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In theory, falling asleep should be the absolute easiest task our bodies have to accomplish each day. Lay down, close eyes, pass out — what’s the problem? And yet, it isn’t always that easy.
Whether it’s having a hard time falling asleep, constantly waking up throughout the night, or more severe insomnia, many of us aren’t getting the sleep we need to stay healthy and alert. While some have turned to sleep aids like supplements to help them get their nightly rest, a more holistic option exists in the form of sleep music apps.
Created with the help of sleep and meditation experts, these apps can feature a mix of background noises, musical compositions, bedtime stories, and nightly meditation exercises that aim to help you not only fall asleep and stay asleep, but also have better quality sleep so that you wake up feeling well-rested. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting eight hours of sleep and still being exhausted the next day.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best sleep music apps that will help you stop staring at the ceiling in the wee hours of the morning and instead be one of those people who just, you know, sleeps.
Best Sleep Music Apps of 2021
Best Overall: Slumber
Why We Chose It: One of the most popular and best-rated sleep apps available, Slumber is devoted entirely to helping you sleep better through a variety of auditory relaxation techniques that include music, nature sounds, guided visualization, breath control, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), and even hypnosis.
What We Like
- Developed by sleep experts
- Multiple methods of sleep techniques offered
- Music is customizable
What We Don’t Like
- Limited selection in free version
With an audio library that includes soundscapes, stories, music, and meditations, Slumber truly has something for everyone in its vast library. The science-based techniques are approved by the National Sleep Foundation and allow you to choose the method that works best for you, whether that’s a story series, meditation, or just simple music. It also allows you to add in background noise to play for up to 10 hours after your main track ends, just in case you still haven’t fallen asleep, or to help keep you snoozing if you need the additional white noise in the background. New stories and meditations are added each week, so there’s always something to discover.
If you prefer to keep it strictly focused on music and sound effects, you can customize the settings to control not only what sounds you hear, but mix and match them to create your perfect mix and control which noises are dominant. With options like rain, crackling flames, binaural beats (two tones played in alternating ears of headphones), and a flowing river, you can find the soothing sounds to comfort and calm your mind into slumber. There are also soundscapes, which are pre-made mixes of sounds that create an auditory experience like walking through a forest. For those that aren’t fans of sound effects, the Sleep Music section is dedicated purely to music compositions that are designed to help you relax.
You can gain limited access to the app for free, but to unlock the full experience, you’ll need to pay a subscription fee. You can opt to go month-to-month for $7.99 a month, pay a yearly fee of $49.99, or go all in with a lifetime subscription of $249.99.
Best Free Version: Relax Melodies
Why We Chose It: Create custom sleep tracks using this user-friendly app that also let’s you pair guided meditations with your perfect sleep mix.
What We Like
- Fully customizable
- Robust library of sounds
What We Don’t Like
- Not as many melodies to choose from as sounds
Free apps usually offer a very limited catalog of options, but Relax Melodies is the exception, offering a wide variety of sounds in an array of categories, from nature and animals to melodies and brain waves.
It also has a beyond easy to use interface which lets you visually “compose” your track and blend your sounds together, controlling the intensity of each sound to your specifications and letting you favorite your compositions. If you prefer your tracks pre-made, you can explore a selection of user-submitted and staff-created mixes that are ready for you to use. There are also meditations, stories, and melodies, however your options are a little more limited there as the catalog is not as diverse in the free option.
While the free version is expansive, there is still a lot to unlock in the premium version, which you can access for a fee of $59.99 a year.
Best Meditation & Music Hybrid: Headspace
Why We Chose It: Headspace is the perfect mix of mindfulness and sleep aid, letting you toggle between meditation and relaxation depending on your needs. It takes care of your mental health and stress levels during the day, which can help impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep come bedtime.
What We Like
- Easy to use
- Immersive experience
- Holistic approach to sleep wellness
What We Don’t Like
- You have to pay to get the majority of sleep content
While Headspace is known primarily as a meditation app, it also has a pretty amazing sleep music function. It takes the same approach to stress reduction and slowing down your mind and body and applies it to your sleep habits. The overall focus of Headspace is truly around better “sleep hygiene,” or creating a routine that helps to improve not only how fast you fall asleep, but the quality of that sleep.
The sleep function is easy to find and even easier to use, with a library of content ranging from music to soundscapes to sleep radio, which offers extended play of your music of choice. The timer function is also handy, allowing you to customize the length of your play to be anywhere from 10 minutes to 500 minutes.
There’s also more targeted content that focuses on situational aspects, including SOS content for when you are awoken in the middle of the night and need help getting back to sleep, as apparently the brain needs a different kind of experience than it does when it’s trying to initially fall asleep.
Headspace does have a free version, but there is very little sleep content available there. In order to unlock the full benefits, you’ll need to upgrade to the paid subscription, which is $12.99 a month or $69.99 annually. It’s pricey, but it does give you access to a vast content library of both sleep and meditation programs and features to tackle everything from work stress to feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
Best Variety: Pzizz
Why We Chose It: With its science-backed psychoacoustic approach, Pzizz has an array of ways to help you fall asleep that match your specific needs and an algorithm that makes minor adjustments to improve your experience each time you use it.
What We Like
- Multiple voices to choose from
- Personalization algorithm
- Custom timer
- Offline use
What We Don’t Like
- Can’t customize your sleep music tracks
- Can be confusing to navigate
Pzizz is based on the science of psychoacoustics, that is, the branch of psychology dedicated to the perception of sound and its physiological effect. The app uses research on how sounds affect sleep and uses that to help build their “dreamscapes” — combinations of music, voiceovers, and sound effects — to ensure they have clinically proven benefits for your sleep habits.
From a user experience standpoint, Pzizz does a phenomenal job of tailoring your experience for you based on its algorithm, which generates a slightly varied soundtrack each time you use it. Your brain will still associate the sounds with sleep, but it will keep your mind from becoming too familiar with the dreamscape and subconsciously shutting it out. The algorithm will also use your preferences to make recommendations over time based on the sounds you like and dislike.
The voiceover feature is another unique aspect because it allows more control than any other app on the market, giving you the option to decide how loud the voice is separate from the volume of the music, as well as multiple voice variations and a 3D effect. The narrations themselves will automatically change each time you use them, but you can also omit them entirely if you prefer your sleep tracks to be talk free. To round out the customization, you can set your timers to any length and the dreamscape will adapt to fit that time. This is especially handy if you are using Pzizz for its napping functionality. It also has a built-in alarm, so you don’t have to set a separate one outside of the app.
While the app is free, it only comes with two dreamscapes and two narrations, so if you want to unlock the full library, as well as a focus module for daytime clarity and other premium features including curated alarm sounds, you’ll need to pay the $9.99 a month or $69.99 a year for a subscription.
Best For Kids: Sleepiest
Why We Chose It: Sleepiest is geared towards helping make bedtime easier for children by introducing them to healthy sleep habits via bedtime stories, white noise, and calming music.
What We Like
- Gives kids the tools to cultivate good sleep hygiene
- Easy for them to navigate
What We Don’t Like
- Requires you to have a device in your kid’s room
Many people mistakenly believe that sleep problems are an issue limited to adults, however a study in the American Academy of Pediatrics found that between 25 to 50 percent of preschoolers and up to 40 percent of adolescents experience sleep-related issues. While not specifically geared towards children, Sleepiest is very kid-friendly and loaded with bedtime stories and soothing noises and music that will help lull kids to sleep. It has parental controls that ensure kids can’t move around outside of the app but allows them to explore on their own to find what sounds and stories fit their sleep-promoting needs.
There are four categories to choose from, including Sounds, Composer, Meditate, and Stories. Sounds features soothing music and background noises like rain and birds, while Composer lets kids create their own melodies using those sounds for a custom track. Meditate has guided meditations and relaxation techniques, while Stories is a collection of narrated stories ranging from classics like Sleeping Beauty to some lesser-known and more modern fare. The parental controls also allow you to set a timer to automatically turn off the audio after a certain amount of time.
The question of using the app comes down to how comfortable you are allowing a device into your child’s room at night. While the parental controls and enabling Guided Access on an iPhone allow you to manage what they can do with the app and ensure they stay in that app, some parents may not want to add that distraction. The price is also steep — $9.99 for a monthly subscription or $49.99 for a yearly one — however it does allow family sharing so up to six family members can use it.
Slumber was developed by experts with the sole purpose of helping you get to sleep using a range of scientifically researched methods and allows you to customize and choose to find the one that fits your specific needs best. While the free version has a sampling of options that will appeal to those with mild sleep issues, those looking for a truly immersive journey into sleep wellness and corrective techniques should splurge on the pro version. If you’re less into exploration and like your sleep program picked out for you, Pzizz and Headspace both offer a robust collection of pre-made ones that are tried and tested by their staff and community and get rave reviews.
How Do Sleep Music Apps Work?
Sleep music apps are downloadable content that can be streamed to your phone with the goal of helping you fall asleep faster and get better quality REM. They can be dedicated solely to sleep or be part of more expansive mindfulness and meditation apps. They typically contain some mix of music, sounds, narration, and stories that can either be customized and created by you from a series of options or are in a catalog of pre-made tracks for you to choose from.
How Much Do Sleep Music Apps Cost?
Many of the available apps offer some type of free content, be it a trial period or a limited selection of sounds and features. To gain access to premium content, you’ll need to subscribe to the service, either through a monthly, yearly, or, in some cases, lifetime access pass. These can range anywhere from $7.99 to $12.99 a month to $49.99 to $69.99 annually.
Do Sleep Music Apps Really Work?
Many studies have been done about the importance of good sleep hygiene and how engaging in relaxing activities like meditation before bedtime can help encourage better sleep. How sleep apps play into that, however, is still largely unstudied. While apps like Pzizz claim they have the studies to back up their better sleep claims, the study they refer to is a small test group with self-reported results. While overwhelming clinical evidence on sleep music app efficacy is still lacking, anecdotal evidence is effusive, with thousands of five-star reviews for all of the apps featured on this list.
How We Chose The Best Sleep Music Apps
Our top picks for the best sleep music apps are a combination of music, narration, and background effects that allow the user to customize to their specifications. Each needed to have easy to use interfaces that made navigation easy (since no one wants to have to do a brainteaser when they are trying to get to sleep) and functionality options like timers.
We also looked at pricing and subscription models to ensure a variety of budgets were represented and ensured that free content was available, either in the form of trial periods or with a selection tracks and sounds for those not ready to commit to a subscription.