Headspace Review: Does This Meditation App Work?

By Lydia Noyes
HighYa Staff
Updated on: Jun 26, 2020

What Is Headspace?

Headspace is an app that allegedly helps relieve stress, improve your focus, and fall asleep faster through meditation.

Designed for both beginners and meditation enthusiasts, Headspace claims to help you develop a long-term meditation habit in a few minutes a day.

Headspace is designed to give you the virtual support you need to find the value of meditating, so you build consistent habits for life.

Headspace's goal is to temporarily shift your awareness internally so that you get a better sense of your own perspective. Instead of striving to shut down your thoughts and feelings, the point of meditation is to learn to witness them without judgment.

Andy Puddicombe, a co-founder of Headspace, skipped out of college early and spent 10 years training and serving as a Buddhist monk. He returned to the UK after his time at a Tibetan monastery and resolved to bring the benefits of meditation to a mainstream audience.

This review talks about the app's features and science behind meditation to help you determine if Headspace is right for you.

About Sleep by Headspace

The app offers a premier service called Sleep by Headspace, too. Designed to give you a soothing evening experience, this series provides sleep sounds, guided meditations, and “sleepcasts,” which is audio content designed to create the right environment for restful sleep.

Sleepcasts range from 45 to 55 minutes and tend to begin with a “wind down” meditation exercise before a narrated tour of a variety of sleep-inducing landscapes, including a laundromat, night bazaar, island beach, and more.

Each sleepcast is remixed daily so that they will be slightly different each time you listen.

Sleep by Headspace is only available for premium subscribers on the app (more on that in the next section).

To utilize these features, you need to select the “sleep” function in the bottom right of the app screen.

The Cost

Headspace app has two payment offers:

  • Annual: $69.99 per year ($5.83/montth) - comes with a free two-week trial
  • Month-to-month: $12.99 per month - with a 1-week free trial

You must cancel either plan before the next billing cycle begins. Your plan will remain active until the billing cycle expires, and you cannot get refunded for any unused portion.

Looking at the Science: Does Headspace Work?

Though meditation has been a mental health strategy for millennia, it’s recently gained traction in the scientific community for its purported health benefits.

There’s a growing body of scientific research showing that meditation offers real benefits for combating stress, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, eating disorders, and even relationship challenges.

According to Catherine Tingey, a wellness practitioner in Los Angeles who is trained in multiple types of meditation, there are powerful mental benefits from a meditation habit.

“Meditation increases brain volume,” she says. “This process - called gyrification - may increase the brain's ability to process information…it also reduces in the ‘me-centered’ area of the brain and increases empathy.”

You might start feeling the benefits of meditating like a better mood, less stress, and even lower blood pressure after a single session, and consistent practice can noticeably change the shape of your brain after eight weeks.

Will you get the full benefits of meditation from using an app? The research is optimistic you will.

According to a study by Preventative Medicine Reports, preventative online mindfulness interventions (like Headspace) can lead to stress reduction and increased mindfulness, especially for busy people who struggle to make time for face-to-face interventions.

Headspace itself makes bold claims about the benefits of using it for meditation. According to the app’s published pilot study, using Headspace can reduce stress in ten days and boost your happiness by 16%.

Meditating with Headspace daily for four weeks is linked with improvements in focus by up to 14% as well, and a series of studies with university students showed that three weeks of meditation resulted in 23% more compassionate behavior and 57% less aggression, and four weeks resulted in 14% increased focus.

At the time of writing, the app’s research team is in the process of investigating its impact on quitting smoking and recovering from chronic disease.

While the research on meditation’s benefits is far from finished, what seems to be clear is that there are few, if any, drawbacks from developing a practice. “The only way to fail at meditation is not to do it,” says Tingey. “I love Headspace. I wholly recommend meditation apps to many beginners and advanced meditators alike.”

A Look at Headspace User Reviews

There are a number of reviews available online about the purported benefits of Headspace, so we looked closer at a variety of sources to see what people think of the program.

A report from Valentina Palladino at Arstechnica shows she believes the app can turn meditation skeptics into daily practitioners.

After trying the 10-day beginner’s course, Palladino signed up for premium and followed guided meditations almost every weekday.

She believes the routine helps her mornings go more smoothly, and leaves her feeling lighter and more grounded.

Trustpilot ranks Headspace at three stars out of five after more than 200 reviews. Many positive comments included details about appreciating the range of meditation types and session length and the gorgeous app interface.

A few people reported that they wished there were instructors beyond Puddicombe and that they wanted an option to meditate with just ambient music rather than with a guided session.

Others also commented that they wished the app offered more guidance for the meditation process for beginners, including instructions about when to breathe throughout the entire session rather than the first few minutes.

But overall, most reviews we looked at came from people who were enthusiastic about the app and loved that it helped them learn to meditate and make it a daily part of their lives.

The Bottom Line: Should You Sign Up for Headspace?

The research demonstrates that a daily meditation habit can enhance your health and quality of life in proven ways, and many people have found Headspace to be their ticket to developing the daily practice.

However, that’s not to say this service is for everyone. First, Headspace is one of the most expensive meditation apps on the market. There are plenty of free alternatives available (Insight Timer is a popular option) that will still give you access to hundreds of guided meditations.

Some people may prefer Insight Timer to Headspace because it includes a variety of instructors and offers the option to meditate to just a timer and ambient music.

Learning to meditate is the same as mastering any skill. It takes time and repetition to build up the muscle memory for meditation, and the process is easier with a teacher to guide the process.

Overall, Headspace may be effective for your meditation exercises.

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