For many air travelers, the thought of trying to sleep on an airplane is a laugh. There's always the background chatter of your fellow passengers and crew, the noise of the aircraft itself, and of course the fear of falling asleep and drooling on the shoulder of the complete stranger next to you. Airsleep (free, with in-app purchase) is designed to help you relax a bit and hopefully be able to reach a deep sleep while you're flying.
The way Airsleep hopes to provide you with some sweet dreams while on that 14-hour flight to Singapore is to feed you a mix of natural sounds (like rainfall, ocean waves, or desert wind), ambient music by the founder of Combustible Edison, and "brainwave audio" -- whatever that is. Apparently the Airsleep folks have a patented process that does something to "tune your brain to its deep sleep response" through slow-wave audio.
Whatever it is, there's a long disclaimer that you have to agree to before you can use the app saying that it's for "entertainment purposes only," and that a long list of people who shouldn't use the app (see image in gallery below). Frankly, the disclaimers and instructions are about the most sleep-inducing thing about this app.
There's a timer for how long you want to sleep, which uses a horribly inaccurate slider rather than the standard iOS time picker. Once you're ready to wake up, there's a choice of five noises to pull you from your slumber -- chimes, xylophone, gong, bells, and harp. During my testing, the bell sound was so loud that I can imagine I'd scream in confused terror if that noise woke me up.
I love listening to natural sounds. But to me, the ambient music that is layered on the nature sounds in Airsleep is anything but restful. In fact, the music that was in the background in "Desert Wind" sounds vaguely like the "tape played backwards" music used in the classic Beatles tune "Revolution No. 9". That song, and the Desert Wind ambient music, personally has the opposite effect on me -- it makes me anxious, edgy and annoyed. Maybe it's just me, but if I was on an airplane listening to this track, they'd have to duct tape me to the seat after I went berserk.
I didn't find Airsleep to be relaxing at all, but your mileage may vary. Personally, I'd find something like the incredibly well-recorded Naturespace albums, and apps -- Naturespace (free with in-app purchases) and Thundergod -- to be much more conducive to relaxation and sleep. They're definitely of higher quality and pretty much just feature ambient nature sounds, not bad music and delta-wave gimmicks.
The announcement today is that this app, which was formerly $0.99, is now going freemium -- at least until December 31, 2013. You get the app for free, and if you don't find any of the included three sounds (rainy day, beach sleep, desert wind) particularly restful, there are -- of course -- a variety of three-sound "sound banks" available for $0.99 each.