The Best Meditation Apps

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Quick Summary

Considering using meditation apps for better relaxation or sleep, but unsure about which to choose?

According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2017, over 60% of Americans feel sources of stress around money and work. Even worse, stress can cause all kinds of negative symptoms, such as chest pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep.

The good news: there’s an app for that. In fact, there are dozens. In this guide, we’ve handpicked some of the best meditation apps for review and broken them down so you can get a better look.

Although turning to your phone for relaxation seems ironic, a controlled trial showed that self-guided mindfulness has big promise to improve psychological wellbeing.

Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in.

The Best Meditation Apps

Best for Busy Schedules – Headspace

Best for Children and Teens – Stop, Breathe & Think

Best for Both Mind and Body – Calm

Best for Online Community – Insight Timer

Best for Meditation Skeptics – 10% Happier

How We Decided
16 meditation apps considered –– 10 hours of research –– 4 experts consulted

Meditation App Reviews

Headspace - Best for Busy Schedules

meditation app headspace screenshot

Highlights
  • Customizable to your goals
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Fun and friendly animation
  • Helps with stress reduction and increased focus
  • Good for adults and children

Headspace is arguably one the most well-known meditation apps. They aim to reduce stress, increase focus, and boost compassion. You’ll be able to run through hundreds of themed sessions in bite-sized chunks to squeeze into your busy schedule.

For example, you can choose between topics like deep sleep, self-esteem boosters, or sports recovery. They even have “SOS exercises” in case you feel like you need some instant calm.

This meditation app doesn’t just serve adults, either — Headspace offers themes such as calm, focus, kindness, sleeping, and waking up for kids.

Stop, Breathe & Think - Best for Children

stop breathe think app preview

Highlights
  • Made with children and educators in mind
  • Helps children self-regulate emotion
  • Great for classroom or bedtime routines
  • Customizable kits for all grades and ages

Hoping to bring some calm to the little ones in your life? Stop Breathe Think is an award-winning meditation app for the younger crowd. Their mission is to help kids, teens, and young adults build the emotional strength to tackle life’s ups and downs — great for both educators and parents.

Teachers can use the app in the classroom to increase emotional regulation, decrease stress, and maintain strong communication. You can even download classroom resource toolkits for all different grades. Additionally, this meditation app integrates with multiple platforms, including Alexa and Slack. And if you’re interested in products like essential oils, look no further than their online store.

Calm - Best for Both Mind and Body

Highlights
  • Sleep Stories to help you go to bed
  • Famous voices you’ll know and love
  • Mixing mindfulness and movement
  • Partnership with spas

Apple awarded Calm the App of the Year Award in 2017. Calm teaches you how to meditate, focus, sleep better, and care for your body.

If you’re looking into meditation before bed, their unique library of Sleep Stories will soothe you into a deep slumber. Famous voices narrate many of these stories — think Bob Ross and Stephen Fry.

Unlike some of the other apps out there, you’ll also get access to Calm Body, which gives 10-minute guided video lessons on gentle stretching and mindful movement. Another big bonus? Calm even has locations at airports. If you’re a Calm user, you can visit their partner XpresSpa to get free gifts.

Insight Timer - Best for Online Community

best free meditation app insight timer

Highlights
  • Rated the best free meditation app
  • Provides a robust online social network
  • Offers a wide variety of teachers and guided meditation styles
  • Customizable sounds

Insight Timer is a top-rated free meditation app and provides guided meditation from thousands of different teachers. It’s a crowd favorite, with over 5 million downloads.

Insight Timer’s cornerstone feature: meditation timers with customizable bells and soothing ambient sounds to keep your meditation on track. For example, you could select zhada, basu, and ombu bells to signify the beginning, middle, and end of your meditation session.

You’ll also get a community along with it. App users can discuss topics like compassion and spirituality in insight groups, such as, “Women Meditate Worldwide” and “Be Here Now”. For those who like to track progress, you’ll also enjoy the logged stats and milestones.

10% Happier - Best for Meditation Skeptics

meditation app 10 percent happier screens

Highlights
  • Made with busy people in mind
  • Part of the 10% Better movement
  • Access to renowned teachers and scientists
  • Made for those wanting to improve relationships and health

10% Happier bills itself as “meditation for fidgety skeptics,” which definitely fits a lot of city dwellers out there.

The meditation app is based on bestselling author Dan Harris’ book and overall philosophy of happiness, backed by scientific studies. Unlike several of the meditation apps, 10% Happier provides access to online courses, video lessons, and guided meditation from a wide range of teachers and scientists.

You’ll also take a short quiz before downloading the app to receive a customized experience. App users can supplement those lessons with the 10% Happier Podcast, where Dan Harris interviews guests on how they’re becoming their best selves.

Meditation App Buying Guide

Choosing the right meditation app for your needs can add a new element of positivity in your day-to-day life.

This guide will go over what meditation really means, how it can help you sleep, and all the different elements you should look for in a meditation app.

What is Meditation?

We’ve all heard of meditation before, but what does it really entail? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, meditation is a private exercise encompassing concentration, abstraction, or contemplation. It’s also conducive to heightened calm and spiritual awareness.

That may include breathing, gazing, visualizing, and sounds. For that reason, meditation can be interpreted to cover many different practices, including yoga.

The practice likely dates back over 5,000 years, with the Vedas in India first documenting meditation around 500 BCE. Although western countries had some exposure to this practice, it more recently exploded into popularity in the past few decades in the United States. It’s hard to pinpoint the sole reason, but several events contributed to its recent uptick in popularity.

For example, take molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn. He pulled off a wildly successful meditation program for western medicine practices in the 1970s. His initiative helped integrate some of the more holistic medicine ideas into western medicine with a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for people who suffered from chronic pain.

Over the years, combined with American lifestyles that didn’t provide much time for rest or reflection, many people felt hungry for a more calming effect in their day-to-day lives.

Ironically, the technology and distractions that have made it so hard to be present have actually become a tool to counteract that problem. It’s no surprise that many different meditation apps have popped up with great success.

How Can Meditation Help Me Sleep?

Meditation and sleep go together like deep breathing and yoga. But that’s not just a hunch — plenty of studies show how effective these bedfellows really are.

For example, a synthesis of academic studies conducted between 2012-2016 showed that Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) significantly impacted sleep disturbance and insomnia. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia delivered online has been shown to be just as effective in person — meaning there’s no reason meditation apps couldn’t help you sleep.

And even old dogs can learn new tricks. A study conducted at UCLA in 2012 found that older adults can improve moderate sleep disturbances through an introduction to mindfulness meditation.

A study conducted by Frontiers in Neurology also found that meditation helps with sleep initiation through several different methods. Meditation regulates blood flow to executive regions of the brain, reduces stress levels, and can even help grow and repair cells.

Translation? Meditation can actually alter your physiology to provide similar effects of sleep. Another Harvard study found that middle-aged adults who completed a mindfulness awareness program helped evoke the relaxation response. This response is the opposite of a stress response, and can help alleviate problems such as sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and depression.

Long story short, numerous studies have shown the same truth time and again: mindfulness and meditation provide a direct line to healthy sleeping habits. And it makes sense. If your body is producing the same kinds of chemicals during meditation as during sleep, the two inevitably make a great pair. Just one more reason to meditate before bed.

What Should I Look for in a Meditation App?

You understand how beneficial meditation can be, but how do you choose the right app for you? Meditation apps often cater to specific audiences, so some will work better depending on your goals and life circumstance. Here are a few components to take into consideration.

Level of Guidance – Just as some people like to run alone while others want a group exercise class, the level of guidance you prefer is highly subjective. Ask yourself how much help you want from a meditation app. Thinking about how you like to exercise may provide some good clues.

Are you self-motivated and more interested in working alone, or do you pay better attention when someone keeps you on track? Maybe you’re somewhere in between, and would like to be walked through new sessions, at least for a little while.

Different apps provide varying degrees of structure and teachers. For example, apps like Calm will guide you through deep sleep exercises with well-known narrators, whereas Headspace will guide you through more bite-sized meditation throughout the day.

Customizability – The beauty of meditation is that you can practice it in many different ways. For that reason, you’ll want to figure out how much customization you want with your app. Here are a few settings to consider:

  • Duration – How long are you looking to meditate for each session? Some apps specialize in short-term meditation that you can squeeze into anytime of day, while others are a bit more of a commitment. A highly customizable app will allow you to choose between a wide range of session durations.
  • Music/Sounds – What kinds of sounds soothe you? Do you prefer to listen to nature, or are you more interested in music? Or, do you want something totally different, like feeling as if you’re in a temple? Meditation apps like Insight Timer provide a range of soothing bells that you can pick and choose to designate spots in your mindfulness practice.
  • Guidance – This comes back to the level of guidance you prefer, but at a more granular level. Can you decide whether or not someone talks you through your meditation? Some apps offer dozens of different teachers, while others offer thousands. If you have a favorite voice or person you like to follow, being able to find that guide on an app is a customization feature to consider.
  • Breathing exercises, stretching, etc. – You should always choose the style of mindfulness that fits you best. Maybe you’re not good at sitting still, or prefer a more body-integrated meditation. Check if the app you have offers different kinds of breathing or stretching exercises. Apps like Calm specialize in meditation/body combo classes, so you can get the best of both worlds.

Accountability – Are you someone who can stick by your own goals and benchmarks, or do you respond better towards outward accountability? Check if the meditation app you want has the option to send a reminder, or if you can turn reminders off when you don’t need them.

Some other points to consider: can you set a schedule to meditate at the same time every day? Do public points systems help you stay on track? Apps like Insight Timer provide public profiles with milestones if you prefer more accountability.

Audio and Visual – Remember figuring out whether you were an audio, visual, or tactile learner? Think about whether you care more about audio or visual cues, especially during a guided meditation.

Many meditation apps are audio-based and ideal for listening to with your eyes closed or while you’re seated somewhere like public transit. Others are video-based and better for at-home practice where you have a more private place to view and follow along. Which would keep you more hooked and interested in continuing?

Price – How much are you willing to invest in a meditation app? While some apps are free, others are only free up to a point. Many meditation apps offer a monthly, yearly, or lifelong subscription. For paying apps, the cheapest average around $5 a month and can go all the way up to $300 for a one-time, lifelong payment.

Check out different price points to decide what will work best for your budget. And if you’re wondering whether or not the price is worth it, check out the store reviews to see if people found it to be a good value. Still can’t decide? Not to worry — most apps also allow you to take advantage of a free trial period that lasts around seven days.

Additional Tuck Resources

Looking for even more information on how meditation can help you create a healthy sleep environment? There are all kinds of ways to improve your sleeping habits that you can start right away. Here are a few more articles that may help.