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Sleeping is a lot harder than it used to be.

There are countless distractions in this world. So many television shows to watch. So much content to meme. So much ongoing pandemic to track.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now, too, enough that sleeping can feel pretty much impossible sometimes. The pandemic isn’t going away, there are seemingly unending natural disasters, and depressing news stories relentlessly fill our feeds. Luckily, the technology that surrounds and distracts us also gives us plentiful tools to help ease ourselves into the land of z’s.

Here are a few apps that will hopefully help you finally get a good night’s sleep.

Apps to improve sleep quality

Your daily night’s rest is broken up into several sleep cycles. Research shows that repeatedly missing sleep or keeping an inconsistent sleep schedule can mess with your rest overall. These next few apps help you track your sleep cycles to make sure you’re getting the best sleep you can, and waking up every morning refreshed.


Sleep Cycle is is a nice twist on the standard alarm clock. Using your microphone, it tracks your sleep patterns and wakes you in the lightest phase of sleep so you’re not groggy. You set a window during which to be woken (for example, between 7 and 7:30 a.m.), and it figures the best time to pull you out of your slumber. It even lets you tap your phone twice to snooze.


Apple has a way to track your sleep and, hopefully, improve your rest. The Sleep function inside the Health app on your iPhone lets you set goals, track progress, schedule wake-up and bedtimes, and plan wind down periods prior to going to bed. If you have an Apple Watch, you can also incorporate super accurate sleep data into your rest program.


Pillow is the perfect app for those who want to know everything they can about the way they’re sleeping. Like Bedtime and Sleep Cycle, it tracks your sleep and wakes you in a light stage of rest. But you can also use its features to time different kind of mid-day rests: power naps (15 minutes), recovery naps (45 minutes), and full cycle naps (120 minutes). It’ll give you information about your heart rate, your REM cycles, and how long it took you to get to sleep.

Apps to help you fall asleep

Mindfulness and meditation has been proven to help people who struggle with insomnia. The apps below focus on meditation through various techniques, like music, nature sounds, and voice commands. All are aimed to help you hit the state of relaxation you need to go to bed.


First: This app looks incredible; its appearance alone is calming! As for the music, think of an incredibly soothing, movie-style soundtrack that you set to fade out after an hour or so to help wind you down before you go to bed. It also offers narration in both male and female voices, but if you find that creepy (which you will), you can shut it off. It also lets you use its music in bursts as a “focus” setting.


The Headspace: Meditation app sets you up with different sessions depending on your goals. It’ll send you push notifications reminding you to meditate throughout the day. Each session only takes a few minutes. If you’re the kind of person whose mind races before you hit the sack, this app is for you.


Like Headspace: Meditation, Calm will soothe your mind right before bed. The sessions are longer, and you can set up programs over time to ease you into zen. The app offers ambient sounds of nature and turns your phone into a giant portrait of a scenic landscape.

The first one I tried was 12 minutes long, and it did an incredible job at helping me calm down. I hadn’t ever tried meditation before. Something about the mix of nature sounds and music really put me in a place of peace. Just make sure to also put your phone on silent; not too long after I finished my session I got a breaking news alert that broke my zen.

4. Podcasts

If all else fails, podcasts are always an option. Err on the side of comedy to end the day with a few laughs before sleeping (I highly recommend “How Did This Get Made?”) or something storytelling-based, like This American Life. Remember to use the sleep timer at the bottom of the app to make sure a long podcast doesn’t wake you once you fall asleep.


White Noise Lite is a free, incredibly simple app. All it does is play soothing sounds that’ll help you sleep — things like an air conditioner hum, crickets chirping, or the low whirl of an oscillating fan. The sounds drown out distractions and, if you’re a light sleeper, help keep you asleep. I’ve found I wake up less with this app because my brain doesn’t bolt me to life at every little sound outside.


If you feel like you need sleep help that is a bit more direct, perhaps Relax and Sleep Well could be for you. It has six free meditation and hypnosis recordings that are aimed at helping people get sleep and feel relaxed.

Additional reporting by Tim Marcin.

This story was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2019 and again in 2021.

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