Welcome to TNW Basics, a collection of tips, guides, and advice on how to easily get the most out of your gadgets, apps, and other stuff.
I suck at sleeping. I’ve always been one of those people who toss and turn for hours before falling into a light slumber. Then, at the sound of a pin-drop, my eyes flutter open and I’m doomed to spend another hour willing myself to fall back asleep. It’s exhausting.
Luckily I’m also a technology reporter and the parent of a toddler. I’ve got a couple tips to help you snag some extra Zzz’s under even the worst conditions, and I’m happy to share.
First things first: insomnia is dangerous and treatable. You should see a doctor, therapist, or other medical professional immediately if you suspect you have a health condition. This piece contains advice for light sleepers who, like myself, are interested in technology-based interventions to typical, non-health-related sleep issues.
The first thing you can do, says most experts, is enable the blue-light filter on every device you use. Almost every modern phone, tablet, laptop, and computer have this option – sometimes it’s called a night light or night mode. It might look a bit funky at first to see your screen essentially turn amber, but you’ll get used to it. Even better, your brain and eyes will thank you.
This extends past your devices too. If you’ve got gadgets in your bedroom with bright, blue LED lights on them (which is surprisingly common), consider taping over the lights or unplugging them at night. Your brain could be restless on account of excess blue light. The same goes for leaving the TV on for background noise while you shiftlessly fail to achieve rest. Every time you open your eyes, you’re giving your brain a jolt.
Substitute with amber colored lights – especially if you a parent trying to figure out how to calm down a baby. I reviewed this gadget last year and I still swear by it just because of the color of its dimmable light and ease-of-use. But you can do just fine with colored smart bulbs or other adjustable solutions.
I have a dog that snores and a baby that cries. And while I no longer live in the city, I do live in a beach community where even the suburbs can be quite noisy. The odds of me making it through the night – especially on the weekends – without getting woken up a handful of times by noisy neighbors and wheezy dogs are slim to none. At least they are without a noise machine.
I’ve tried all the “nature sounds” and “white noise” apps out there. Some of them, such as Relax.IO, are pretty good. But there’s no substitute for analog sound. There was a time when I would have recommended oscillating fans, but they’re a bit wasteful if you don’t actually want them blowing on your face while you’re sleeping. Now I recommend a gadget like the Dozzi. It’s analog and adjustable so you can kind of dial-in the noise you like – review here.
Another option is using your smart speaker. This can be a bit unreliable though, and in my experience nothing’s more jolting than the sudden absence of white noise in the middle of the night. But, if you trust your Wifi and Google, it’s an option. For Google speakers all you have to do is say “Hey Google, play thunderstorm sounds.” You can substitute nature, white noise, rain, oscillating fan, and meditation for thunderstorm.
Alexa’s a bit less helpful. If you ask it to play white noise, you’ll get a single-tone static sound. Otherwise you can ask it to play meditation music, nature sounds, or thunderstorm sounds and it’ll start a relevant playlist. These can be hit-or-miss, so I recommend pre-screening them.
There are all sorts of gadgets and apps that purport to use AI or diagnostics to monitor and measure your sleep levels. Those aren’t going to help you tonight. But if you limit your exposure to blue light and infuse noisy rooms with white noise, experts say you could get some relief from restlessness at bedtime immediately.
Follow these two tips up with common sense routines at bedtime such as limiting caffeine and sugar, and choosing books over TV, and you should be able to achieve your goal of going the fuck to sleep.