One of the best things about the Calm app is its user-friendly interface. The app is easy to navigate, and you can quickly find the features you need to help you relax.
After completing a brief survey about your reasons for using the app, you can select the programs that most interest you. These include guided meditations, breathing exercises, mindful movement programs, relaxing music, sleep stories, and soundscapes.
Calm’s ambient recordings and ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) programs are particularly noteworthy. These features use sound to create a calming atmosphere that can help you to relax and fall asleep far more easily.
Whether you prefer the sound of rain falling, waves crashing, or birds singing, Calm has a range of ambient recordings to choose from. ASMR programs use gentle sounds and whispers to create a sense of relaxation and calm.
You’ll need to set up a subscription in order to use the Calm app. This done, you can download the app and start using its features right away. The app is accessible for both iOS and Android devices, so you can use it no matter what type of smartphone or tablet you have.
The Calm app’s home page provides access to programs based on the user’s selected interests during setup. Users can track their usage of various programs, participate in check-ins to describe their mood and daily life, and use the sleep check-in to record factors affecting their sleep, including exercise, stress, and health conditions. Daily check-ins can help users identify issues impacting their sleep.
While Calm does not provide detailed sleep tracking data, users can view the number of hours they sleep each night. The app recommends starting with the ‘7 Days of Calm’ program for beginners, and then offers a ‘21 Days of Calm’ program for more advanced users.
The Calm app has two versions – Calm, for individual users, and Calm Business, for organizational leaders who want to offer the app to their employees. The app’s features and functions are the same for both versions. All users, regardless of the plan they are on, have access to the same soundscapes, guided meditations, and other downloadable programs.
Companies can purchase plans for their entire team or for specific members, with the team plan accommodating up to 20 users and including premium Calm access, engagement resources, and reporting and analytics.
For companies with 21 or more employees, the more expensive business plan includes all elements of the team plan, as well as account management tools and access to digital events and webinars.
A Calm family plan subscription is accessible for households with multiple users.
If you’re looking for a way to improve your sleep quality, the Calm app is definitely worth checking out. With its user-friendly interface, wide range of features, and focus on relaxation and mindfulness, this app can help you unwind and prepare for a restful night’s sleep. Whether you’re dealing with stress, anxiety, or just having trouble falling asleep, the Calm app has something to offer.
Headspace is an incredibly popular mindfulness and meditation app – it is to sleep and meditation apps as Biro is to the ballpoint pen or Hoover is to the vacuum cleaner. It is the big name in the business, synonymous with what they do. It’s also the app on this list that I have the most experience of.
Headspace offers mindfulness practices that can be used in various settings, such as at work or school, as well as sleep meditations to help users to unwind, plus quick exercise classes that can be done at home.
The app has three basic-level courses that provide beginners with the foundational skills of meditation, helping them to grow their practice and apply mindfulness in their daily lives. The eight pro-level courses are geared toward those who already have an established meditation practice, though they may not be as advanced or extensive as some may be looking for.
Headspace offers unique features such as topic-specific meditations, mindfulness tutorials, and a range of exercises and techniques to help users develop their meditation practice and improve their overall well-being.
Most of the meditation courses are taught by Andy Puddicombe, who founded Headspace, alongside other meditation professionals, earning the app high credibility and expertise ratings.
Research has shown that mindfulness and meditation have numerous physical and mental health benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood, sleep, and cognitive functioning, as well as a reduction in depression symptoms and chronic pain.
While some critics are not convinced of the benefits of meditation apps like Headspace, it is an excellent app for beginners and experienced practitioners alike, offering building blocks of meditation in its ‘Basics’ courses, single-session meditations for those with busy schedules, and ‘Sesame Street’-based meditations for families with young children.
Headspace’s ‘Sleepcast’ content can help to wind down the mind and body before bedtime with breathwork and visualization techniques, making it helpful for those struggling with sleep. Hence its place in this list – it isn’t in itself a sleep app, though plenty of worthy offerings are not. It is, however, incredibly good for those looking to improve their sleep by properly winding down.
There is little here about sleep hygiene, habits, or anything else too deep that many of the other apps on this list offer. However, it earns its place for sheer quality at what it does.
The Yours App provides a resource for self-care through meditation, sleep stories, yoga, soundscapes, and more. Using advanced technology, the Yours App tailors its programs to your habits and needs to promote overall health and mindfulness.
Like Headspace, it isn’t designed specifically to aid your sleep in any overtly deep way. However, again like Headspace, it is very good at what it does – providing you with mindfulness practice and relaxation.
The Yours App offers a range of activities, including sleep stories, yoga tutorials, guided meditation, breathing exercises, and informational videos on physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Additionally, it gives you a well-tailored selection of music and sounds, such as white noise, ASMR, and nature sounds, to help you improve your night’s sleep, which is where things get really interesting for this list…
The app offers a personalized dashboard that allows users to customize their experience based on their preferences. With a customized dashboard, you can easily access your favourite activities and develop new rituals to cultivate a deeper relationship with yourself.
The library is where you go to access the variety of content – the sleep stories, yoga tutorials, breathing programs and guided meditation, and a wide range of music and sounds – all aimed at enabling improved sleep.
One of the standout features of the Yours App is its sleep stories. These are hours of ultra-relaxing narratives that help users beat insomnia and fall into a deeper sleep state.
The stories cover a range of topics, including travel, mental health, fairy tales and fantasy, classic novels, and body image and LGBT+ themes. New stories are added weekly, and users can even listen to an all-star cast of readers narrating them.
Pregnant users can also benefit from specially created sleep stories and mindfulness tips to provide companionship through the three trimesters.
Additionally, there are sleep stories designed for children to help them wind down and drift off to an imaginary place.
The app also offers hundreds of hours of yoga videos guided by some of the best yoga teachers in the world. I’ve practiced yoga for a couple of decades now, on and off, and can safely say that the content on offer here is fantastic. The videos range from in-depth courses to quick fixes, and they take place in really quite lovely landscapes, all adding to the experience.
It isn’t just about yoga, though. Fitness experts take users through simple yet effective training methods that help to relieve muscle tension and pain, build strength, and bolster mental strength.
In addition to physical activities, the Yours App offers mindfulness meditation courses and breathing rituals that train users to lower stress levels and channel their focus on the present moment.
The app also provides the latest news, research, and tips from psychology experts in monthly blogs, providing insight into everything related to mental health. Users can even put questions to in-house psychologists on weekly topics.
Users can try the app for free for seven days, and you can often find decent discounts for longer-term subscriptions.
The Yours App is more of an information resource than the kind of sleep-tracker that we’ll move onto shortly. However, it really does excel as an information source – you can’t do too much better than this.
Sleep Reset offers tailored advice to help users achieve more restful night. It explicitly aims to help users improve their sleep quality. It’s what it does and it’s all it does, and it does it very well.
The app starts with a thorough sleep assessment to identify the root cause of the user’s sleep problems. After the assessment, users are put in touch with a sleep coach and given access to a library of videos all geared towards improving their sleep.
Users also discuss their sleep issues with their coach, who creates a personalized sleep schedule for them. The app’s programs for improved sleep are developed by experienced sleep clinicians, ensuring that users receive the best advice going.
In addition to personalized coaching, Sleep Reset offers guided lessons on sleep hygiene, the science of sleep, and on mental and physical health. The app’s library includes breathing exercises and meditation practices to help users unwind before going to bed. In addition, users can track their sleep data to enhance their sleeping routine and space.
It doesn’t simply help you to unwind and relax – it’s far more comprehensive than this.
The support is ongoing, too. The app reminds users to update their sleep log every morning to track their ongoing sleep concerns. Users can rate the quality of their sleep and track positive habits, feelings, environment, sleep interruptions, and behaviour that might have impacted their sleep, substances taken throughout the day, and any other feedback for their sleep coach. The app rates the user’s previous night’s sleep score and provides advice taking all of this information into account.
Sleep Reset is user-friendly and well-designed, with logging sleep made easy through touch screen technology. The app provides short, well-written lessons on sleep hygiene during the first few weeks of use.
The Mind Spa section offers helpful options for users who struggle with sleep, such as meditations and a gratitude journal. The sleep coach is knowledgeable, responsive, and provides weekly check-ins to discuss progress and challenges.
While the cost of $225 for three months may seem expensive, the personalized coaching and comprehensive features make it a worthwhile investment.
The app’s tracking and scoring system allows users and their coach to monitor progress and adjust their sleep schedule accordingly. The addition of the Mind Spa and helpful lessons make it easier for users to stick to the program.
It’s far more of an investment than something like Headspace, but you really do get what you pay for. Overall, Sleep Reset is an excellent tool for anyone seeking personalized help with their sleep issues.
Sleep apps often include guided breathing, meditation, and a range of additional activities to help users wind down before bed, as we have seen. Few are quite as tactile or user responsive as the Reflect Orb app, however.
Reflect Orb is a really quite beautiful, handheld device that comes with sensors embedded in it to collect data on things like heart rate variability, electrodermal activity, and additional physiological factors tightly bound to relaxation and stress.
The device has color-coded lights that reflect the user’s current mood, with purple and blue indicating tension and alertness, and white and turquoise indicating calmness and relaxation.
This is all collated in the Reflect app, earning the Orb its place on this list. The app shows the user’s mood throughout the day and offers coaching programs that include activities to mitigate stress and provides guidance on how to relax before bed.
Reflect claims that the value of the Orb lies in its real-time biofeedback, which allows users to monitor their physiology and learn to regulate it. The device makes the process of biofeedback more explicit than other devices.
You hold a soft, cloth-covered ball with six electrodes in both hands to measure your level of calmness in real time. The ball has a light ring that indicates how relaxed you are, and you can adjust your seating position, body sensations, and breathing patterns to see how your body reacts to different calming techniques.
The device is not dependent on your phone and can function independently, without any connection, which I love. Your data is then uploaded to the cloud when you connect to a network and can be accessed through the mobile app.
Once your relaxation session is complete, the device reconnects and uploads your data, providing you with detailed information about your session.
Noga Sapir, CEO at Reflect, explains that biofeedback can be utilized to measure and report stress and anxiety by monitoring bodily functions such as heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), and electrodermal activity (EDA).
By providing a real-time display of these bodily functions, biofeedback aims to increase awareness of unconscious bodily processes and enable individuals to influence them. Through this feedback loop, individuals can identify effective techniques to manage stress and anxiety, starting with awareness and leading to self-regulation.
Reflect is entering a competitive market with products such as the Muse headband, Zendo Meditation, and the Core meditation trainer. These products measure brain activity and provide feedback on sleep and meditation practices.
However, Reflect believes that its real-time biofeedback approach and mobile app make it a unique and more accessible experience. I’m inclined to agree with them. Reflect aims to provide a tactile and visual experience that allows users to build awareness of their body and focus without the stress of using a phone.
The Reflect Orb is currently available for $229. While the up-front cost may seem high, the Reflect app is free to download on both iPhone and Android devices, and a subscription is not required to access the full suite of programs and tracking data. Once you’ve paid for it, you’ve paid for it – you’re done with your investing. Reflect also offers free shipping for all U.S. orders, and a 30-day trial period is included with your purchase.
The device comes with a USB-C charger and can last up to a fortnight on a single charge.
There are some truly great apps on this list. Most of us could benefit from using any one of them, especially, of course, where sleep is a concern.
Plenty of them focus either wholly or partly on mindfulness and relaxation. These are big players in the sleep world. If you’re tense and anxious, you will likely struggle to get the kind of sleep you need to stay healthy.
If you think that this relaxation is the main ingredient missing from your sleep routine, I would go with something like Headspace. It is cheap and workable – it does a great job at doing what it does.
However, this is often only a piece of the puzzle. Sleep concerns can be complex and deep-seated. You may need a lot of insight and feedback before you know where the problems lie. You may need a lot more coaching and advice than something simple like Headspace can offer. A greater outlay may be required.
In this case, I would fully recommend Sleep Reset. There is no substitute for an actual sleep coach. This, combined with the other information and the tracking abilities you get with it, the user-friendly navigation, and the ongoing support make it well worth the admittedly rather high price tag. It really may well change your life.