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Mobile Apps


January 6, 2021


Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness is a meditation app for adults and kids. It has quite a bit of free content, but to unlock all of its features requires a subscription. The app has guided meditation tracks, as well as videos, tips (on topics like “how to be more empathetic”), and meditation practices. The app also has a section designed specifically to help the user to fall and stay asleep.



When the user first downloads and opens the Headspace app, it launches you right into the mindset of meditation. The screen shows one of the app’s cartoon figures expanding and then shrinking, in conjunction with a reminder to breathe in and out. The user is then prompted to create an account (using Facebook, Spotify, or email) and can watch the tutorial. The app uses common meditation techniques such as body scans, becoming aware of environmental sounds, breath awareness, breath counting, and others in order to establish a serene, aware space for the mind to rest. The videos on the home screen usually start with a quick intro, followed by a short meditation–usually a minute, sometimes less–and then circle back to the topic of the day.


The app also offers a sleep-specific section that has “Sleepcasts,” which are 45-55 minute audio experiences (similar to adult bedtime stories) that help the user to visualize calming experiences, like a slow moving train or a walk through a garden. The Sleepcasts are designed to provide content that creates the right conditions for healthy, restful sleep. There are new stories every night to prevent boredom. The paid version gives access to more than 40 themed meditation courses (such as for sleep and stress), plus many more Sleepcast and music options. The Sleepcasts begin with a “wind-down” to help people relax and decompress from the day. After that, a narrator carefully describes each part of a relaxing landscape to help transport the listener to a dreamy, low-energy environment.


Each Sleepcast is set in the evening or at night, and many involve water—lagoons, rain, rivers, ponds, oceans, etc. The user can make adjustments within the app to dial up the background ambient noise, make the narration quieter or louder, or turn the narration off completely. The ones that aren’t in natural settings are set in quiet, empty spaces (a library, museum, or Laundromat, for example), all lacking artificial light, the blue tint of moonlight making the visualizations feel more surreal.


The Sleepcasts are slightly remixed nightly, so that the user can listen to the same one and encounter many familiar details but not so many that they can memorize the narrative and know what’s coming next. Headspace notes on its website that’s because knowing the “story” would give you a sense of tracking the passage of time—a potential cause of anxiety that could counterproductively interfere with sleep.



Many of Headspace’s meditations come with a customizability unique to this app: the option to select the duration of a given session. While other meditation apps allow users to select sessions that are longer or shorter, Headspace gives users the ability to change the length of almost any session before they begin the actual meditation. 

Users can also choose certain sounds to help them fall asleep, called “sleep music,” or “sleep radio.” “Sleep radio” refers to extended (500-minute recordings–over eight hours!) of one of three categories of sound: rain, ocean, or music.The app also provides guided meditations for when one wakes up in the middle of the night, music that’s low-key and calming, and soundscapes of gentle rain and ocean waves.



The price of the full version could be prohibitive (free for select content; $95/year for full access). Headspace excels as a meditation app rather than an app specifically designed for better sleep. It definitely does have the potential to aid sleep but may not be as good as actual sleep-aid specific apps.

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