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Headspace and Calm are both popular, top-rated meditation apps. But which one is really best?

If you’d like to boost your mental, emotional, and physical health — and, really, who doesn’t? — one of the best things you can do is to meditate.

After all, as research shows, this relatively simple practice is rife with benefits.

For example, a 2015 study showed that after completing a mindfulness program, individuals who had difficulty with their sleep experienced less insomnia, fatigue, and depression.

A 2014 review of 47 studies found that meditation programs improved anxiety and depression. In addition to improving depression symptoms, another 2017 review also found that mindfulness meditation may improve pain and overall quality of life.

Whether you’re a meditation rookie or pro, meditation apps can be a great option to jump-start or deepen your practice. They’re especially powerful if you’re already glued to your phone — better to lose yourself in a guided meditation than the latest bleak headline.

Countless apps exist, but Headspace and Calm are particularly popular for their accessibility, pleasant aesthetics, and calming meditations.

Started in 2010, Headspace simplifies meditation and mindfulness, making it less serious and even fun. Co-founder Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, narrates most of the meditations. With millions of users worldwide, Headspace aims to improve your health and happiness.

And so far, studies conducted by Headspace and independent researchers suggest that it can do just that. For example, using the app for 10 sessions increased participants’ positivity and well-being, and reduced stress and irritability.

Research in nurses found that Headspace reduced stress and boosted job satisfaction.

Features

Headspace comes with a variety of features, including:

  • beginner’s courses on the building blocks of meditation
  • 10-day courses on everything from navigating anger, change, or restlessness to enhancing productivity, happiness, or patience
  • 30-day courses on a range of subjects, from managing anxiety to dealing with pain to finding focus to cultivating creativity
  • brief meditations when you only have a few minutes to practice
  • single meditations for when you’re waking up, wanting to focus or relax, or trying to fall asleep
  • bedtime stories and music tracks to promote sleep
  • exercise videos with low- to moderate-impact workouts from certified trainers
  • meditations and animated videos for kids, divided by age group

Cost

Headspace offers a 7- or 14-day trial depending on whether you sign up for a monthly or annual membership. You pay $12.99 per month, or $69.99 for the year.

Qualifying college students and families are eligible for annual discounts. Students can get Headspace for $9.99 per year. Families get up to six accounts for $69.99.

Launched in 2012, Calm aims to “train your mind to sleep more, stress less, and live better.” Its design is completely different from Headspace, with soothing sounds and natural landscapes. Think birds chirping, rain falling, oceans, forests, and mountains.

But like Headspace, it also has millions of users and research has demonstrated some key benefits. For example, a 2019 study in 88 college students who felt stressed out found that using Calm reduced stress and improved mindfulness and self-compassion.

In a 2021 study, adults with sleep issues who used Calm for at least 10 minutes a day for 8 weeks reported feeling less tired and sleepy during the day and sleeping better at night.

In another study, college students who used Calm’s 7-day introductory mindfulness course every day or once in a while, also experienced greater well-being.

It’s important to note that researchers who also work for Calm have done most of these studies.

Features

Like Headspace, Calm comes with an assortment of features, which include:

  • a new daily 10-minute meditation to practice
  • a 30-day how-to program for beginners
  • meditations on everything from reducing anxiety to getting restful sleep
  • expert-taught audio classes on mindfulness, happiness, creative living, and more
  • soothing sounds and images to help you study, work, relax, or sleep
  • video lessons on gently stretching and moving your body
  • over 100 bedtime stories, narrated by celebrities
  • soundscapes and exclusive music from various artists to help you focus, relax, and sleep
  • bedtime stories, soundscapes, lullabies, and meditations for kids, from age 3 to 17

Cost

Calm’s annual membership is $69.99. But when a discount is offered, you can get a yearly membership for $41.99. A lifetime membership costs $399.99.

Because both Headspace and Calm are helpful for kick-starting and maintaining a meditation practice. Picking the best one really comes down to personal preference.

To figure out which app is right for you, it helps to reflect on your intentions and natural tendencies. For example, start by considering these questions:

  • Why do I want to meditate?
  • What do I hope to gain from using a meditation app?
  • What helps me to feel calm?
  • How much time can I devote to meditation each day?

Besides the above questions, here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you figure out which app is best for your specific needs.

Headspace may be the right choice for you if:

  • you’re brand new to meditation, as Headspace offers a very approachable, in-depth introduction to meditation and clear guidance on which meditations to start with
  • your schedule is demanding or you struggle with focusing on 10-minute meditations, since Headspace offers 1- to 5-minute practices
  • you prefer a playful, bright aesthetic with cheerful, animated illustrations
  • you have a hard time sitting still when meditating or want to combine mindfulness with low- to moderate-impact movement (taught by Olympic athletes)

Calm may be the right choice for you if:

  • you having difficulty falling or staying asleep, as Calm’s library of bedtime stories, soundscapes, and soothing music is especially comprehensive
  • you gravitate toward natural surroundings and feel a particular sense of calm when looking at and listening to nature — Calm features sounds of rain, rushing waves, and evening crickets; and lets you customize your dashboard with a scene you find most soothing
  • you really resonate with music, using it to help you focus on school or work, or wind down — Calm offers exclusive music from artists like Ariana Grande, Ellie Goulding, and Keith Urban along with various ambient and nature sounds
  • you’re more experienced with meditation or prefer less structure, as Calm also includes open-ended practices

Meditation has many benefits, including reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm, can help you get started and build a more consistent practice.

To figure out which app is right for you, reflect on your personal preferences and needs. Why do you want to meditate? What kind of aesthetic do you like? Does it even matter? How much time can you carve out for meditating?

Once you’ve honed in on what’s important to you, consider downloading your pick.