I Tried the Sleep App That Turns Bedtime Into an Appointment, Meditation, and Travel Adventure All in One

published May 18, 2021
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Last night, I went to bed in Barcelona. Well, actually, I was lying in my own bed in Wisconsin, but in my mind — led by a sleep guide in the WAVE sleep app — I was drifting off in a four-post bed in La Casa Mila, the iconic modernist building designed by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Here’s my experience, from downloading the app to my first night attempting to fall asleep with it.

From the get-go, it was clear WAVE, which officially launched in 2021 after a foray as a general meditation app, takes sleep seriously. Apparently, the sleep meditations were by far the most popular, so the founders decided to shift their focus to helping people get a good night’s rest. 

Here’s how it works: You download the app and pay a monthly membership fee (I paid $9.99) to gain access to a library of sleep meditations. Some of the meditations are pre-recorded, so you can tune in whenever you want to fall asleep. What makes WAVE unique, though, are the live, guided meditations at an array of bedtimes across U.S. time zones.

A few hours before I planned to go to bed, I opened the app and found a few options for live meditations around that time. (I’m an early riser, so I go to bed around 9 each night.) I chose “Fall asleep in Barcelona,” a meditation led by a sleep guide named Sheng. At 8:45, the app sent me a reminder that it was almost bedtime, which gave me a chance to shift gears from kid bedtime duty to cozying up in my own bed. 

Having a concrete reminder to wind down for bed was a game-changer.

It’s so easy to get sucked into mindless scrolling, which both delays my bedtime and perks me up when I’m supposed to be tired. Having a “date” on the calendar held me accountable to wind down, and it was especially effective because I was attending a live guided meditation and didn’t want to be insensitive in skipping the appointment. 

At 9 on the dot, I shut off the lights, got under the covers, and opened the app. Sheng was already live, greeting the five other hopeful sleepers in the session. For the next 30 minutes, she stood in a glowy room and whispered her way through a meditation that led us from the busy, beachy-smelling streets of Barcelona into a far corner of La Casa Mila. Twenty-five minutes in, she’d guided us to a cozy room in the building, where we found our way to a four-post bed and, hopefully, drifted off to sleep. 

I’ve tried guided meditation before, and this experience was pretty on par. It took a lot of focus to coax my body into rest mode, and Sheng’s hushed, ASMR-like storytelling helped — I appreciated the opportunity to slowly settle my mind and body into sleep mode, rather than just hitting the pillow after 30 minutes on TikTok like I normally do. 

WAVE’s relaxing design and UX were the cherries on top of the actual meditation. I appreciated that the entire app is in dark mode, so it doesn’t jolt your system with bright light. It’s also really convenient to use — just download, pick a meditation, get a reminder, and cozy up. Once the 30-or-so minute meditation is through, users have the option to automatically transition to an in-app “sleep room,” where white noise of your choice plays for an amount of time you choose (I went for forest sounds for 60 minutes). 

As for my sleep? I made it to the sleep room fully awake, but I think that’s a me problem and not a WAVE problem. Other reviewers said they fell asleep within 10 or 15 minutes of starting the sleep meditation, but I didn’t fall asleep until at least 30 minutes after I turned it off. I’m a rough sleeper to begin with — it generally takes me 30 minutes or more to drift off, and I often wake up several times in the night (many thanks to my kids and dogs). While the meditation made me feel relaxed and the app did everything right to set the stage for a beautiful night’s rest, I’m not sure I’m a sleep app person. That said, I have no qualms about attempting to fall asleep in the Serengeti tonight.