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Calm is an award-winning app for guided meditation and sleep. Here, we discuss our editor’s experience with the app and whether it is beneficial for mental health and sleep.
According to the Calm website, the multi-award-winning app has more than 100 million downloads and over 1.5 million five-star reviews. The app uses technology to improve a person’s health and overall well-being. It has a range of features designed to suit users’ different needs.
This article explores the Calm app, how it works, its features and effectiveness, pros and cons, and more. A Medical News Today editor provides a detailed review of the app, offering insights into the user experience and the effectiveness of the app.
Calm is a meditation app that Alex Tew and Michael Acton Smith developed in 2012. The app is available for download on desktop, iOS, and Android devices. Calm teaches a person about the foundations of mindfulness meditation. It provides access to a library of meditation sessions and programs that target specific themes, such as dating, panic, anxiety, and deep sleep.
Aside from meditations, the app provides exercises, breathing techniques, music, and bedtime stories for people who are tense, feel anxious, or want to improve their sleep quality.
Some of Calm’s content is available for free, such as introductory meditations, breathing exercises, journaling prompts, background scenes, nature sounds, and material for younger audiences.
People can access all of Calm’s content with a paid subscription. Subscriptions cost between $5.83 per month and $399.99 for a lifetime subscription.
Online mindfulness applications such as Calm are widely available, but there is not much data to show their effectiveness. A 2021 meta-analysis of 34 randomized controlled trials concluded that such apps could help people improve their sense of well-being and mental health, but their long-term effectiveness is unknown.
The specific benefits of online mindfulness applications these studies documented include:
- enhancing well-being
- reducing anxiety, depression, and fear of recurrence for people with cancer
- reducing burnout among people working in hospice and palliative care
- reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression
- managing stress
- improving quality of life
Children’s mental health
A 2020 survey analysis that looked at the perceptions of parents of children using Calm found that nearly all parents thought that the app was helpful for their children’s sleep. However, the study’s authors suggest that more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation apps for improving sleep and mental health in children and teenagers.
Calm encourages people to interact with the app daily. However, a 2020 study notes that although intermittent app use can improve a person’s well-being, daily use can pose potential adverse outcomes. These include feelings of failure and demotivation if someone does not use the app daily.
Additionally, the study mentions that some people found that using mindfulness apps made their mental health worse, with reports of increased anxiety, agitation, and discomfort — along with unmanageable negative thoughts — included in a number of the studies the authors cite.
Mindfulness meditation is a component of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), an 8-week intensive mindfulness training workshop developed in the 1970s by Prof. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
The practice includes meditation and yoga and teaches people to be more aware of their bodies, behaviors, and emotions in a nonjudgmental way. Using this technique, a person can have better control of their mind.
A 2020 study found that MBSR effectively reduced stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms while improving the psychological well-being of retired football players.
Calm may not be suitable for everyone
The Calm app is unsuitable for people experiencing severe symptoms of a mental health condition and those in a mental health crisis.
When a person enters the app, Calm asks for their goals to make personalized content recommendations.
An individual can choose from the following options:
- reduce anxiety
- develop gratitude
- increase happiness
- improve performance
- build self-esteem
- reduce stress
- get better sleep
Although the app can offer recommendations, people can also explore its extensive content library, which includes sounds, stories, audio classes, and guided meditations.
A Medical News Today editor, who chose to write anonymously for this review, used the free version of the Calm app for years before trying the paid version. Below is their experience.
“I had used the free version of Calm for a few years before getting the paid version through work in 2023. I found it very simple to use and set up.
“I appreciate the variety of options – there are guided meditations in a range of time lengths, as well as a variety of people performing the actual guidance themselves. Many of them are familiar names in the mental wellness industry.
“There are also narrated stories on various topics that help me feel relaxed when I listen to them, plus a range of stories aimed specifically at children. My son, aged 10, uses the Sleep Stories, and they are very effective in helping him fall asleep quicker.
“I have used the Calm app consistently for many months now and get a lot of value out of it. I use the guided meditations at least once a week and the Sleep Stories function multiple times a week.
“I notice a marked difference in my mood on the days where I have used the Calm app first thing in the morning. Usually, it only takes 5 minutes.
“The app is a good fit for those who need some help with meditating for the benefit of their mental health and overall mental wellness. It is also a good fit for those who struggle with sleep, both adults and children alike.”
At the time of publication, Calm does not hold accreditation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB gives the company an F grade. It received this grade because it failed to respond to 17 complaints customers made against the business.
There are just four reviews on the company’s BBB profile, and the average score from these reviews is 1 out of 5 stars. Customers complained about charges for the app after they had canceled their subscription and poor customer service.
- poor customer service
- difficult cancelations
- customers finding the female voice annoying and not calming
- a cluttered user interface
- new Sleep Stories not being added as often as mentioned
However, authors of positive reviews say that Calm helped them fall asleep faster. Others state that the company’s meditations were useful for de-stressing at the end of the day.
A summary of the services available through the Calm app include:
- the Daily Calm, 10-minute mindfulness sessions that change every day
- more than 100 different Sleep Stories designed to help people of all ages get to sleep peacefully
- Sleep Music
- guided meditations on different themes, such as “Relationships” or “Focus” ranging from 2–3 to 30 minutes long
- unguided meditations that can be extended for hours
- content for advanced meditators
- Daily Quotes
- Daily Calm Calendar
- Calm materials for PreK – 12 educators
- Calm Master Classes on mindfulness
- Calm Body Program for easy movement and stretching
Below, we look at each service in more detail.
Speakers guide meditation sessions, narrating the session by delivering content that contains mindfulness teaching.
The meditation sessions are grouped into different categories, such as:
Meditations can be accessed as stand-alone sessions, courses, or series.
Sessions range between 3 and 30 minutes.
These are bedtime stories for adults and children. They are designed to help the person’s mind settle and help them fall asleep faster. These stories also have categories, such as:
- autonomous sensory meridian response
Many of the sleep stories feature the voices of celebrities, such as Idris Elba, Harry Styles, LeBron James, Sophia Bush, and Matthew McConaughey.
The Calm app contains a curated list of music tracks organized into the following categories:
- natural melodies
The Calm Masterclasses are audio classes that dig deeper into diverse topics, such as screen addiction, creativity, breaking habits, and conscious parenting. Renowned experts in their fields deliver these sessions.
Individuals can take an introductory class free of charge. However, a person will need a subscription to access the entirety of the masterclass.
Calm Kids has a library of kid-friendly content, including meditations, Sleep Stories for children aged 3 years and older, and lullabies. Meditations included in this section of the app help children learn calming techniques.
Learn more about meditation for children.
This section includes 10-minute sessions that guide a person through gentle stretches and mindful movements to release tension and recharge their mind.
The Spark contains bite-sized interviews between a host and different guests, such as athletes, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs. The interviews aim to provide listeners with motivation, insight, humor, and wisdom.
Calm has several breathing exercises focusing on different goals, such as relieving stress or relaxing the body. A person can adjust the breaths per minute (speed) and the length (duration) of the breathing exercise.
The app allows people to log their moods, sleep, reflections on particular topics, and what they are grateful for on a daily basis.
Calm offers a 7–day free trial. However, signing up for the free trial automatically enrolls a person in a year-long subscription to Calm Premium. If a person does not wish to purchase a year’s subscription to Calm, they must cancel this subscription at least 24 hours before the free trial ends.
Calm offers discounts to U.S. students and “family plans” for up to six different individuals.
At the time of publication, subscription costs for Calms were:
- $14.99 per month for a monthly subscription
- $5.83 per month or $69.99 per year for an annual subscription
- $399.99 for a lifetime subscription
- around $8.33 per month or $99.99 per year for a family plan for up to six individuals
- $8.99 per year in a limited-time offer for U.S. students
Calm also offers discounts for students through Amazon Prime student. Students can get a 3-month free trial of Calm Premium and a yearly subscription for $8.99 a year.
Teams of five or more people can get a 15% discount, and Calm provides a family plan that allows up to six users for $99.99 a year.
Calm is free for anyone to download. Upon signing up, a person gets a 7-day free trial and is automatically enrolled in Calm Premium.
With the free version of the app, a person can access an original Daily Calm session every day, as well as check-ins, several scenes with sounds, and selected sessions from meditation courses.
The app also offers a Premium subscription for people who want to access the full suite of features.
The Premium subscription includes:
- over 100 guided meditations on a range of topics, including stress and sleep
- a library of Sleep Stories, which the company updates weekly
- exclusive Calm Music for sleep and relaxation
- Calm Masterclasses for deeper discussions about mindful learning
Before downloading or using the Calm app, individuals may wish to consider the pros and cons of the service.
- a 7-day free trial
- free content available for people without a subscription
- daily reminders
- ability to track meditation streaks
- customizable features
- includes content for children and families
- high subscription cost
- focuses on mindfulness, which involves a learning curve
- sessions that may not be suitable for everyone
- requires significant commitment and engagement from users
- long sessions that are sometimes unsuitable for use while on the go
- there are mixed reviews online
A person may wish to consider alternative mindfulness apps before purchasing a subscription to Calm.
Calm vs. Headspace
Compared with Calm, most of Headspace‘s content is for beginners.
However, users note that Headspace has more voice options and fun animations than Calm’s more serene and calm nature sounds. People on the go also enjoy Headspace’s mini-meditations, which last only 2–3 minutes.
Learn more about how Calm compares with Headspace.
Calm vs. Buddhify
Like Calm, Buddhify has content for both beginners and meditation pros. However, Buddhify does not offer a free trial and has no desktop version. The ranges of sessions are similar on Buddhify, with sessions ranging between 4 and 30 minutes.
Although Calm offers some personalization, Buddhify allows people to create a wheel that contains their preferred meditation categories.
Calm vs. Smiling Mind
Like Calm, Smiling Mind has programs for people of all ages and is suitable to use in classrooms and workplaces. However, this Australian not-for-profit brand offers its app for free.
According to the company, Smiling Mind uses evidence-based strategies to help individuals cope with daily struggles and everyday situations, such as taking public transportation.
Although Calm is available in various languages, such as German, French, and Korean, Smiling Minds has recorded meditations in Kriol, Ngaanyatjarra, and Pitjantjatjara.
The app also includes the skills of traditional healers to improve people’s well-being and mental health literacy.
Learn more about the best meditation apps.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
People experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition should speak with a doctor. Using mental health and meditation apps like Calm should not replace care from a qualified medical professional.
- Mild symptoms: People with mild symptoms lasting less than 2 weeks may benefit from self-care activities, such as exercise, socializing, eating a balanced diet, talking with a trusted person, or practicing meditation, relaxation, or mindfulness techniques. Mild symptoms include feeling a little down but still being able to do work and care for yourself and others and having some trouble sleeping. Those with more severe symptoms should consider the point below.
- Severe symptoms: For those with more severe symptoms that last over 2 weeks, the NIMH recommends they seek professional help and consider psychotherapy, medication, or brain stimulation therapy. A person can speak with a doctor to determine the best treatment for them. Severe symptoms include difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, difficulty getting out of bed because of low mood, loss of interest in hobbies and interests, suicidal ideation, and difficulty completing daily responsibilities.
A doctor can discuss a person’s symptoms, recommend medication and lifestyle changes, or suggest appointments with particular mental health professionals, such as counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists.
Learn more about the different types of therapy.
Those who find getting to sleep or staying asleep difficult can also benefit from speaking with a doctor. Symptoms of insomnia
- difficulty falling asleep
- sleeping for short amounts of time and waking regularly during the night
- waking up very early in the morning
- poor quality sleep
- daytime sleepiness
A doctor can recommend lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication to help with insomnia.
Here, we provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Calm.
People with mild symptoms of a mental health condition or those having trouble falling asleep may find the Calm app worth the price. It offers a wide range of content suitable for adults and children that comes in many forms, from guided meditations to bedtime stories and soundscapes.
A person can try a 7-day free trial of the Calm app. Afterward, they can assess whether the content addressed their concerns and whether they regularly used the app. Considering all these factors can help a person determine if the Calm app is worth it for them.
Although Calm is a very popular app, people may find other companies’ apps more suitable for their needs. For instance, some apps are free or specifically built for beginners to meditation.
Suitable alternatives include Headspace and Smiling Mind.
Both Calm and Headspace are suitable for helping people practice mindfulness and meditation to ease anxiety or help sleep.
Headspace may be better suited to beginners as it provides more structure to its meditation and mindfulness practices than Calm. However, Calm offers an extensive range of content for adults and children alike.
Headspace offers a slightly cheaper monthly subscription at $12.99 a month, but its yearly subscription equals Calm’s at $69.99.
People can try both apps with a free trial to decide which will best suit their needs.
The cost of the Calm app will vary depending on the subscription a person chooses. A monthly subscription costs $14.99 a month, a yearly subscription costs $69.99 a year, and a lifetime subscription includes a one-off payment of $399.99.
Students can get a yearly subscription for $8.99 with Amazon Prime Student. Teams can get a 15% discount, and families can add up to six users for $99.99 annually.
In addition to a 7–day free trial, the Calm app offers free access to some of its resources, including:
Calm is a popular meditation app utilized for its variety of tools that people use to manage their day and deal with stress, anxiety, and sleep problems.
There are many similar apps that a person can explore if they find Calm’s content limited or if they are looking for a lower-cost or free mindfulness app.
A person experiencing a mental health emergency should not rely on a mindfulness app. Instead, they need to seek advice from an established mental health organization.