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Calm is an award-winning app for guided meditation and sleep. A person can use it as a tool to improve their mental health and sleep by watching calming audiovisual content. Mindfulness is effective for many people, but some may experience negative effects, and mindfulness apps may not be suitable for everybody.

More than 1 in 3 adults in the United States do not get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, around 1 in 5 have a mental health condition that ranges from mild to severe.

Research suggests that mindful meditation can promote mental health and overall emotional well-being.

This article explores the Calm app, how it works, its features and effectiveness, its pros and cons, and more.

Calm is a meditation app developed in 2012 by Alex Tew and Michael Acton Smith. The app is available for download on desktop, iOS, and Android devices.

The multi-award-winning app has more than 100 million downloads and over 1.5 million five-star reviews, according to the Calm website.

The app uses technology as a tool to improve a person’s health and overall well-being. It has a range of features that are designed to suit users’ different needs.

Calm teaches a person about the foundations of mindfulness meditation and 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 quality of their sleep.

As soon as 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 library of content, which includes sounds, stories, audio classes, and guided meditations.

Customer reviews

At the time of publication, Calm does not hold accreditation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB gives the company an F grade.

Despite good reviews from the App Store (4.8 stars) and Google Play (4.4 stars), the app has only two stars based on 159 ratings on Trustpilot. Negative reviews tend to revolve around:

  • poor customer service
  • difficult cancellations
  • the female voice being 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.

Calm uses mindfulness meditation to help a person become aware of their current mental state and focus on the present moment to help them feel stable, calm, and rested.

Mindfulness meditation is a component of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which is 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.

Similarly, a 2018 review found that the practice reduced anxiety, fatigue, stress, and distress and improved mindfulness and cognitive function in individuals with breast cancer.

Subscribers to Calm can access an array of different features, including the following:

Meditations

Meditation sessions are guided by a speaker who narrates the session by delivering content that contains mindfulness teaching.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that there is some evidence that meditation can improve symptoms of anxiety, with people who listened to meditation reporting feeling less anxious than those who did not.

The meditation sessions are grouped into different categories, such as:

  • sleep
  • anxiety
  • beginners
  • stress
  • work

Meditations can be accessed as standalone sessions, courses, or series.

Sessions range between 3 and 30 minutes.

Sleep Stories

These are bedtime stories for adults. They are designed to help the person’s mind settle and help them fall asleep faster. These stories also have categories, such as:

  • fiction
  • nonfiction
  • naps
  • autonomous sensory meridian response

Many of the sleep stories feature the voices of celebrities, such as Kate Winslet and Idris Elba.

Learn more about sleep apps here.

Calm Music

The Calm app contains a curated list of music tracks organized into the following categories:

  • soundscapes
  • natural melodies
  • work
  • relax
  • lullabies
  • focus

Calm Masterclasses

The Calm Masterclasses are audio classes that dig deeper into diverse topics, such as screen addiction, creativity, breaking habits, and conscious parenting. These classes are delivered by renowned experts in their fields.

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

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 here.

Calm Body

People can access a free introductory video about Calm Body.

This section includes 10-minute sessions that guide a person through gentle stretches and mindful movements that aim to release their tension and recharge their mind.

The Spark

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.

Breathing exercises

Calm has several breathing exercises that focus 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.

Check-ins

The app allows people to log their moods, sleep, reflections on particular topics, and what they are grateful for on a daily basis.

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

The cost of Calm Premium varies depending on the type of subscription a person chooses:

  • Monthly: $14.99
  • Yearly: $69.99
  • Lifetime: $399.99

A 2019 study found that the app effectively reduced stress and improved self-compassion and mindfulness in a group of 88 college students.

A 2020 study 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 authors of the study 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 use of the app can improve a person’s well-being, daily use of the app can pose potential negative outcomes. These include feelings of failure and demotivation if a person 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.

Before downloading or using the Calm app, individuals may wish to consider the pros and cons of the service.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

A person may wish to consider alternative mindfulness apps before purchasing a subscription to Calm.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Calm vs. Headspace

Compared with Calm, most of Headspace‘s content is for beginners.

However, various users note that Headspace has more voice options and fun animations than Calm’s more serene and calm nature sounds. People who are on the go also enjoy Headspace’s mini-meditations, which last for only 2–3 minutes.

Learn more about how Calm compares with Headspace here.

Calm vs. Insight Timer

Compared with Calm’s limited free content, the majority of Insight Timer’s content — which includes around 70,000 music tracks and guided meditations — is freely accessible. Moreover, people who like yoga may enjoy its separate yoga category.

Insight Timer also offers a 30-day trial, compared with Calm’s 7-day trial.

Calm provides a more visual experience than Insight Timer, which offers a more audio-based experience. Individuals who want to focus solely on meditation, no matter the tradition — spiritual, secular, or philosophical — may find Insight Timer better suited to them.

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 common situations, such as taking public transport.

Although Calm is available in various languages, such as German, French, and Korean, Smiling Minds has recorded meditations in Kriol, Ngaanyatjarra, and Pitjantjatjara languages.

The app also includes the skills of traditional healers with the aim of improving people’s well-being and mental health literacy.

Learn more about the best meditation apps of 2021 here.

Calm’s range of tools may benefit anyone who is looking to improve their mental wellness or who wants to equip themselves with new tools to cope with daily well-being struggles.

The app’s wide range of tools can be beneficial for people who are having trouble with their sleep. Also, Calm offers guided and unguided meditations, making them suitable for those who are new to meditation and for longtime meditators.

However, people in a mental health emergency and those who are thinking about harming themselves or others should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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 who is experiencing a mental health emergency should not rely on a mindfulness app. Instead, they need to seek advice from an established mental health organization.