Everything you need to know about the Calm app: bedtime stories, mindful meditations & more

Aka, the app where Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy and Matthew McConaughey read you stories before you sleep

A woman meditating on her bed using the Calm app
(Image credit: Getty Images/Westend61)

Aka, the app where Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy and Matthew McConaughey read you stories before you sleep

Despite spending most of it inside, 2020 has been quite a year for wellness. Home workouts are at an all-time high, home gym equipment sales are soaring and sleep meditation even hit headlines, in an attempt to aid the many who found slumber during the ever-stressful lockdown, well, stressful.

Talk of the town also? The Calm app. If you haven't heard of it, it's a firm favourite. That's according to the iTunes chart, where it's been on a top spot for years now. Fun fact: originally an independent British start up, it was valued as worth $1 billion last year. Not bad.

Interestingly, the app actually launched way back in 2012, so why the excitement now, eight years later? It might have something to do with the fact the app now boasts, among a whole roster, stars like Harry Styles and Matthew McConaughey reading bedtime stories. Plus, news just in today: Peaky Blinders actor Cillian Murphy has also joined the lineup, ready to soothe you to sleep with his dulcet tones.

Keep reading for your complete guide to Calm, plus a psychologist's thoughts on the app and one woman's personal review. Don't miss our expert-led guide to how to manifest, while you're here.

Your complete guide to the Calm app: everything you need to know

Christi-An Slomka, community manager at Calm, explains that Calm is the number one app for mental fitness in the world. Why? Well, "it's designed to help you manage stress, sleep better and live a happier, healthier life."

Sounds promising. But how? "Calm offers a diverse set of tools to help ease your worried mind, manage unhelpful thoughts and relax your body so that you can get the rest you need. The app has over 90 million downloads to date, averaging 100,000 new members daily”, she explains.

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What does the Calm app do? 

Well, a whole host of things, really, from meditations, to music, to explorative readings, to the firm favourite that is celebrity-read bedtime stories.

Christi-An explains: “The app offers a wide array of ways to relax and focus the mind available in six different languages. When you download the app, you can expect:

  • Meditations
  • Sleep stories
  • Music
  • Soothing sounds
  • Breathing exercises
  • Podcasts
  • Sound bites
  • Mental fitness sessions
  • Masterclasses
  • Sleep therapy
  • Body stretches.

"Whether you have one minute, 20 minutes or an hour, there’s a tool for every mood. You can go from stressed to relaxed, or scattered to focused, or low to uplifted in just one session", she expands.

Basically, it all sounds a bit wishy-washy and unspecific until you download the app and start trying the various different things on offer.

Need-to-knows: most of Calm is audio-based, so make sure you've got your headphones to hand. You'll be listening to a whole load of music, meditations, mantras and musings, so do go in with an open mind. You won't know what works for you until you download it, but there really is something for every kind of mind and need.

Calm x Harry Styles: what are the Calm sleep stories?

Ah, those old things. You won't be surprised to hear that 'Calm Harry Styles' is getting breakout numbers of search on Google at the moment, so we thought we'd explain a little more about the star's collaboration with the app.

The former One Direction singer-turned-solo artist joined forces with the Calm team earlier this year to create 'Dream With Me', his own personal bedtime story just for you (and the millions of other Calm users). It's mildly sexy, and definitely worth downloading Calm for. You heard it here first.

But back to the bedtime tales. "Our sleep stories have been designed to integrate the science and power of mindfulness to help the listener let go of their to-do lists and ruminating thoughts and fall asleep with ease" explains Christi-An.

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How can the Calm app benefit me?

It helps you break from your screen

Being a predominantly audio-based app, it does the all-important thing of allowing you to break from the screen you've likely been on all day, pre-sleep. "Most experts agree you should power down for at least 90 minutes before bed. If you're still on your laptop or phone, the blue light will indicate to your brain that it isn’t nighttime. This, in turn, confuses your circadian rhythms", she shares.

It helps ease stress and anxiety

Plus, it's been specifically designed with easing anxiety, weariness and stress in mind. "The app helps us to settle our weary minds from cycling through anxious thoughts or replaying our day. Falling asleep with a relaxed mind sets the stage for deeper sleep and more quality rest. Scientifically speaking, it helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system so that our body can rest, digest, recover and repair”, Christi-An expands. Neat.

It aids sleep struggles

Struggling to sleep? You're not alone—especially during lockdown, stats revealed that more Brits were suffering insomnia of some form than sleeping soundly. “When sleep has been difficult for a while, it’s natural to feel frustration, worry, trepidation, fear, and other difficult emotions as bedtime approaches," she shares. You might even be frustrated with yourself for feeling frustrated and stressed for feeling stressed." It's a vicious cycle. This is where Christi-An says Calm can help, promising the right tools to help you wave bye, bye to sleepless nights.

Is the Calm app free? 

Sadly not. An annual subscription costs £28.99 and is available to purchase on the app (link at the bottom of the page). While this may not be affordable for some, it is cheaper than booking and heading to meditation sessions, working out at £2.41 a month.

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What a psychologist thinks of the Calm app

Psychologist Dr Maryhan Baker thinks that the Calm app is a predominantly positive thing if you find yourself struggling with your mental health and looking for easy, affordable ways to safeguard it.

She explains: "When your mental health is low, your internal dialogue normally ramps up the negativity. You'll likely experience disruptive and intrusive thoughts: you know, the kind of chatter that makes you over-analyse everything you’ve done and said, and worry about unnecessary things. We all have an internal dialogue, some just dial up the negativity when stressed."

Pros: Calm is easy to use

This is where apps, such as Calm, can be super helpful, she goes on. "Trying to stop, quieten, or distract our internal chatter can be tricky when struggling with our mental health. Having an app that enables you to listen to the soothing sounds of a story will move your attention and focus away from our own internal voice. Double bonus if it happens to be the voice of a celebrity we admire", she adds.

Pros: Calm encourages sleep, vital for safeguarding mental health 

"With said aforementioned critical internal voice quietened, you are much less likely to lie awake in bed for hours. Instead of tossing and turning, you allow your body to welcome in the sleep it so desperately needs," Maryhan explains. Did you know? Sleep is actually a key indicator of mental health, and your sleep onset latency (aka, the time it takes us to fall asleep) is a key indicator of your stress level. "Apps such as Calm create a sense of inner calm (excuse the pun) through the rhythmic pace of the speakers voice. They move the individual away from listening to the anxious, depressed, ever-critical mind of ‘fight or flight’, to a place of ‘rest and restore’". Ready for sleep? Check.

Cons: Calm does encourage technology in the bedroom

The downsides of using apps pre-bed, such as Calm? They introduce technology into your bedroom, which should be kept to a minimum, Maryhan stresses. "Good sleep hygiene means your bedroom is set up as a haven of relaxation, not somewhere where you're constantly reaching to check notifications and scroll through social media feeds," she explains. An additional issue? The apps themselves can fast become the only mechanism by which you'll be able to get to sleep. "This is rather than teaching you the core skills needed to manage it yourself. It'd be more beneficial to learn a set of tools that you can rely on when you get anxious, day or night", she concludes.

It is worth noting here: if you're experiencing more intense bouts of anxiety or depression, or struggling with your mental health in other ways, that no app can beat booking an appointment with a qualified professional.

My review of the Calm app

One person who uses the app is Aira Gonzales, a PR from London. She downloaded the app at the start of the year to help manage her anxiety, so, in the name of journalism, we asked her to give us her honest opinion.

"I've been using Calm to ease my anxiety flare ups and to help me unwind after long day at work. I especially like the variety of different guided meditations, music, sounds, stories and breathing exercises available. It’s super easy to navigate and I get to choose which specific exercises would work for me depending on my mood for the day. I’d recommend it for anyone who’d like a bit of guidance and help with their mental health and well-being especially during such stressful times. It's great."

See. There's a reason it topped our round-up of the best mental health apps. What are you waiting for? If you're keen to give it a go, head to the app store now.

Ally Head
Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.