I’ve always had difficulty turning off my brain at night. For instance, I’ve written this intro in my head at least a dozen times while staring at my ceiling before falling asleep. It’s not a secret; I’m an anxious person.
Enter the concept of sleep apps. Most people have used at least one. They’re handy tools that help you let go and focus on sleep. I’ve tried plenty, and most work well enough, but they’re not something I keep using after the initial excitement wears off.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been testing Sona, an app that uses music from Grammy-winning producers to help you manage stress and get some sleep. It won the CES Innovation Award in 2022. Follow me through a journey of what I liked, what I could do without and what I recommend.
Can music help you reduce stress?
Sona is based on the idea that music can help reduce anxiety and that it can improve your mental health. The app is designed to increase alpha and theta brain waves, which naturally occur when we’re deeply relaxed or sleeping. Sona has in-house research in partnership with Nielsen Neuroscience to test the app’s effectiveness in reducing stress. That research concluded that Sona’s music has a restorative or meditative effect on participants.
Sounds great. But we need to dig deeper to be sure this research was actually backed by science, as the app claims.
The concept of music therapy isn’t new. There’s a vast catalog of research showing how music can help decrease anxiety. Independent studies demonstrate that music can increase alpha waves and reduce beta waves because it helps relax and distract from negative feelings. Music also decreases cortisol in the brain, which is the stress hormone. When we’re feeling anxious, cortisol levels increase. Listening to music can help keep them in check.
Since music is a proven way to calm the nervous system, help you fall asleep faster and increase the quality of your sleep, the premise of this app holds water. Now let’s talk about what it was like using the Sona app.
Using Sona for sleep and relaxation
Overall, I liked how simple the app is. When you open it, you’ll be prompted to take a short questionnaire that helps determine how often you should use the app to ease your anxiety or help you sleep. My “listening dosage” was 15 minutes, four times each week. Once you have that recommendation, the app automatically sets your sessions to that time. However, you can extend it if so desired.
Sona has a free version and a premium subscription that costs $4.99 per month or $29.99 each year. That’s quite low compared to Headspace at $12.99 per month and Calm at $14.99 per month, though it’s worth noting that those meditation apps have more offerings than Sona.
Sona features include:
- Large library of music from Grammy-winning composers
- Listening prescriptions
- Weekly listening analytics and mental health survey check-ins
- Favorites list
- Skip, replay or loop songs
The songs were… good
I used Sona primarily when I was going to sleep, as well as while reading before bed and working. I let the songs play the first few nights, listening to whatever was next in the queue. All of them are low-tempo, acoustic and piano compositions. All the components, from the melody to the rhythm, are meant to help you relax.
The songs were all nice to listen to, though I quickly found that I had a preference for certain types of relaxing music and that some types were a little distracting. Thankfully, you have the option to skip, pause and repeat songs. To that end, one of the best features is the favorite button. The app was the most relaxing when I could play the songs I enjoyed.
The app really is… relaxing
One of the strongest aspects of this app is how everything is designed to help ease anxiety. It felt like a seamless experience. When you open the app and start the music, you’ll get an inhale-exhale prompt that sets the tone. The background of the music screen is calm water waves.
What’s more, the songs flow continuously, so you won’t have the jarring element of your playlist jumping from one extreme to another. With Sona, each song fades in and out, which I found perfect for drifting off to sleep.
Too long; didn’t read?
I was pleasantly surprised by Sona’s ability to help me relax and sleep. It’s a basic app with a large music catalog that allows you to favorite, skip and loop. The music was impressive and pleasant. There were a few instances of the music randomly pausing in the middle of my sessions, but it wasn’t a regular problem.
Sona is less robust than other apps, especially if you want a meditation-heavy experience. Sona offers breathing prompts, but it’s not focused on guiding breathing. It’s primarily a music app for decreasing anxiety and increasing sleep.
While you don’t need headphones to listen, using them while trying to sleep did help me focus only on the music.