The best sleep apps 2021: make your phone part of a healthy bedtime routine

Woman in bed, reaching for her phone
(Image credit: Savalov Nikita / Shutterstock / Future)

Your phone can be a distraction at night, but with the right sleep apps, it can also be a valuable tool to help you drift off more easily and enjoy a better night's rest.

Choosing the best mattress, white noise machine, and wake-up light can all help you get a better night's rest, but that's no good if you're staying up late checking messages and watching videos. It doesn't have to be that way though, and these sleep apps can turn your phone into part of an effective wind-down routine.

 We've put a huge range of sleep apps to the test, and picked out the five that will genuinely help you get a more restful night's sleep, and understand the factors that affect your sleeping patterns. Some focus on providing soothing audio to help your mind wander, some encourage mindfulness with meditation and journaling, and one even monitors you throughout the night to detect whether you're restless.

All of these apps come highly recommended, and all of them offer either a free trial or a simplified free version, so there's nothing to lose by trying them all over the course of several nights to find out which suits you best.

Woman using Headspace app on her phone

Headspace is packed with mindfulness and relaxation tools to help you feel calmer (Image credit: Headspace / panitanphoto / Shutterstock)

1. Headspace

Guided meditation sessions for a better night's sleep

Wide range of meditations
Great for all experience levels
Guidance throughout the day
Free trial is quite limited
Can feel too structured

When it comes to relaxation, sleep, and mindfulness, Headspace has all the bases covered. It's an extremely comprehensive app, packed with guided meditation, yoga, and workout sessions, 'sleepcasts' to help you drift off at night, and invigorating music to keep you energized throughout the day.

Each morning you'll be presented with a set of curated content to use throughout the day, helping you get motivated in the morning and gently wind down as the day comes to a close. There's a lot more to explore elsewhere in the app though, and in our tests we were particularly impressed Headspace's many sleep tools. These include stories, relaxing sounds, and even a Sleep Radio option that provides hours of gentle noise throughout the night,

If you struggle to get a good night's rest and can't identify one particular cause, Headspace's comprehensive toolkit could be exactly what you need.

Read our full Headspace review

Man using Rainy Mood on his phone

Rainy Mood lets you customize soothing background sounds, with high quality audio recordings that join seamlessly (Image credit: Plain Theory Inc / panitanphoto / Shutterstock)

2. Rainy Mood

Realistic soundscapes to help you relax and unwind

Excellent audio quality
Randomized sound samples
Customizable soundscapes
No wake-up option

Rainy Mood is a sleep app with a simple premise – providing gentle sounds that help clear your mind – and executes it extremely well. Unlike many white noise machines and apps, you'll never notice the sound samples looping thanks to the sheer number of them and the app's algorithmic randomization.

You can take your pick from classic rain, gentle cafe chatter, waves washing over a beach, or the sounds of the countryside. Each of these options has different effects (such as birds, thunder and crickets), which you can adjust to create the most relaxing sound for you. It's extremely simple to use, but thoughtfully executed with a simple, clear interface.

There's no alarm option, so the app can't wake you with the gentle patter of rain on a windowpane, but the app does include a timer so the audio fades out after a certain period so you can leave it playing while you fall asleep.

Read our full Rainy Mood review

Woman using Pzizz app on her phone

Pzizz uses sophisticated soundscapes to help you feel relaxed or energized (Image credit: Pzizz / Amnaj Khetsamtip / Shutterstock)

3. Pzizz

Carefully crafted audio that can relax or revitalize you

Very simple to use
Well crafted audio
Customizable settings
Relatively expensive

Like Rainy Mood, Pzizz is a sleep app that uses gentle sounds to help you drift off into a restful slumber. Whereas Rainy Mood focuses on creating realistic background audio, Pzizz combines music and narration with sound effects and rhythms to make 'dreamscapes' that help soothe you to sleep – whether it's for a full night's rest or a brief power nap.

The app also includes 'focuscapes', which use the same principles to get you feeling energized in the morning, and ready to face the day. Everything is presented in a clear, simple interface, with timers and reminders to help you stick to a healthy sleep schedule. 

Bear in mind, however, that Pzizz is much more expensive that Rainy Mood, costing $69.99 (about £50 / AU$100) per year compared to a one-off fee of $2.99 / £2.79 / $4.49, though there's a free trial available so you can test it before subscribing.

Read our full Pzizz review

Woman using Sleep Cycle app on her phone

Sleep Cycle monitors sound overnight to determine your sleeping patterns (Image credit: Sleep Cycle / DenPhotos / Shutterstock)

4. Sleep Cycle

Understand your sleep patterns, and identify what affects them

Free and paid versions are useful
Requires little user input
Excellent value for money
Takes time to learn your habits
Works best with a smartwatch

Sleep Cycle is one of the few sleep apps that actively monitor you throughout the night, identifying when you move between different sleep stages and rousing you during a 'wake window' so you don't get up in the morning feeling groggy.

Whereas most fitness trackers do this by measuring changes in your heart rate, Sleep Cycle works by monitoring the noise you make during the night – whether it's snoring, moving, or speaking. In the morning you'll be presented with detailed charts showing your sleep patterns, and given the opportunity to write journal entries, which can help you identify factors that affect your sleep quality.

There are soothing sounds and stories to help you drift off at night. They aren't quite as sophisticated as those offered by Pzizz and Rainy Mood – but that's to be expected, as they're not the main focus here. Sleep Cycle is all about understanding why you sleep the way you do, and is an excellent option if you don't want to wear a watch at nigh.

Read our full Sleep Cycle review

Woman using Slumber app on her phone

Slumber is packed with a huge catalog of soundscapes, stories, meditation sessions, and ASMR content (Image credit: Slumber / DenPhotos / Shutterstock)

5. Slumber

Relaxing soundscapes and stories for the whole family

Excellent range of content
Stories for adults and children
No free version available
Almost overwhelming

Like Headspace, Slumber is a sleep app that provides a range of soundscapes, stories, and meditation sessions to help you settle down at night. There are ASMR recordings, guided mindfulness sessions, and customizable soundscapes all packed into one library, so you're certain to find something that will work for you.

During our testing, one of the features that really stood out was Slumber's selection of bedtime stories for children as well as adults. Whereas most sleep apps are designed with grownups firmly in mind, it's good to see one that acknowledges the fact that kids often need a helping hand drifting off as well.

It's impressive, but the sheer volume of content can be overwhelming, and unlike Headspace, Slumber doesn't give you a digest of recommended sessions to try throughout the day.

Read our full Slumber review

This article is part of TechRadar's Sleep Week 2021 (Sunday 31 October to Sunday 7 November) our in-depth look at sleep and how to snooze better. We've teamed up with experts in their field to bring you sleep techniques and tips to help you drift off easier, and have rounded-up the best sleep kit and Black Friday mattress deals to transform your bedroom into a den of zen.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)