Download Your Dreams: Find the Best Relaxing Sleep App

Key Points

  • Relaxing sleep apps have many features, including music, other sounds, meditation guides, sleep tracking, and sleep coaching.

  • The best relaxing sleep app for you combines the features that best meet your specific sleep problems

  • Most sleep apps require payment to access all their features, but a few are completely free.

If you've been looking for ways to improve your sleep, you might have heard about using a relaxing sleep app. Many of them are available in the iPhone or Android app store, but what exactly do they do, and which is the best sleep app for you?

There's a variety of sleep apps with different functions because there's a variety of ways that people sleep, and their sleep can go wrong. Read on to learn more about what relaxing sleep apps do, how much they cost, and how to choose the best one for your needs.

What Is a Sleep App?

Sleep apps all aim to help you get better sleep, but different apps have different approaches.

Some simply try to relax you with soothing noises, while others talk you through thought processes, and still others act like sleep versions of a fitness tracker. Many apps combine these functions in some way.

Check out the following most common functions of sleep apps.

White Noise

"White noise," in the world of consumer products, refers to any continuous, unobtrusive sound, such as running water, light wind, or some similarly soothing artificial sound.

White noise is especially helpful in an urban area or another noisy environment since the sound can mask distracting outside noises. Some people also find that it helps mask the "noise" of their own busy thoughts. On the other hand, some can't sleep with any noise, so you're better off investing in earplugs.

Relaxing Music

People have been using relaxing music to help them sleep ever since the first mama sang a lullaby to her baby, but thanks to the magic of the internet, you have a whole world of music at your fingertips.

Sleep apps choose music that most people find calming, but your mileage may vary on this one. You don't choose sleep music based on how much you like it because too engaging music keeps you awake. However, if there's a kind of music that functions as sonic wallpaper for you, it could be your ticket to better sleep.

Binaural Beats

Binaural beats apps deliver two separate tones, one in each ear, which due to the peculiarities of sound waves and your brain's sonic processing, creates the illusion of a pulsing tempo.

Binaural beats at different tempos have different claimed health benefits, including relaxation and sleep at the lowest frequencies. There have been a few small studies to support these claims, but as with the other sound-based apps, you have to try them out to see if they work for you.


Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is the scientific name for what people usually call that pleasurable "tingly" or "shivery" sensation they get in response to certain gentle stimuli.

A whole industry of ASMR-triggering videos has sprung up online, featuring sounds like whispering, brushing, crumpling paper, etc. Many people say ASMR helps them relax, so not surprisingly, many sleep apps incorporate these sounds into their sound libraries.

Sleep Tracking

Sleep tracking apps don't improve your sleep directly, but they help you figure out if something is amiss, such as sleep apnea. Sleep trackers record your time spent awake and asleep, changes of position, and snoring, and the more sophisticated ones also track your stages of sleep to ensure you're going through full sleep cycles.

“Think of sleep-tracking apps as motivational tools,” says sleep coach David Rubin. “You can use your personal data to better understand how sleep cycles and patterns work, then take the steps needed to ensure adequate rest each night.”

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime stories are another old trick, but as you probably know if you have children, you must choose those stories carefully.

The best bedtime stories are engaging enough to take your mind off the day's worries — but not so exciting that you keep thinking about them after the lights go out. Some sleep apps specialize in exactly that type of story, either by choosing from existing ones or inventing their own.

Physical Relaxation Techniques

While the above sleep aids aim at your brain, your body also frequently carries tensions that make getting to sleep more difficult.

There's a lot of information out there regarding what to do when you can't sleep. Some sleep apps have incorporated stretches and muscle-relaxation instructions when nothing else seems to work. In addition to helping you sleep, these techniques also help prevent cramps and back pain.

Alarm Clock

Your smartphone no doubt already has an alarm clock function, but dedicated sleep apps offer more sophisticated variations. Old-school alarm noises tend to jolt you out of your sleep, which is not good for your health, but newer alarms build gradually with less violent noises to wake you up more gently.

Some sleep-tracking apps also include alarm clocks programmed to go off when you reach the lightest part of your sleep cycle in the morning, which helps reduce what the experts call "sleep inertia," or morning grogginess.

Guided Meditation

Meditation has all sorts of wellness benefits besides sleep, but many find it especially helpful as a way to relax at bedtime.

Various meditation apps follow different techniques to help you focus your thoughts, such as breathing exercises and single-pointed concentration. Meditating well takes practice, so don't expect these to work instantly, but it's a beneficial practice over the long run for many people.

Sleep Coaching

Like meditation, sleep coaching isn't an instant fix but aims to find longer-term solutions to sleep problems.

Sleep coaching apps put you in touch with experts who help you diagnose your troubles and develop better nighttime habits and thought patterns that lead to restful sleep. This is a perfect option if you suffer from anxiety around sleeping, which often leads to a doom loop where the fear of insomnia leads to sleepless nights.

What Is the Best App to Help You Fall Asleep?

There are many choices when it comes to sleep apps. The best way to get started is to ask yourself what seems to be your biggest sleep problem. Is it that your brain is just too busy at night? Is your bedroom too noisy? You fall asleep all right, but you don't wake up rested? You've got a weird job schedule that throws off your circadian rhythms?

If you're like most people with sleep problems, you experience some combination of these. Fortunately, many sleep apps combine multiple functions, so you just need to find one tailored to your specific needs. Here's a look at some of the most popular sleep apps and their features.


Calm advertises itself as the number one app for sleep and meditation. It has a little bit of everything relaxing: soothing music and other sounds, guided meditations of various lengths, bedtime stories with famous narrators, master classes in mindfulness, and even stretches.

Calm isn't just for sleep but aims to make life more relaxing overall, which is no small thing in this stressed-out age. Calm is a good place to start if you want to sample a variety of relaxation techniques.

Relax Melodies

Although the name makes it sound like a music app, the Relax Melodies app features a variety of different sounds to help you sleep as well as other features.

You can create your own playlist of white noise, music, binaural beats, and more, then set it to run for a set length of time when you go to bed. Relax Melodies also features meditation guidance, bedtime stories, and a set of bodily relaxation techniques called SleepMoves.

Sleep Cycle

Unlike the previous two apps, Sleep Cycle focuses mainly on sleep tracking, but it also offers other features.

While you slumber, Sleep Cycle gathers data on your sleep stages, heart rate, snoring, coughing, talking in your sleep, and pretty much any other significant events during your night's rest. Over time, the app helps analyze trends that can help you see how factors such as the weather and caffeine consumption are affecting your sleep, which you can address by contacting a sleep coach. There's also a sound library and a smart alarm clock to help you improve sleep habits on your own.

Sleep Reset

Sleep Reset emphasizes sleep coaching. This requires not just downloading an app but making a commitment, similar to any other self-improvement program.

You start by taking a detailed sleep assessment test, then get in touch with a sleep coach to develop a sleep action plan one-on-one. Sleep Reset uses techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy to help end destructive thoughts and sleep anxiety, so this app is particularly interesting if you suffer from problems like racing thoughts and nightmares.

Is There a Completely Free Sleep App?

All the previously mentioned apps are free to download and try out, but they require paid subscriptions or in-app purchases to access all their features. Relax Melodies and Sleep Cycle have freeware versions, but you must pay for the personal coaching, meditation, and detailed sleep data.

However, a few relaxing sleep apps are completely free. They tend to be laser-focused on one or two features.

Insight Timer

Insight Timer boasts a library of 12,000 guided meditation sound files. As the name suggests, it also includes a customizable timer so you can pick the length of meditation you want. The app is totally free to download and use; the company makes money from hosting a marketplace of workshops in meditation and other wellness techniques.

Power Nap Tracker

Power Nap Tracker, available only for Apple devices, offers multiple functions for sleep periods less than three hours long.

It includes a library of soothing sounds, a sleep tracker, and an alarm that gently wakes you up. While naps are generally not a good idea if you're having trouble sleeping at night, those who find a nap just the thing to refresh them during the day might find this free app very useful.

Think Outside the App

It's worth noting that many of these features are available outside of dedicated sleep apps and the internet.

You can create white noise by running a fan or a computer, playing music on the radio or a boom box, and learning meditation and cognitive-behavioral techniques through free YouTube videos. Also, if you already subscribe to a music streaming app, it might well have a dedicated sleep playlist; for instance, YouTube Music has a channel called "acoustic doze-off."

The main advantage of using sleep apps is that they offer a more curated experience; hunting through YouTube usually involves a lot of trial and error.

A Better Sleep App Can Help, but It's Not a Cure-All

Using a good relaxing sleep app might be just the thing you need to get more and better sleep. Be mindful, however, that you can undermine its effectiveness through bad habits like staying up too late, eating and drinking too much before bed, overstimulating yourself with audio or video entertainment late at night, and so on. Check out Snooze's section on sleep health for more details.

Also, sleep apps alone can't always identify an underlying ailment that's disturbing your sleep. Tracking and coaching apps can point you in the right direction, but some conditions require a visit to your physician to truly address. If there are no underlying medical problems, a great relaxing sleep app can improve your days and nights.

Find out more about sleep apps and other sleep products on Snooze.

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