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16 great documentaries from 2019 and how to watch them

A “documentary” is never just one thing. It might be a memoir, a polemic, a comedy, a thriller, a romance — the sky’s the limit. Truth is frequently stranger than fiction, and if we’re lucky, much more interesting, too. Nonfiction movies can teach us about the world we live in through the stories of people living halfway around the world or right next door.

Many of 2019’s documentaries are no exception, and many of the finest were recently shown at the DOC NYC film festival, the biggest documentary festival in the country. Here are 16 worth noting, ranging from heartbreaking family stories and illuminating explorations of social issues to tales of cults and con artists.

American Factory

American Factory is a documentary about the 2014 reopening of a closed GM plant in Dayton, Ohio — by a Chinese company that makes automotive glass — and the ensuing cultural clashes that put some bumps in the road. Veteran documentarians Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert train their cameras not only on the people involved but also on the tasks and materials of factory work, giving less-familiar viewers an idea of how complicated and difficult it can be, as well as how valuable skilled labor is. American Factory tackles the challenges of globalization with much more depth and nuance than most other reporting on the topic, precisely because it steps back to watch a story unfold over time and also resists easy generalizations. It’s both soberly instructive and fascinating.

How to watch it: American Factory is streaming on Netflix.

Anbessa

Anbessa takes a magical realist approach to the moving story of Asalif, a 10-year-old living with his mother near an enormous condominium complex on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their shack now stands in a poor community in the shadows of government-built condos; Asalif is forced to scavenge to help keep his family afloat. But despite his difficult circumstances, Asalif has a vivid imagination and big dreams, and director Mo Scarpelli worked with him to bring those dreams to life. Anbessa follows Asalif as he dresses up as a lion — “anbessa” is “lion” in the Ethiopian language Amharic — and imagines chasing away the hyenas he can hear outside at night. It’s a metaphor for the encroaching land developers, and the film takes us inside Asalif’s stories to help us understand his world.

How to watch it: Anbessa is currently screening on the festival circuit and awaiting distribution.

Apollo 11

Apollo 11, directed by Todd Douglas Miller, harnesses the iconic images of the moon landing to powerfully retell the story of the Apollo 11 mission. But Miller’s film does a lot more than retread familiar history. Using never-before-seen footage and audio that has been meticulously scanned and restored, Apollo 11 moves from launch to safe return in a way that makes you feel as though you’re living through the mission. There’s minimal onscreen text, a couple of very simple illustrations to show the craft’s trajectory, and no talking heads. The result is a grand and awe-inspiring film.

How to watch it: Apollo 11 is streaming on Hulu and available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.

Blessed Child

A Unification Church mass wedding in Blessed Child. Obscured Pictures

Journalist Cara Jones and her three siblings were raised by their loving parents in a cult: the Unification Church, commonly known as the “Moonies.” Now an adult, Jones has left the church but struggles with the loss of her community and a changed relationship with her family. In Blessed Child, her first film, Jones goes on a journey with the help of one of her brothers to discover why people joined the church, why they left, and how their lives were affected and changed by the experience. Blessed Child is as much memoir as history, and it perceptively mines an experience many people have: If you were raised in a restrictive or insular community, what does it mean to grow up?

How to watch it: Blessed Child is currently screening on the festival circuit.

The Edge of Democracy

Taking a sweeping but personal view of contemporary Brazilian politics, filmmaker Petra Costa shows what it looks like when a country finally embraces democracy after years of military dictatorship — and then squanders its progress as it moves toward far-right authoritarianism. Costa, who is Brazilian herself, makes no claims of objectivity; instead, she weaves her family’s story into that of her country’s and asks devastating questions about peace, democracy, and living in a slow-motion, real-world horror story. Can it happen elsewhere? And can a country return from the brink?

How to watch it: The Edge of Democracy is streaming on Netflix.

For Sama

There have been many documentaries in recent years about the bombings and humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, and many of them have been excellent. But For Sama is a new take on the subject, and it’s truly outstanding. Waad Al-Kateab and her husband, Hamza Al-Kateab, a doctor, are native Syrians who were living in Aleppo when Syrians began to protest their government and President Bashar al-Assad. Their daughter, Sama, was born in 2016, and the family remained in Aleppo — with Hamza running a hospital — as the bombings continued.

Eventually, they left, and Waad and British documentarian Edward Watts edited years of footage she’d shot in Aleppo into For Sama. The film movingly documents life in Aleppo and in Hamza’s hospital during the yearslong siege while also offering an explanation, addressed to young Sama, for why her parents kept her in a dangerous place and why their work was important.

How to watch it: For Sama is currently screening around the world and will premiere on Frontline (and stream in tandem with the premiere) on November 19. Check the film’s website for details.

Honeyland

Honeyland is a vibrant, fascinating, and sober documentary that examines a serious issue — the endangerment of bees — by way of a human portrait. Hatidze Muratova is the last beekeeper in Macedonia. She lives on a quiet, secluded mountain and cares for her elderly mother as well as her apian charges. Her life’s work, as she sees it, isn’t just to keep the bees; it’s to help restore balance to the ecosystem around her, and bees are a vital part of that mission. But Muratova’s sense of solitude is disrupted when a family of nomadic beekeepers arrive, seeking honey to sell.

The newcomers not only disrupt Muratova and threaten the insects’ existence but also invade an established way of life on the relatively untouched mountain. As the film progresses, different ways of thinking about commerce — as well as beekeeping and the natural world — come together in a story that is sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, and often enlightening.

How to watch it: Honeyland is available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, YouTube, Amazon, Google Play, or Vudu.

The Kingmaker

Lauren Greenfield’s new film The Kingmaker centers on one of the most famously extravagant women in recent history: Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines. When Marcos and her husband, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, were driven into exile in the United States in 1986, Imelda left behind a stash of more than 1,000 pairs of shoes. That might be the only thing a lot of people know about her. But there’s much more to Imelda Marcos — and that’s what Greenfield dives into in The Kingmaker.

Imelda is interviewed throughout the film, and at first, we only hear her side of the story. But then Greenfield slowly fills in what’s missing and challenges her subject’s outright fabrications by talking to people who remember the reign of terror that was the kleptocratic Marcos regime, drawing a line between that reign and the more recent rise of the murderous authoritarian Rodrigo Duterte.

How to watch it: The Kingmaker is currently playing in select theaters and will air on Showtime in early 2020.

Knock Down the House

Knock Down the House is the rare documentary about today’s American political landscape that might make you shed happy tears. It’s about four progressive Democratic candidates — all women — who ran primary campaigns against establishment Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections: Amy Vilela in Nevada, Cori Bush in Missouri, Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. Documentarian Rachel Lears followed the candidates, who all live in very different communities with different political terrains. They weren’t all successful — only Ocasio-Cortez won her race — but the film is uplifting and hopeful for anyone who wants their political candidates to truly represent the communities they serve. Whether or not you agree with a given individual’s politics at every point, Knock Down the House makes it clear that there’s a hunger to upend America’s politics as usual.

How to watch it: Knock Down the House is streaming on Netflix.

Midnight Family

Nine million people live in Mexico City, but the government maintains only 45 ambulances to cover that entire population; private ambulance companies have stepped in to pick up the slack. Midnight Family follows one such company run by the Ochoa family, who ride their ambulance through the streets overnight, hoping to beat their competitors to the scene of a sudden illness or accident so they can help — while also gaining business. It’s difficult work, and it clearly feels ethically tricky. But director Luke Lorentzen manages to capture the Ochoas’ compassion and their own economic instability, as well as the heart-thumping adrenaline rush that often accompanies their line of work. The result is a sweet, fascinating portrait of a group of people trying to make the best of a bad situation, and sometimes succeeding.

How to watch it: Midnight Family opens in limited theaters December 6.

Midnight Traveler

In 2015, the Taliban called for the death of Afghani filmmaker Hassan Fazili. Fazili, along with his wife (and fellow filmmaker) Fatima Hussaini, and their two daughters, fled the country, becoming refugees as they traveled across Europe — sometimes in very hostile places. Midnight Traveler is the family’s story, shot mostly by Fazili, who documents the family’s journey and their struggle to maintain some semblance of a life in trying circumstances. It’s part memoir, part home movie, part documentary of an experience that millions of people all over the world are having right now — and it’s a must-see.

How to watch it: Midnight Traveler is available to digitally rent or buy on iTunes and Amazon.

Mother

Slow, lyrical, and heart-rending, Mother is an intertwined tale of two mothers. The first is Pomm, a Thai woman who works around the clock in a Thailand care facility home to patients with Alzheimer’s, most of whom are white and wealthy Westerners; Pomm’s own children live many hours away. The second is Maya, a Swiss woman with early onset Alzheimer’s whose devoted husband and daughters are making the painful decision to admit her to the Thailand facility thousands of miles from home in hopes of improving her quality of life. Director Kristof Bilsen crafts a film that’s moving and always surprising, exploring love and sacrifice that transcend distance and memory.

How to watch it: Mother is currently screening on the festival circuit and awaiting distribution.

Narrowsburg

Narrowsburg is a bizarre true-life con story. Narrowsburg

Narrowsburg is a bizarre true-life con story, one that ended up roiling an entire town. In upstate New York, the tiny hamlet of Narrowsburg one day discovered the arrival of two glamorous strangers, both of whom had connections in the film business. The strangers launched a film festival (which, they proclaimed, would become the “Sundance of the East”) and shot a movie with the whole town’s involvement. Then things got very, very weird. Director Martha Shane keeps you guessing about what was really going on — Narrowsburg is full of twists — as she crafts a poignant portrait of the allure of show business in American life.

How to watch it: Narrowsburg is currently screening on the festival circuit and awaiting distribution.

One Child Nation

Director Nanfu Wang grew up in rural China under the country’s “one child” policy, which was in effect from 1979 to 2015. Wang’s own parents had two children — the law made an exception for families in rural areas, so long as the children were born at least five years apart — but only after her mother narrowly escaped involuntary sterilization. Many other women were not so lucky, and were forced into sterilization and abortion against their will. The policy’s mental, physical, and emotional toll on China, especially its women, was tremendous. Through a documentary that is part personal, part journalistic, Wang explores the ramifications of the one-child era. It’s a harrowing but essential film that confronts and confounds Western ideas about agency, choice, reproduction, and bodily autonomy.

How to watch it: One Child Nation is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Pahokee

The teenagers in Pahokee are full of life — and ready to get out. Sundance Film Festival

Pahokee is a small town on the shores of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, and there’s a waning number of jobs and resources available to the people who live there. But Pahokee High School is a beehive of activity, and that’s where filmmakers Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan focus on four seniors, all of whom hope to get out of town once they graduate. Following the students through their daily lives as they participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, navigate personal relationships, and work toward future aspirations, Pahokee is, in some ways, a familiar high-school tale. But it’s also a story of a vibrant town told through the eyes of its young people, and it explores — often with humor and grace — the forces that shape how Americans live today.

How to watch it: Pahokee is currently screening the festival circuit and awaiting distribution.

Sing Me a Song

Life does not turn out as expected in Sing Me a Song. Participant Media

For a very long time, the country of Bhutan was shut off from the outside world — but in recent years, the internet arrived. For Sing Me a Song, director Thomas Balmès carefully and patiently chronicles how the country’s new connectedness changes how young Buddhist monks live in their monastery. The center of the film is Peyangki, who was the 8-year-old subject of Balmès’s 2013 documentary Happiness. Now a teenager, Peyangki’s formerly idyllic life has become fraught with tension and distraction — and, poignantly, romance. Each frame is pristine, peaceful, and stunning, which only underlines the sharp changes in the young monks’ lives.

How to watch it: Sing Me a Song is currently screening on the festival circuit.

32 Best Documentaries on YouTube You Can Watch for Free

Last Updated on January 23, 2020

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In this digital age, information has become incredibly accessible. But with so much content available, it’s a challenge to sift between what is real and what is false. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we get our information from reliable sources.

Documentaries are the perfect tool.

Well-made documentaries captivate us and promote discussion on a variety of topics. They are a great resource foreducating ourselves on various matters.

Watching documentaries benefits you in the following ways:

  • You are introduced to new topics and given a deeper understanding of it.
  • They give you a glimpse into new cultures and lifestyles.
  • They inspire you to action or change your beliefs.
  • They make great conversation starters.

Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the International Documentary Association, sums up the social importance of documentary films as such:

“Documentary film is a form that allows us to walk in another’s shoes, to build a sense of shared humanity, that gives voice to the marginalized and scorned, that strives to hold those in power to account. In these challenging times…it is all the more important to support the ever-risky endeavor that documentary filmmaking is becoming.”

YouTube provides one of the best venues for watching documentaries for free, so we’ve chosen 32 of the best documentaries on YouTube and listed them for today’s post.

These films are selected for their ability to inspire and promote a new way of thinking. All these films help youlearn something new about social issues, notable personalities, and the world we live in.

These are the films worth checking out.

(Side note: One ​way to improve your life is to read and learn something new every day. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that’s informative, witty and FREE!)

1. The Extraordinary Genius of Albert Einstein

Do you want to know how geniuses arrive at breakthroughs that deepens our understanding of our world and life?

Produced by History.com, this 1.5-hour documentary centers on Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity—not for viewers to understand the theory itself, but to serve as a case study for demonstrating how humans think. The film attempts to show how the real thought processes of human beings happen outside of opinions and perceptions.

2. The Reality of Truth

This film was created by spiritual guruDeepak Chopra and entrepreneur Mike Zappolin. It introduces viewers to the ways in which people have transcended into alternate realities, such as through meditation, music, and the use of psychotropics.

The content it features makes this film somewhat controversial. Top scientists, spiritual gurus, and thought leaders discuss the common understanding of reality, as well as the methods for transcending it and reaching an alternate reality.

3. The Next Black – A Film About the Future of Clothing

Do you want to know what clothes will look like in the future?

In this film, sustainability advocates, clothing companies, and a bio firm all give their opinions and forecasts about the clothes we’ll be wearing in the future. One interesting thing to see in this documentary is the way living organisms are being made to grow wearables.

4. The Congo Dandies: Living in Poverty and Spending a Fortune to Look Like a Million Dollars

This film features members of the Congolese Le Sapeur, or the Congo Dandies.

These well-dressed men are known to spend thousands of dollars on designer clothes and accessories, despite the fact that most of them live in poverty-stricken communities in Congo, Central Africa.

5. Real Life Psychopaths

What goes on in the mind of a psychopath?

This documentary reveals evidence about psychopathic behavior that predisposes people to they cycle of crime, parole, and re-offense. In the film, leading criminal psychologist Professor Robert Hare provides insight into the thought processes of psychopaths.

The film also reports on the common tendency of paroled psychopaths to reoffend, even after attending treatment programs prior to release.

6. Organic Food – Hype or Hope?

These days, we are made to believe that eating organic food is healthier, so people are willing to pay more to get those products on their tables.

In this DW documentary, viewers are taken behind the scenes of the organic food industry. The lack of consistent testing, quality control, and monitoring of organic food products makes consumers vulnerable to labeling fraud.

7. Four Horsemen

This documentary, produced by Renegade Inc. and directed by Ross Ashcroft, explains how the world works and what could be done to create a better society.

The title refers to what the film creators identify as American-led ills: financial misconduct, violence, appalling poverty, and the environmental crisis. The film hopes to inspire the audience to take action for change.

8. The Power of Meditation

If you’re not new to this blog, you’ve probably come across several articles aboutmeditation and mindfulness. We believe that these practices have a positive effect on health and well-being.

The Power of Meditation features various meditation practices for achieving relaxation, healing, and happiness, as well as developing positive emotions. The film is a good starting point for those who want to gain a deeper understanding of meditation.

9. Enlightenment

This film, produced by Anthony Chene, attempts to find answers to the question, “Who are we really?”

If you are looking for ways todevelop self-awareness, this movie is a good jump-off point. The film contains insightful interviews that create modern-day interpretations of our true purpose here on earth.

10. The Mary Magdalene Conspiracy (Secrets of the Cross Documentary)

Are you up for some mystery? As a Secret of the Cross documentary, this film explores one of the fascinating stories of Christianity, one of the oldest religions and most powerful religions of the world, with more than 2 billion followers.

Mary Magdalene was identified as the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and yet she was rarely mentioned in succeeding texts. This film attempts to shed light on who Mary Magdalene truly was in connection to Jesus Christ.

11. A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity

More and more people are waking and finding solutions to global crises. Some of these individuals formed anoff-the-grid community in Australia, living a simpler lifestyle to help save the planet.

This documentary was made by several members while they stayed in the community for a year. During that period, they built tiny houses, planted vegetable gardens, and experienced what it’s like to live in a sustainable community.

12. Without Bound – Perspectives on Mobile Living

This film features people who made the choice to trade the comforts of living in a house for the freedom of living on the road. In this documentary, you’ll get to know a group of people who live in trailers, RVs, and other vehicles of their choice to experience freedom through mobile and minimalistic living.

Without Bound attempts to answer the question, “How much do we need?” The documentary focuses on people who live in mobile homes by choice, and not on people rendered homeless by various social and economic circumstances. The subjects have significantly scaled down their possessions, living day-to-day with the most basic essentials.

13. Real Value

These days, the demand for business enterprises that give back to society is rising. This inspiring documentary explores the concept of social enterprise.

Various notable personalities are interviewed in this film, to give viewers a better understanding of what happens when businesses truly consider the welfare of people and the planet.

14. Poor Kids of America

Poverty is on the rise in the United States. Many families are affected, especially children.

This award-winning documentary shows the negative effects of a flagging economy, widespread unemployment, and poverty through the perspective of the most vulnerable members of society: the children.

15. New Money

In this documentary, former stock broker and hedge fund manager Dr. Steve Sjuggerud reveals a great money-making opportunity in a very unlikely place: China.

The documentary reveals how people’s perception of China and what is actually happening there right now are completely different. In the film, Dr. Sjuggerud shows a China that is far more sophisticated than most business districts in the US.

16. Modern Day Miracles

This documentary follows three children with correctable disabilities who were treated by CURE International medical teams in the countries of Niger, Philippines, and the Dominican Republic.

The documentary features the work of non-profit and Christian organization CURE. It is inspirational in the sense that we get to see people investing their time and efforts to reach out and help others who are in need of healing and hope.

17. The Science of Acupuncture

Produced by BBC, this documentary features the traditional Chinese treatment of acupuncture.

There are many who are skeptical about this alternative treatment, but the documentary explores how acupuncture is used to cure a host of ailments. Moreover, in the film, acupuncture is used on a patient in lieu of general anesthetic during open-heart surgery.

18. The First Human

In this evolution documentary, we travel through time to uncover a new theory about the approximate time, reason, and way human beings began walking upright.

This film presents the story of scientists’ new discovery of a fossil much older than “Lucy” (who was initially thought to be humans’ ancestor). This discovery challenges a lot of set ideas about how human beings have evolved.

19. Laos Wonderland

This documentary is about the glorious, natural wonders of Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. It shows many of the unexplored spots in the country, as well as the wildlife that flourish there.

The film also features some festivals and traditions observed in Laos, which are strongly tied to the surroundings where they are celebrated. This film is a treat for those who are interested in world cultures.

20. All Is Self

This documentary shows us that we are one with all of creation. It proposes that the state of our thoughts and emotions is reflected in the state of our society. The film explains the concept of the unity of all creation through different belief systems all over the world.

21. The Human Brain

If you’re interested in learning about the human brain, this documentary can supply you with the information you need. The creators of this film show viewers the physical features and structure of our brains. It explores the different areas of the brain, and identifies the functions of each.

22. The Living Body

Do you wonder how the human body works? Or what happens to our bodies as we age? Through the use of high-definition, mini-endoscopic cameras and stunning visual effects, this documentary allows you to get a truly up-close view of our organs, and insight into the everyday functioning of the human body.

This documentary has won numerous awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Artistic Direction.

23. The Truth About Sugar

Thinking aboutquitting sugar?

Many nations are suffering from obesity crises. In this documentary, BBC pinpoints sugar as a major culprit. The film also reveals the amount of sugar in our meals and drinks, and reports on the reasons for our sugar addiction.

24. Food Choices

This film by Michal Siewierski is an exposé on the impact of our food choices on our health, our planet, and the lives of other species.

The documentary was three years in the making, and features interviews with 28 of the world’s leading experts in various fields. Misconceptions about diets and food are also discussed in the film.

25. Mat Fraser: Making a Champion

Ever wondered how top athletes go about their days?

In this documentary, Mat Fraser—winner of the CrossFit Games in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019—shares a day in the life of a CrossFit champ. He also shares his personal backstory. This serves as an inspiration for those who aspire for greatness in the realm of sports.

26. SEALFIT 20X SLTC

SEALFIT 20X is a documentary about the challenges that members of the Southeast Lineman Training Center encountered when they volunteered for the 20X program of SEALFIT. The goal of the program is to train apprentice lineworkers to become better qualified (physically) for the job.

The film shows the grit and determination of these lineworkers as they struggled to overcome the challenges of grueling training to become the best at what they do.

27. Unbelievable Natural Disasters

This documentary features the most terrifying natural disasters of all time. The film helps you understand the impact of tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes on people’s lives, the economy, and the environment.

28. The Hacker Wars

This film features the US government’s targeting ofhacktivists and several journalists who are critical of the country’s administrative body. The story revolves around three hacktivists who battled against the government over the control of information in the age of the Internet.

29. The Cola Wars

This film showcases the intense marketing campaigns of the two leading soft drink companies, PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company. The competition between these two companies reached a peak during the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, a period that was dubbed the “Cola Wars.” Today, the rivalry between the two companies is still strong, with no sign of letting up, as consumers are still almost equally divided in their soft drink preference.

30. Where Dreams Go to Die

People say that this is a magnificent running documentary.

This inspirational documentary is about Canadian ultrarunner Gary Robbins and his attempt to complete the Barkley Marathons. The Barkley Marathons has a full course of a hundred miles, and is considered one of the toughest ultramarathon races in the world.

Learn about the sacrifices Robbins made to participate in this grueling test of strength, stamina, and spirit.

31. Picasso’s Last Stand

Do you love art? This documentary features one of the greatest artists of all time.

The film reveals the life of Picasso a decade before his death. At that time, he was faced with criticism for his output and his lifestyle. However, in the midst of this turmoil, he found impetus to bring forth his wittiest, most profound work.

32. Self-Medicated: A Film About Art

While we’re on the topic of art, here is another documentary featuring art and artists.

In 2000, several artists who got fed up of being excluded from the fine art scene formed a movement in defiance to this exclusivity. They called themselves The Antagonists, and they preferred to express their art through physical media—specifically walls and the outdoors. The movement has now spread throughout the globe.

This documentary tracks several Antagonists. We get to know them through their stories (often of loneliness and depression), and see how art helps them cope.

Are you ready to binge-watch these films?

Self-education can be enhanced by watching quality documentaries. As your knowledge about topics that interest you increases, so does your potential for personal success.

Can’t get enough of learning new things? You might want to visit this post featuring 21 fun tools for learning something new every day.

Finally, one ​way to improve your life is to read and learn something new every day. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that’s informative, witty and FREE.

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Soothing Sounds for the Bedroom

Four types of light noises that’ll help you fall asleep in no time

Often, a little background noise in the bedroom can help when it comes to falling asleep. But picking the right kind is essential—because what works for your best friend may not work for you. When determining which type of sound is best, try one at a time for a few nights. A few that are worth trying include:

  • White Noise: This is a combination of all noise frequencies, and it helps mask outside sounds. In fact, it’s sometimes used to treat insomnia patients. To generate white noise in your bedroom, try downloading a white noise app on your smartphone or tablet or buy a machine (they’re usually sold at drugstores, and at retailers such as Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, Walmart, and Amazon.com). These machines might also be called sound “conditioners.”
  • Nature Sounds: Many people enjoy hearing the calming roll of ocean waves, the trickle of raindrops, the gentle chirping of rainforest animals, or the powerful roar of thunderstorms as they drift off. These sounds often rise and fall in volume and intensity, which you may find relaxing. Download a nature sounds app on your smartphone or tablet or download a music album online. Just make sure that the sounds you choose are constant – a random whale cry or bird song can jolt you out of a light stage of sleep.
  • Calming Music: If you can avoid songs with lyrics that keep your mind active or thumping bass lines that keep your toes tapping (sorry, Metallica fans!), listening to soft, mellow music may help you get to dreamland faster. Some good musical genres include classical, folk, smooth jazz, Gregorian chants, or binaural beats.
  • Voices: When traditional noises like nature sounds, white noise, or music don’t do the trick, try human voices. For instance, one app called Pzizz features a human voice that says nonsensical things—the idea isn’t to focus on the words, but to let the tone and rhythm of the voice lull you into sleep.

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5 of the Best Songs to Help You Sleep

Music can make you laugh, make you cry, give you chills, shake your booty, or—as anyone who has ever attended an evening performance at the symphony knows too well—put you to sleep. Emerging research from sleep scientists around the world says that there’s a good reason for this, and now you can exploit it to make your own bedtime even cozier.

Music has been used in healing ceremonies for thousands of years and across cultures—but let’s talk about a surprising new study out of Hong Kong. Researchers found that study participants who listened to music for 30 to 45 minutes before bed every night for three months fell asleep more quickly, slept more deeply, and felt better the next morning. The catch: The songs they listened to were all set at tempos between 60 and 80 beats per minute—our approximate heart rate when falling asleep. (Here are more secrets for a deeper sleep.)

That’s right: You can literally trick your body into relaxing by syncing your heart rate with peaceful music. In this way, listening to music becomes a form of meditation; by mindfully listening to your surroundings, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure lowers, your anxiety abates, and life becomes a peaceful song. (You can also try this 15-minute mindfulness meditation for sleep.)

Of course, the same is true of energetic music: The Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring ranked Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries” as the world’s most dangerous song for motorists, thanks to a frenzied tempo (nearly 100 bpm) that challenges drivers’ normal sense of speed. (Saying “Sorry, officer, I was just Wagner-ing” probably is not a magic phrase to get you out of a speeding ticket.)

Armed with findings about the irresistible link between backbeat and heartbeat, sleep therapists have even begun collaborating with musicians to create what could become known to history as the chillest music ever. In 2011, the English trio known as Marconi Union worked with the British Academy of Sound Therapy to create an eight-minute instrumental track called “Weightless,” designed to lull the listener into relaxation through proven heart-rate-lowering sounds and tempos (beginning at 60 bpm, and stealthily slowing to 50 bpm by the end.)

And it worked, too. In a recent UK study, participants challenged with solving difficult puzzles while listening to various types of music showed a whopping 65 per cent reduction in anxiety (and therefore an improvement in performance) while listening to “Weightless.” (That pretty much makes “Weightless” the anti-Valkyrie.) As an addendum, study moderator Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International even said: “I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous.”

Want to boost your relaxation before bedtime? Make this your official playlist for a sweet slumber:

  • “Weightless” by Marconi Union
  • “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
  • “Canzonetta Sul-aria” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • “Nocturne in E Flat Major Op. 9 No. 2” by Frederic Chopin
  • “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel

Sleep tight!

Here’s how much sleep you really need, according to science.

The best music to help you fall asleep

When the “sleep and meditation” service Calm launched its app seven years ago, the company was largely focused on the meditation half of its offerings. A few years ago, though, says Michael Acton Smith, co-founder and co-CEO of Calm, it began to see a sharp spike in traffic every evening between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Bedtime.

“People had been using white noise or Netflix or podcasts to help them sleep. Now they were using our meditations,” Smith concluded, and so the company began commissioning what it calls “stories” — breathy, soothing, grown-up bedtime tales with a feather bed of tinkling music beneath the murmured words. The stories, sometimes read by velvet-throated thespians such as Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry, still didn’t satisfy the demand of Calm’s bleary-eyed followers, who (quietly) clamored for just the musical beds, unencumbered by voices, words or other triggers of our daily grind.

Today, the “sleep” tab on Calm features exclusive hourlong compositions from alt-rock instrumental stars Moby and Sigur Rós, among soporific New Age-y playlists like “Chasing Wonder,” “Healing Piano” and “Sleep Like a Baby.” All told, its tracks have been streamed more than 200 million times. Calm is currently valued at $1 billion, and, says Smith, “sleep” has become the most popular part of the app.

With more than 52 million downloads, Calm is the leader among a number of like-minded wellness apps, themselves just a sliver of the booming sleep-aid industry, which is expected to be worth more than $100 billion in 2023 (think everything from CPAP machines to Ambien to weighted blankets). We’re living through a bull market for the anxiety economy, and when sleep won’t take, many of us turn to some form of white noise, hoping that the bleeps and bloops and lapping waves blot out our inner chatter.

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Images from the sleep and meditation app Calm, which is now valued at $1 billion. (calm.com)

Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have been a godsend to insomniacs who turn to music to help them doze; their infinite loops of tranquilizing sound baths mean no more being jostled from slumber by the end of a CD (or quietly panicking that the disc is halfway over and you’ve been grinding your teeth for 20 minutes). The “sleep” category on Spotify has dozens of popular playlists to choose from, with heavy-lidded titles such as “Peaceful Piano” (5.4 million followers) and “Nightstorms” (not be confused with “Night Rain”).

Most of the tracks comprising such playlists are ambient to the extreme, the kind of burbling sonic woo-woo that might accompany your full-moon detoxification at an Ojai spa. For those restless souls who may be seeking something more closely resembling music qua music, but still with the lulling repetition needed to help the Sandman enter, we asked our music writers to share their most cherished audio benzos, the songs and soundtracks they use to drift away after a late night of concert-going and then some. Their selections lean toward the branch of instrumental art music known as minimalism, but nerdy or not, they’re certified sleep-worthy and, unlike the real benzos, have no known side effects.

From ‘Deep Focus’ to ‘Deep Sleep’

I’ve spent much of the last three years exhausted. I had always been a sensitive sleeper and a “night owl” — late nights studying in undergrad and years of pounding the pavement going to concerts. And yet I still found it startling when that propensity for burning the midnight oil shifted to full-blown insomnia.

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I tried what felt like every remedy. Peppermint tea. Counting — not sheep but things around the room. Reading. Aromatherapy. Progressive muscle relaxation. Guided meditation. Some helped. Some didn’t.

Sleep studies ruled out apnea, and I refused to go back to Ambien after waking up in my apartment covered in apple sauce and McDonald’s wrappers and the sound of my car running outside.

What has helped in my journey to scoring the ever-elusive eight hours of sleep has been the sounds of ocean waves. The gentle spilling of water on an hours-long loop — courtesy of Calmsound’s “Sleep Waves” — has tremendously upgraded my sleep health. Along with a regimen of melatonin and an essential dose of cannabis indica (Granddaddy Purple and Blackberry Kush helps the sleep train pull into the station more quickly).

Soothing ocean sounds are a staple of “sleep” playlists. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

My Sonos is programmed with 10 hours of various water sounds — soft, rolling waves; thunderous rainstorms; steady sprinkles against a windowpane — that can pour out of my bedroom speakers at the touch of a button. Ambient noise playlists — “Deep Focus,” “Deep Sleep,” “Atmospheric Calm,” “White Noise” (all on Spotify) — also get heavy rotation in my house. And not just for sleeping. I turn to these sounds when my thoughts are colliding in my head; when blocked in my writing; or when the day has overwhelmed me. I even press play on “Sleep Waves” when my pets are feeling stressed.
— Gerrick D. Kennedy

Between foreground and background

In bed alone there is no escape from your woes, especially if you’re a light sleeper. “Why did you go? Don’t you know I need you?” sing the Everly Brothers in the ballad “Sleepless Nights,” of those racing, desperate hours.

In “Sleep Comes Down,” the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler describes that same moment: “It’s raining in my head/But no tears come down/And I’m dreaming of you/Until sleep comes around.” British pop heartthrob Zayn describes nights spent “roaming and strolling all of these streets / Burning my eyes red — not slept for weeks.” “Everybody’s living or they’re dead,” sings Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils in “Sleep Apnea.” “And I’m still in my bed / And I don’t have a clue.”

Welcome to the club. Everything is wrong when the Zs evade you. For light sleepers, those and other lyrically focused songs are strictly forbidden. The human voice is the great disrupter. So are abrupt structural shifts and dynamic tension-release songs that start quiet but get loud.

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This light sleeper has found that when the snores don’t come, the solution is peaceful instrumental electronic music, much of it of the German techno variety: the minimal electronic team Burger/Ink’s album “Las Vegas”; the multivolume Kompakt Records series called “Pop Ambient”; the peaceful concept album “Empire State Building” by Khan and Walker; and the collected work of Reinhard Voigt, who is one half of Burger/Ink and performs solo as Gas.

What connects these works is a devotion to the sonic space that exists in the blissful realm between foreground and background music.

The musician Björk. (Santiago Felipe)

The aim is to enter the zone similar to the one Icelandic musician Björk roams on “Headphones.” “Genius to fall asleep to your tape last night — so warm,” she sings, capturing the sensation of disappearing within music: “Sounds go through the muscles, these abstract wordless movements.”

Her headphones saved her life, she concludes: “Your tape, it lulled me to sleep, to sleep, to sleep…”
— Randall Roberts

I wanna be sedated

First, I want to say this: Stay the hell away from benzos. A few years ago, a doctor prescribed me a small, nightly dose of Valium to help me sleep during a bout of depression that resolved in a few weeks. He kept writing me more Valium prescriptions, for years, until one day, a different doctor said I’d become a benzo junkie and needed to kick them, which was expensive, painful and took months. I still have occasional insomnia, possibly because of my benzo abuse. But also: Trump.

“Fourth World Vol. I: Possible Musics” cover art. (Glitterbeat)

When I wanna be sedated, I don’t play “I Wanna Be Sedated.” My antidote to sleeplessness is minimalism: repetitive, slow, ding-ding-dong boring to most people. But by throttling the amount of data your brain receives, you can also throttle racing thoughts. I have only about six albums on my iPhone — you win, streaming — and one is trumpeter Jon Hassell and producer Brian Eno’s “Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics” from 1980, one of the supreme ambient albums. Hassell plays sparingly and holds notes until they evaporate. His trumpet soothes like a weighted blanket, and the slightly funky rhythm tracks decelerate an anxious heartbeat. Hassell’s album is tranquilizing — like benzos but nonaddictive.
— Rob Tannenbaum

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Baby’s first New Age music

When your children are very young, you want them to sleep so that you too can sleep. Then they get a bit older, and you want them to sleep so that you can stay up. But when my two sons were 5 and 6 — reliable sleepers once they nodded off, though the trip there could be loooong — my wife and I reverted to that earlier state. Suddenly, thanks to an album we’d discovered about “four little people” named Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Mo, we’d be arguing over who got to put the boys to bed one minute, then promptly falling asleep on their bedroom floor the next.

The album is one in a series of “Guided Meditations for Children” collections by Michelle Roberton-Jones, about whom I knew nothing before a streaming service offered up her work in response to a search for some of those terms. Today, half a decade later, I still don’t know much about Roberton-Jones, beyond the fact that she’s based in the U.K., as her website says, and “received an Angel visitation” (!) in December 2000 “while severely ill in hospital.” Apparently that event inspired her to make these records, which set her recitations of stories about those four tiny creatures — their tea parties and their midnight dances and their magic paintbrushes — against tinkly slow-motion synth-scapes that feel like baby’s first New Age music.

Does this sound awful? I’d have thought so had I been told about it. Yet with its gentle textures and almost imperceptible chord changes, Roberton-Jones’ stuff is amazingly soothing; her nanny-ish accent works to put you at such ease that you can feel your body relaxing with every firm but sympathetic syllable. There’s a distinct unhurriedness to “Guided Meditations for Children” that made my wife and me each want to be the one to savor that unwinding experience (as opposed to an episode of “House of Cards”) after another busy day.

As a critic, I’m usually trying to listen as actively as I can — to figure out what’s going on in a song and why I’m responding to it as I am. Yet success for Roberton-Jones is to have her listener stop paying attention, at least as we commonly understand that act. Indeed, who knows what my or my sons’ brains were doing after we powered down but before Eeny and Co. finished their adventures?
— Mikael Wood

A nightmare becomes a meditation

The story of William Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops” is inextricably tied to the most nightmarish day of the 21st century.

In 2001 the composer, trying to archive a series of melancholy, repetitive compositions from the ’80s, realized that the act of playing the dusty, decaying tapes led to their destruction. The musical results were interesting and unexpected, and he let them play out to their demise.

Shortly after the New York composer finished, however, planes struck the World Trade Center, and the tapes became an artifact of the devastated emotions from that time and place (especially when accompanied with footage of the eerie aftermath in the Manhattan skyline, taken from Basinski’s roof). Art, like everything else, can collapse and vanish.

Nearly two decades later, the loops still have a lulling, meditative quality. (They received a loving and comprehensive 2012 reissue on the experimental label Temporary Residence. But honestly, getting up and flipping vinyl jolts the experience, so maybe stream it first.) For all the shock of their origin story, these compositions have a hypnotic way of bending time. Not much happens as far as melody or dynamics — the changes in tone and mood are slow and sometimes imperceptible. But put one on in a dark room and an hour passes in an instant. The dissolution of the music mirrors the mind drifting away into sleep. How strange that music so bound with trauma could end up bringing so much peace and rest. Lord knows we need it now.
— August Brown

Bach to Sleep

When my eldest son was a toddler, and I was on the prowl for music to use at bedtime, I picked up a reissue of violinist-conductor Yehudi Menuhin’s early-1960s recording of Bach’s Violin Concertos and Orchestral Suites at the Bath International Music Festival in England.

This became a particular favorite, so much so that it became, and remains, known in our family as “the nap music,” which we spun both at night and during afternoon nap sessions. This also landed on the heels of the introduction of the term “the Mozart effect” in 1991, in which music researchers were heavily promoting the idea that listening to classical music, especially in youth, helps improve the brain’s functioning.

If Mozart was good for kids, I figured by extension, Bach — the grand architect of classical music, whose compositions always struck me as masterworks of both the mathematics and artistry of music — might be even better. Whether ultimately there’s any physiological benefit to indoctrinating kids with classical music didn’t really concern me; on an instinctual level I knew it was good for the soul, and my son, Alec, and then his little brother, Harrison, who came along a couple of years later, responded positively.

My sense was the structural integrity of Bach, Mozart and some of the other classical music masters couldn’t help but fuel beneficial development of neural pathways. Plus, I loved it. Ever since, if I find my own mind racing when it’s time to hit the pillow, I turn to this recording to help shut off the chaos of the day and enter a more peaceful inner space. Anytime I hear the opening motif of the A Minor violin concerto, which starts this collection, I instantly feel settled, and can regain some sense that all is right with the world.
— Randy Lewis

The most relaxing pieces of classical music

15 August 2019, 08:52 | Updated: 15 August 2019, 08:53

Classical music can be a powerful tool for relieving everyday stress, helping you sleep and supporting your mental health. We think these are the best pieces of classical music to make your day more relaxing.

1. Anything by Einaudi

The gentle, lyrical pianism of this Italian composer-pianist is an instant late-night winner and the perfect way to ease the stresses of the day. Our weekday Smooth Classics presenter Margherita Taylor says: “Anything by Einaudi transports me to another world, where I can dream to my heart’s content.”

2. Air on a G string by J.S. Bach

This perfectly poised piece comes from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. It features one of the Baroque composer’s finest melodies over a slowly pulsing accompaniment. As with all of Bach’s music, you can listen to each line of the music as a melody of its own. For a moment of musical meditation put this piece on at night, close your eyes and follow the notes of the bass line – and marvel at its beautiful melody.

3. Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg

Evocative, rich and lyrical, the Norwegian composer’s music is always very special – and his only piano concerto is one of the finest pieces ever written for the instrument. Our Full Works Concert presenter Jane Jones says this work is “healing, calming and reassuring all in one go. The moment the piano finally comes in after the orchestra in the second movement is one of the most moving in all of classical music with its sensation of utter relief.”

4. Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie

Erik Satie was a bit of an eccentric in life, but wrote some of the early 20th century’s most sublime and visionary music. In his Gymnopédies, there’s a wonderful sense of musical distillation: the melodies are beautifully simple; nothing is rushed, and everything feels just as it should be. It’s almost impossible to hear them and not feel relaxed afterwards.

5. ‘Romeo & Juliet’ by Craig Armstrong

Classic FM Requests presenter Anne-Marie Minhall says: “If there’s been a stressful journey home (pretty much the norm), I like to travel to a different place and listen to something like Craig Armstrong’s big screen music from Romeo & Juliet or Nigel Hess’s Piano Concerto played by Lang Lang. Piano music rules at home; sometimes nothing else will do whilst pondering over a crossword.”

6. ‘Clair de lune’ by Claude Debussy

This beautiful piece from his Suite Bergamasque is Debussy’s musical description of moonlight. The French impressionist composer was a master of pianistic colour, gentle melody and subtlety. There’s a wonderful hint of jazzy harmony in there too.

There’s much to discover in Debussy’s other piano music, but this is the perfect piece for relaxing. Find a cosy corner, listen and imagine that glistening light of the moon.

7. Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt

In Pärt’s masterpiece Spiegel im Spiegel, a simple arpeggio on the piano is combined with a slow-moving melody line from the cello. The simplicity and stillness of the result is just divine. The title translates as ‘mirror in the mirror’, referring to a state of infinity. Hypnotically slow, the sparse accompaniment from the piano evokes a gentle drip of water or the tolling of a distant bell. We think this exquisite, other-worldly music provides the perfect soundtrack to lull you into a deep state of relaxation.

8. Wiegenlied by Johannes Brahms

This is surely the most famous lullaby in the world, and you can’t help but sing ‘Go to sleep, go to sleep’ along with it. It’s a beautiful Brahms tune (he wrote such lovely melodies). Here’s one of the world’s greatest cellists to play it for you…

[Advice] I Asked A World-Renowned Sleep Expert Everything You Can Imagine About Optimising Sleep. What He Had To Say Was Mindblowing

Earlier this week, I asked GetDisciplined members what they wanted to know about optimising sleep before meeting independent sleep expert, Dr Neil Stanley.

Here are the answers to your questions, or alternatively I’ve posted the results in full below.

Get Better Sleep: Interview With World-Renowned Sleep Expert, Dr Neil Stanley

The age old question of how to get better sleep has baffled mankind for centuries.

So I decided to finally set the record straight and ask independent sleep expert, Dr Neil Stanley, every question imaginable about optimizing sleep.

Dr Stanley lectures on sleep worldwide and has been involved in sleep research for over 30 years so when I sourced questions from avid productivity forum members on Reddit, his answers were mindblowing.

Don’t get too comfortable. This will wake you up.

How much sleep do we need?

The first thing to say is that eight hours is a myth. Sleep need is like height, we are all individual and it’s genetically determined.

Just as there are short people and tall people there are people who are genetically short sleepers and people who are genetically long sleepers.

Anywhere between four and eleven hours can be considered normal. What’s important is that you get the right amount of sleep for you as individual.

So if you’re a ‘four hour a night’ person you need to get four hours a night and if you’re an ‘eleven hour a night person’ you need to get eleven hours.

You can’t change how much sleep you biologically need in any more ways than you can change how tall you are.

The amount of sleep that any individual needs is the amount of sleep that allows them to feel awake, alert and focused throughout the day.

If you feel good and awake during the day, you’ve had enough sleep. If you feel sleepy during the day, you probably haven’t.

How do you find out how much sleep you need?

It’s a trial and error process. If you work a normal daytime shift, at around 11/12 o’clock in the morning you should feel awake, focused and alert.

If you feel like you could put your head down on your desk and have 40 winks you probably haven’t had enough sleep.

The important principle is to listen to your body. There’s no general set time for everybody to go to sleep, wake up or sleep for a certain duration. It’s all about you as the individual.

The problem is most of us don’t go to bed when we’re sleepy, we go to bed when the TV program finishes or when our partner goes to bed.

With any change you make to sleep, it has to be a gradual process. You can’t do something one night hoping it’ll work and then do the complete opposite the next night.

You need to change your sleep patterns slowly. So if you’re trying to either lengthen or shorten your sleep then increasing or decreasing it by 15 minutes a week is the speed you want to be thinking about to find that sweet spot.

Check if you sleep through that period and also analyse how you feel throughout the day. You should be relatively strict with that.

However, if you’re in a situation where you’re feeling awful throughout the day and not able to function then consider adding or removing an hour, then tweaking it by 15 minutes as the weeks progress.

Sometimes, I’ll let myself go to bed at the weekend and naturally wake up. I’ll have a lie-in and sleep for 11 hours but feel awful throughout the day. There’s an argument I’ve let my body sleep and make its own decision so why am I feeling awful?

Your body craves regularity and regular hours of wake-up. The reason for this is your brain and body start waking up around 90 minutes before you actually wake up.

If your brain and body know what time that is they can predict it and make those preparations. That’s why you can naturally wake up a few minutes before your alarm.

Your body may think it’s going to have eight hours (if you’ve been doing that throughout the week) and preps you for that but you sleep on, not allowing your body to make those preparations.

You can oversleep and suffer from what’s known as ‘sleep inertia,’ which causes that feeling of grogginess upon waking and throughout the day.

The most simple and effective change people can make to their sleep is to fix their wake-up time so it’s regular, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

When is the best time to go to sleep and wake up?

Your circadian rhythm is your body rhythm, the thing that governs all the processes that your body undergoes such as sleep wake. There are also rhythms in our hormone production and alertness such as post-lunch dip (where you feel tired after eating).

Everyone has a natural rhythm and combined with the factor of how long you’ve been awake will govern when it’s time to go to sleep.

Studies show most people actually have a clearly defined sleep gate. This is the time threshold that’s ideal for them to fall asleep.

However, it’s almost impossible to know when that is in real life. Essentially, if possible you should go to sleep when you feel sleepy and it doesn’t matter what the clock time is.

The key is to listen to your body and give your body the opportunity to get the sleep it needs. Even if you’re sitting at home and watching TV at 9.00pm and feel tired, at that point you should get in bed and go to sleep.

How can I optimize my sleep?

Essentially, it boils down to three things.

Firstly, you have to have a bedroom that’s conducive to sleep. It needs to be dark so remove all sources of illumination. Use thick curtains or blackout blinds.

Having a comfortable bed is also essential. Fresh air is good for sleep so it’s a good idea to crack the window open during the night, depending on where you live and it’s not going to be freezing.

Quiet is important so earplugs are a good idea.

Your bedroom needs to be quiet, cool and comfortable. The optimum temperature should be 16-18°C or 61-64°F.

This is because you have to lose one degree of body temperature overnight in order to get good sleep. You lose this from your head mainly.

You need to have a temperature gradient. The temperature in the bed can be warm as you heat the bed up anyway just by being in it.

You need the room to be cool just to shift that heat. This is why in the summer it’s more difficult to sleep. Even though the temperature in the room isn’t that high, it’s still more than it should be and doesn’t allow that temperature gradient to happen.

Secondly, you must have a relaxed body. You need to have done something during the day in order to get good sleep during the night.

Physical exercise is important or at least some form of mental work to tire you out.

Finally, a quiet mind is the absolute pre-requisite for sleep. If you’re worried you’ll struggle to fall asleep.

Be it mediation, drinking camomile tea, having a warm bath, doing an adult coloring-in book or listening to Pink Floyd — do anything that relaxes you.

Set aside 45 minutes before bed.

Also, avoid blue light from computer and phone screens one hour before bed. Blue light suppresses the release of melatonin (the body’s signal to start the cascade of processes to fall asleep).

If you stare at a screen before bed you will take longer to fall asleep, have worser quality sleep and feel sleepier the following day.

People use apps that strip out the blue light. However, some people turn the screen brightness up and bright light has just as bad a negative affect on sleep as blue light.

If you’re going to use a light then use nothing more than a standard bedside light. Also, programmable wake-up lights can be of use where you can set them to slowly get dimmer and turn off at the time you want to be asleep.

When I go to bed at 10pm and get up at 5am I feel better than going to bed at 12am and getting up at 7am. Why? Is this related to the concept of ‘early birds’ and ‘night’ owls and if so, can it be changed?

How much sleep we need is genetically determined but also when we need sleep is genetically determined.

There’s the concept of morning people and evening people. Some people respond better to going to bed earlier and getting up earlier and some going to bed later and getting up later.

Researchers at the University of Surrey, England, actually found there’s a gene that’s responsible for people being night owls.

However, there’s only a small percentage of people fixed to that. Around 50 percent of people lie in the middle with no particular strong preference so they have an opportunity to experiment.

If you want to know whether you’re an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl,’ see the Horne and Östberg ‘morningness-eveningness’ questionnaire. This test indicates whether you have a strong preference for morningness or eveningness or sit somewhere in the middle.

What is the ’90-minute rule’ and does it work? If so, how strict do you need to be?

The 90-minute rule is the idea that we sleep in 90-minute cycles and that you need to get a certain amount of cycles per night.

You can buy apps that ‘magically’ wake you up after five 90-minute periods. The problem with this theory is our sleep cycles (going from light, to deep, into dreaming sleep) are actually of variable length.

An individual’s sleep cycle can be between 70 and 110 minutes. So something that works on a strict 90-minute rhythm can be hugely inaccurate over five 90-minute periods.

If it’s 20 minutes shorter at 70 minutes, it could be out by a huge 100 minutes by the end of the night which could be very detrimental.

Essentially, if you give your body the right amount of sleep, you will wake up in REM sleep which means you’ll get the number of sleep cycles your body needs.

It goes back again by trialing it and judging how you feel rather than adhering to this strict 90-minute rule.

If you’re getting 6-7 hours a night on weekdays and feel tired, is it better to top up with a couple of extra hours on weekends?

There’s divided opinion on this. There was a study out recently stating you need to catch up on sleep at the weekend.

However, that’s because it’s ‘catch-up’ sleep. You’re depriving yourself of sleep during the week and therefore needing extra sleep at the weekend.

You could flip that research on its head and say you should be getting enough sleep during the week and therefore not need to catch up on sleep at the weekend.

If you’re in a situation where you’re in a sleep debt throughout the week, you can’t repay the entire debt during the weekend but you can repay some of it — and that’s better than nothing.

Regardless, it’s best not go into sleep debt in the first place.

If I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep one night, what should I do the next day (e.g. try taking a nap in the middle of a day, or try sleeping earlier?)

If it’s just one night, your body is pretty resilient. However, if you feel sleepy during the day a 20-minute power nap will help you.

You may also use coffee to give you a boost.

But the best remedy is listen to your body and go to bed when you feel sleepy, even if it’s half an hour before your usual bedtime, then still wake up at your regular time the following day.

Can I change my circadian rhythm by going to bed and waking up in the same hour repeatedly?

You can’t change your circadian rhythm. You can force your body to wake up earlier but whether that will allow your body to feel at best during the day is doubtful.

It’s not going to be good for you so unless there’s a pressing reason to do that then there’s no point because you’ll only be sub-optimal.

Is CBD oil an effective tool for improving sleep quality?

There’s varying evidence as to whether cannabinoids have a benefit to sleep or not. However, if it relaxes you that can only be a good thing.

Whatever relaxes you will help you sleep.

How do parents sleep since I had children five years ago and I haven’t slept for more than eight hours uninterrupted once.

Children don’t know any better so unfortunately you can’t expect too much of them. Waking up in the dark alone may seem quite terrifying for a child so they may cry or want to come into the bed.

All you can do is try and get sleep when you can, even if it’s a 20-minute power nap. Also, routine and predictability are important.

The ‘bath, book and bed’ formula is a good option for getting kids to settle. Having a routine that is time limited is better rather than just shouting at them to get to bed. Installing a difference between day and night is essential.

Day is about happiness and fun. Night is about calm and quietness. You can’t train a child to sleep but you can give them the mindset in order to go to sleep and have uninterrupted sleep.

Also, keep them off their iPads and phones an hour before bed so the blue light doesn’t disturb their sleeping patterns.

Are there any good apps to track if you’re sleeping well?

Generally, apps are pretty inaccurate at measuring sleep. The worst thing you can do is trust the data they can give.

They can provide patterns over a couple of months as to roughly how you sleep but not on a night-to-night basis.

Looking at your app sleep score and thinking, ‘It’s 100 percent. Woohoo! I can now drive to Glasgow,’ is the wrong thing to do because people need to listen to their body.

Regardless to what these apps tell you, if you feel sleepy, you are sleepy.

Information from apps can be hugely inaccurate. Asking yourself, ‘Do I feel awake during the day is a far more accurate way of measuring how sleepy you are.

What’s the best ways you know to optimize sleep and get by with far less? I know you can’t officially recommend it. But still, I want to treat the condition of sleep and do well with less. Let’s say I aim to become a 4-5 hour-a-nighter to start with. What’s my methodology? Polyphasic sleep? Elevated feet caffeine naps? Uberman? Modafinil? Magnesium/zinc supplements? Lower body temperature? Sleep faster?

Polyphasic napping is something that cats, babies and extreme sportsman do for very short periods of time.

There’s a claim that Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Edison, Napoleon, Tesla and Churchill all practiced polyphasic napping. There isn’t a shred of evidence that any of them did that.

Personally, I believe it’s a phase that many young men go through and is very silly. Uberman is a variation of that.

Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting drug that is being abused. It’s designed to help people with serious conditions such as narcolepsy or Parkinson’s.

It’s a drug of abuse when trying to keep yourself awake and does have significant downsides in that situation.

Taking caffeine before a power nap is beneficial but certainly not a replacement for sleep.

The only thing you can do if you have to function on less sleep is by using blue light over 10,000 lux in the morning or evening as you so need.

That will stop the production of melatonin at night so you won’t feel as sleepy and will also help you wake up.

What amazes me after 36 years of being involved in sleep research is people want to get less sleep. If I was a nutritionist, I’d be surprised if someone asked, ‘How can I eat more unhealthily.’ If I was a fitness guru, I’d find it strange if people asked, ‘How can I be more lazy?’

Yet somehow sleep, which is the greatest tool for feeling good and important for our bodies and brains to be at our best, is somehow seen as something people want to try and get less of.

How can I train myself to move past the light phase of sleep and get straight to the deep part for more sleep efficiency?

You can’t. Your sleep is cyclical. You go to sleep in the lighter stages of sleep, you progress into the deeper stages of sleep and then after about 70-110 minutes sleep naturally lightens to a REM period where you dream and then you go back into deep sleep.

There is no way of circumventing that light sleep.

The only way you can go into deep sleep earlier is by sleep depriving yourself the night before but that seems to be a very crazy thing to do.

If I wake in the middle of the night feeling wide awake should I get up and do things or make myself lie in bed in the dark?

It depends. If you feel okay about lying there in the dark with your eyes closed then fine, but if you start resenting the time and you’re lying there thinking, ‘I must get to sleep!’ then this could be a problem.

If you’ve been awake for more than 20 minutes during the night and you still haven’t fallen back to sleep go to a different room, do something relaxing and go back to bed when you feel sleepy.

If you go to another room, switch the light on and read a book if you’ve got standard iridescent bulbs — do something quiet and relaxing.

But stay off your phone or computer.

How can we improve our REM sleep?

REM sleep is the state of sleep in which you have your long, story-like dreams. It happens every 90 minutes or so. The first REM period throughout the night might only be 5-10 minutes long and the latter part of the night it may be 45 minutes.

It happens naturally and is an important part of sleep that’s involved in emotional wellbeing and emotional memories.

If you get a good night’s sleep your REM will happen. You preferentially wake up during a dream in REM which is why you remember them in the morning.

The only way you can REM sleep is by getting as good a night’s sleep as you can by eliminating anything that could potentially disturb your sleep.

By getting a good night’s sleep using the criteria mentioned previously, you preferentially wake up in REM sleep.

What is hyperbaric sleep and can this be done at home?

Hyperbaric tents simulate sleeping at altitude while increasing oxygen levels and are something professional sportsman claim is beneficial for helping them sleep better and recover quicker from injuries.

There is some evidence to support this but the only way to do this is to buy a hyperbaric tent which would require a significant amount of money and remodelling your bedroom.

Only if you’re a serious sportsman would it make any benefit at all but not for the average man on the street.

How do I get more will power to get out of bed?

A positive mental attitude.

If you want to get out of bed easier, set your alarm and get up the time you’ve set it for. Don’t snooze. Open the curtains. Get some bright light. If it’s the winter use a bright light box. Have a cup of coffee and an invigorating shower.

Also, if you’ve set an alarm on your phone, place it somewhere so you’re forced to get out of bed to turn it off.

When is the best time to sleep when doing shift work?

Shift work is problematical as it goes against evolution and your natural body sleep rhythms.

We know that when people work nights they sleep for about two-and-a-half hours less on average than when they work days.

The best you can do is use eye shades and ear plugs while finding what hours work for you.

Some people come off a night shift and have a sleep immediately for four hours and then they have another sleep for four hours prior to going on to their shift.

Others try and just get one period of sleep.

Unfortunately there’s no magic way, it’s just finding out how best you can cope with it.

How can I deal with ‘jet lag’ when changing time zones?

The best way to deal with ‘jet lag’ is the minute you get on the plane set your watch for the time that you’re going to and eat your meals for that correct cultural time. You have a light-dark clock and you also have a food-related clock which will impact your sleep. If it’s breakfast time in your destination then eat something.

When I fly back from America I get served dinner at 11.00pm local time.

It takes a day to a day and a half to get over the jet lag for each hour changed.

So flying from New York to London will take between five and ten days to get over the trip.

When you get to your flight destination, if it’s light, stay awake and if it’s dark, go to sleep. Adopt the local time as quickly as you can. Even if you’ve slept on the plane but you arrive local time, still try and sleep.

On planes, the issue is they ask you to put the blinds down. The reason they do that is it stops you asking for gin and tonics the whole flight.

You may have to have a flight with the stewardess but when you’re flying keep the blind up if it’s daylight outside so you can see the sunlight.

Can a person with insomnia change their sleep patterns?

There’s a very rare of insomnia called ‘idiopathic insomnia’ which means the person is never going to have a good refreshing night’s sleep.

For most people, insomnia is eminently treatable with Cognitive Behavioral Therpay (CBT). CBT is about changing your lifestyle, attitudes and expectations around sleep.

It’s very easy to develop insomnia if you believe you must have eight hours every night and you’re only getting six.

But if you can find out you personally only need six hours you magically don’t have insomnia because you’ve changed your perception of how much sleep you require.

The effects of CBT last past the time you stop having therapy.

There are medications for sleep that are beneficial for many people.

Sometimes insomnia is linked to another condition such as pain, anxiety or depression. If your doctor can treat those then this should remedy your insomnia naturally.

Pillow vs. no-pillow for back-sleepers: Does it help with neck strain?

You may fall asleep or wake up on your back but that certainly doesn’t mean you sleep on your back throughout the whole night.

There’s no such thing as a person who sleeps on their back, side or stomach. You actually change position about 12 to 16 times a night.

The pillow is to your head and neck what your mattress is to your body so it’s important to get the right pillows for you.

The absence of pillows may be beneficial if you’re on your back but the minute you turn onto your side it could cause strain on the neck.

Find the combination of pillows that are the right height for you through trial and error.

How To Fall Asleep In 30 Minutes Or Less, According To Reddit

Sleeplessness sucks. I’m extremely jealous of people who have the ability to fall asleep in under 30 minutes every night, pretty without fail — but maybe Redditor elephantbandit has the right idea: Instead of simply envying folks who can conk out easily, s/he asked them how they do it. The resulting AskReddit thread yielded several thousand comments with the content sharing community’s best tips for how to fall asleep in 30 minutes or less — and while the tips might not be game-changing, they still might come in handy for those of us who regularly suffer bouts of mild insomnia.

It’s true that some of the answers are… shall we say, slightly less helpful. A ton of the responses simply make some variation on the statement, “I lay down and I go to sleep” — which, while technically answering the question, doesn’t actually provide any useful information (or, I would argue, add to the discussion at all, therefore defeating the point of posting in AskReddit in the first place); the absolute least helpful response even just says, “Be tired.” Thanks, bro. I understand that not everyone has experienced the awfulness that is being tired, yet not being able to fall asleep… but seriously. You’re not helping.

Scattered amongst the dross, though, there’s still plenty of good advice to be had, as well. Here are 12 of my favorite responses (some of which I hadn’t heard before — always a delight!); head on over to AskReddit for more. What’s your favorite no-fail way to fall asleep?

1. Tell yourself a story.

I do this sometimes. It doesn’t always work, but if I’m feeling anxious about real life, it helps get my mind off it for a while.

2. Keep your bed only for sleeping.

And sex. Sleeping and sex, but nothing else. It’s frequently repeated advice, which I persist in not following (I regularly read in bed). I do not lead by example in this case.

On that note…

3. Read.

But the key is reading something boring. Try this.

4. Use the 4-7-8 sleep hack.

We’ve been over this one before, so consider this comment another endorsement for it.

5. Take a bath.

You probably already know the “no screens” thing — but taking a bath can help, too. You know how we’re always told to make sure the temperature is right for sleeping before you settle in for the night? A bath will help regulate your temperature. I realize that it’s summer now, so if you’re having trouble keeping cool while sleeping, Reddit has some tips for that, too.

6. Have kids (haha).

Actually, no. Don’t have kids. Not only will you be constantly exhausted, yet without the spare time required for sleep, but moreover, having kids for any reason other than wanting to, y’know, raise a family is a terrible idea.

7. Take care of yourself.

The jury’s still out on whether exercising right before bed is good or bad for your sleep cycle, but working out in generally and eating healthily will go a long way towards helping you sleep better.

8. ASMR.

I had to look this one up, but apparently folks who experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response feel awesome whenever they listen to someone whispering. Does the phrase “brain orgasm” appeal to you? Then give it a shot. Try the GentleWhispering YouTube channel, maybe combined with this method:

9. Make yourself stay awake.

I’ll admit that I’m a little skeptical about this one, but according to another Redditor who commented below trophyballs, forcing yourself to stay awake might actually make you sleepy.

10. Develop a routine.

Never underestimate the value of a bedtime ritual. Another Redditor called it a “sleep trigger,” which I kind of dig.

11. Watch a nature documentary.

Technically this one goes against the “no screens” rule, but given how many people swear by that eight-hour waterfall video, maybe there are exceptions to the rule.

12. Do this.

All of it. And then also click through to the permalink, because PainMatrix was nice enough to stick around and answer some questions, too. Hello, impromptu AMA with a bonafide sleep expert!

Images: stratman2/Flickr; Giphy (3)

Despite the fact that napping is commonplace in other cultures around the world, the activity in the U.S. is slightly less popular. Nevertheless, a national survey finds that one in three Americans takes a nap regularly. If you feel a bit run down or unfocused in the afternoon, you may also have considered taking a nap, but worried that the extra daytime shut-eye could impact your ability to sleep at night. The truth is, humans are hardwired to feel a little tired in the middle of the afternoon—most people’s natural circadian rhythm dips between 1 P.M. and 3 P.M. resulting in that sleepy feeling —and most likely, adding a short afternoon siesta will not disrupt your normal seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Follow these steps to get the most out of your nap, without interfering with your nighttime sleep.

Step 1: Watch the Clock

Taking a nap at the wrong time of day can be counterproductive. For instance, napping near dinnertime throws off your regular bedtime schedule, since it’s tough to relax when you’re not fatigued. Luckily, there’s a sweet spot on the clock: The best time to take a nap is after lunch, between 2 P.M. and 3 P.M., when the body’s energy naturally starts to flag.

Step 2: Keep It Short

If a little napping is good for you, more must be better, right? Not necessarily. Sleeping for an hour or more is too much during the day and will likely set you up for nighttime troubles. The right amount of time for a refreshing nap is about 20 minutes. This short window of zzz’s will put you in the non-REM or lightest stage of sleep. If you snooze for longer, you’ll enter a deep sleep stage and may wake up feeling less alert than when you started.

Step 3: Set the Scene

When you’re ready to take a quick nap, be sure the spot you pick is conducive to good sleep. The ideal environment for a snooze is one with a comfortable temperature, limited light, and minimal noise. If you are traveling, consider packing noise-canceling headphones and an eye mask to help you relax no matter where you are.

Step 4: Limit Caffeine

It’s tempting to grab a big latte when you’re feeling tired in the afternoon, but too much caffeine later in the day can leave you wired and unable to fall asleep at night. A cup or two of coffee is fine in the morning, but once the P.M. rolls around, you’re better served with a 20-minute nap to get your engine humming again.

The Sound of ‘Pink Noise’ Improves Sleep and Memory

Deep sleep is critical to maintaining a robust memory, but both decline with age. A small new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests that one easy way for older adults to get deeper sleep and stronger memories is to listen to a certain soothing sound called “pink noise”—a mix of high and low frequencies that sounds more balanced and natural than its better-known cousin, “white noise.”

It may sound strange, but previous studies have found that playing so-called pink noise during sleep improves the memory of younger adults. “We wanted to see if it would work in older people, too,” says senior author Dr. Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Older people tend to get less slow-wave sleep and are at greater risk for memory impairment.

Zee and her fellow researchers had 13 adults ages 60 and older spend two nights in a sleep lab. On both nights, the participants took a memory test at night, went to sleep wearing headphones and an electrode cap, and repeated the memory test in the morning.

On one of those nights, headphone-clad participants were played a series of short bursts of pink noise during deep sleep, spaced out enough to prevent the brain from getting used to and ignoring them. “The noise is fairly pleasant; it kind of resembles a rush of water,” says Zee. “It’s just noticeable enough that the brain realizes it’s there, but not enough to disturb sleep.” The sounds were timed to match their slow-wave oscillations. No noise was played during the other night.

(Here’s what pink noise sounded like to study participants, in the box below.)

After analyzing everyone’s sleep waves, the team found that people’s slow-wave oscillations increased on the nights punctuated by pink noise. Come morning, people who had listened to it performed three times better on memory tests than they had the other night. On the nights without the noise, memory recall did not improve as much.

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Northwestern has a patent pending on the new technology, and one of the study authors has cofounded a company that plans to market it commercially. But first, says Zee, larger and longer studies are needed to confirm the findings and show that there are benefits to long-term use, rather than on just one night. The researchers hope to develop an affordable device that people can use at home.

Zee says that the effectiveness of pink noise is all in the timing. “The effect here, at least for memory, is quite related to the ability of the sound stimulus to enhance slow-wave sleep,” she says. “That’s very much tied to what part of the slow wave the stimulus is hitting on.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to other soothing background sounds. Music, nature sounds and white (or pink) noise apps may still help improve sleep, she says—which, in itself, is good for the body and for the brain.

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Creating the perfect sleep environment for yourself can be tough. We can lower or crank the AC in our homes to get a comfortable temperature, we can get the perfect mattress to be cozy and fall asleep fast, and we can find the heaviest blackout curtains to block out the bright outdoors. But we can’t really influence the things happening outside our walls, whether that means loud neighbors, blaring sirens throughout the night, or even the twittering of birds outside your window as soon as the sun starts to come up.

But with modern technology, we can do our best to drown out the outside world, leaving us with our thoughts while we fall asleep. Some prefer to fall asleep to Netflix or audiobooks, but not all of us can ignore the sounds of talking. For those among us with a hyper-focusing brain, sound machines can be the answer to getting a quiet and restful night’s sleep.

Sound machines back in the day used to create basic white noise, and while the benefits of sleeping with white noise can’t be overstated, some prefer the sound of the ocean, or the sounds of insects chirping in a forest. Thanks to modern technology, we can transport ourselves to whatever relaxing environment we want through sound machines.

Let’s talk about some of the coolest, and most effective, sound machines on the market.

The best sound machines for better sleep

  • SNOOZ White Noise Sound Machine – $80
  • Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine – $45
  • Pure Enrichment Wave Premium Sleep Sound Machine – $30
  • Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine – $60
  • MyBaby Deep Sleep White Noise Machine – $39
  • MyBaby SoundSpa Lullaby – $25
  • HoMedics HDS-1000 Deep Sleep White Noise Machine – $37

SNOOZ White Noise Sound Machine – $80

In our humble opinion, this is the best-looking sound machine on the market. If you’re concerned with ruining your room’s aesthetic with an unattractive little piece of tech on your night stand, this is the perfect choice. But don’t worry, SNOOZ’s white noise machine isn’t just looks. A white noise machine with looping sound can drive the more attentive among us a little crazy, especially if we can expect when the loop is coming, but this machine features non-looping white noise, because the sound comes from a real fan inside the machine. It features 10 tones for people of all ages, and it’ll soothe your pets if they have separation anxiety, too. Perhaps the coolest feature of this machine is that it’s fully integrated with a smartphone app, so you can control every feature of the white noise machine from your phone. Connect multiple SNOOZ machines to your phone and turn down the volume to the guest bedroom sound machine from the kitchen; it’s an especially handy device for parents who want sound machines in the kids’ rooms, too.

Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine – $45

Here’s a sound machine that doesn’t win any beauty contests, but it’s all about the wine, not the label, right? When it comes to sound machines, the Marpac Dohm can be considered a historic and truly established machine. The first edition of this machine, the Sleep-Mate, showed up on shelves in 1962, helping lull our parents and grandparents to sleep. Naturally, the contemporary edition of the Marpac Dohm features much higher quality tech than its ancestor. With a real built-in fan, this is a non-looping white noise machine, but if you’re looking for the natural sounds of the rain forest or a soothing storm, you should choose a different model, as Marpac Dohm sticks with classic white noise. Simple yet effective.

Pure Enrichment Wave Premium Sleep Sound Machine – $30

Pure Enrichment knows the game of relaxation. With humidifiers, heating pads, scent diffusers and Himalayan salt lamps, Pure Enrichment wants you to create a spa experience in your own bedroom. And you can start to do that by choosing a sound machine that helps you get the perfect amount of sleep. This machine features six sounds; white noise, fan, ocean, rain, stream and summer night; so if you prefer to feel like you’ve been transported to the beach or your favorite nature preserve, the Pure Enrichment machine is the way to go. It features 15-, 30- and 60-minute automatic off timers, and it’s nice and small, perfect for traveling.

Sleep machines for babies

You don’t have to be a parent to know that babies are really bad at sleeping. Of course, parents know better than anyone, and the countless sleepless nights are evidence of that. But, parents, you can do your best to create a calming environment for your little one and lessen the chances of experiencing yet another sleepless night listening to the ambient noises of a screaming toddler. While all of the above machines work just fine for children, sound machines that were made specifically for kids pack unique features like built-in night lights, sounds that mimic the womb and even projectors, which can imitate the look of a mobile above the crib.

Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine – $60

This may be the most expensive of our three choices for kid-oriented sound machines, but it’s a sound machine that your child can grow up with. Not only does it come with a smartphone app so you can lower or raise the volume, or turn on or off the sound machine without even entering your kid’s room and waking them up, but it also features an attractive built-in night light. That means, as your child enters the age of being afraid of monsters under the bed, you won’t have to find another product to help ward off being scared of the dark. Set a timer to wake your child peacefully, turn on a sound that mimics the heartbeat in the womb, and set hours for the sound machine to turn on and off with your family’s schedule.

MyBaby Deep Sleep White Noise Machine – $39

MyBaby has mastered the craft of sound machines for the little one. This is a small and non-intrusive sound machine that takes both a cord and can go wireless, so just charge it up and take it with you when you’re on vacation. After all, you and the baby need your sleep while you’re out and about, too. It features six sounds: heartbeat, soothe, mask, calm, ocean and twinkle. Unlike a few other sound machines on this list, you can even adjust the volume on this machine so you’re not creating a too-loud environment with your sound machine, creating an entirely new problem. Just turn on the 14-, 30-, 45- or 60-minute timer so it automatically turns off once the baby is asleep so you’re not wasting that precious battery power.

MyBaby SoundSpa Lullaby – $25

Yes, two MyBaby sound machines have made this list, and for good reason. If you want more robust features, you can consider the SoundSpa Lullaby the 2.0 version; the new and improved Deep Sleep model. With a new and improved design and extra functionality, you’re getting an interesting and unique sound machine. See those three bulbs at the top of the sound machine? Those actually project different images, like a cartoon fish, to distract your baby from the stresses of the day, like “I wasn’t fed fast enough,” or, “I was forced to wear shoes.” With new sounds, like the sound of rainfall and the rhythmic sounds of the ocean, plus lullabies like Rock-a-bye Baby and Brahms’ Cradle Song, you’ll be impressed with the number of options packed into this surprisingly small machine.

HoMedics HDS-1000 Deep Sleep White Noise Machine – $37

HoMedics has created a sound machine that looks good and sounds good, too. With four adjustable white noise tones; great sound quality from powerful speakers; a timer for 30, 60, or 90 minutes; and travel-ready, this is a great catch-all sound machine if you want something robust that checks all the boxes. Plus, this sound machine is on sale; it’s just $37, down from the regular list price of $60, so this is the perfect time to pick it up.

How sound machines help you sleep

It isn’t just pure sound that wakes us up, per se. It’s actually the sudden starting or stopping of sound, or a sudden and major increase or decrease in volume. If you’ve ever lived above a bar or had neighbors that enjoyed blasting music throughout the night, you know that heavy bass is enough to keep up even the most tired among us. Our brains automatically zero in on sounds, so in order to get to sleep and relax our minds, we have to drown out those sounds.

Sleep machines are designed to create a constant yet neutral sound that our brain has a hard time focusing on. Typically, it’s quiet and rhythmic, but not too looping, as our brains can focus on sounds that loop too obviously. Nature is fantastic at creating soothing sounds that make us comfortable; rainfall, the crashing of ocean waves, the chirping of insects in the distance; and that’s why you find so many sound machines feature these natural sounds in addition to the regular white noise sound.

Obsessed with getting a good night’s sleep? So are we. Why don’t you try out some of the best cooling pillows to keep you from overheating at night, pillows for side sleepers that are lofty and supportive, or mattress toppers to completely transform your old mattress into a new and ultra-cozy one. Don’t forget to follow our Deals page on Digital Trends, so you’re always in the know about great sales for products to improve your life.

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Your mind is racing. (Unfortunately, it’s 12:18 a.m.) If you don’t get a solid night’s sleep, tomorrow’s big presentation is going to be downright brutal.

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So, uh, a cup of chamomile tea? Maybe. Or perhaps tune into “Night Thunderstorm in the City with Open Window” or “Tropical Amazon Rainforest with Distant Thunder?” Go for it!

These popular “sound machine” tracks are another useful tactic that may just help you finally nod off, says sleep medicine expert Michelle Drerup, PsyD.

If you struggle with getting restful sleep, “you can experiment with different types of sound and volume,” Dr. Drerup says.

Pink is the new black — or the new white

Pink noise is a “color” of noise. So is white noise. (Bear with us if you don’t get it. This is how experts talk about sound.) But how do they differ? Both colors contain all of the frequencies that humans can hear (ranging from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz).

More scientific explanation? The human ear, though, usually hears pink noise as being “even” or “flat” and perceives white noise as “static.”

What the science says (and doesn’t)

In one study, pink noise increased deep sleep and dramatically improved memory in older adults.

“The pink noise actually enhances brain activity that’s associated with deep phases of sleep,” Dr. Drerup explains.

The researchers aren’t claiming that pink noise is better than white noise. (There hasn’t been research comparing the two types of sound.)

“They may both help,” she says. But it’s important to note that the exact technology used in the study isn’t the same as what you’ll find in a sleep app or on YouTube. “It’s not widely available. The apps will probably help, but not to the same level.”

Here’s how to give it a try

It doesn’t matter what kind of pink noise or white noise you pick, Dr. Drerup adds. The sound of a babbling brook drives you up a wall? No worries. “Whatever you find relaxing works,” she says. “I had a patient who found techno music relaxing to help fall asleep. For me, that would be the last thing. But it has a steady beat, and it worked for them.”

Earbuds or no? Again, Dr. Drerup says comfort and personal preference should be your guide. Some folks, she says, like headphones that are like a headband, so they don’t have to have the earbuds in their ears.

There’s also no hard-and-fast rule regarding volume. “Some people might like it a little louder. For others, softer is better,” she says.

It’s Pavlovian at the core

You can become conditioned to anything you use to fall asleep, Dr. Drerup notes.

“It’s like the child who conditions herself to fall asleep with a teddy bear. If she doesn’t have the teddy bear, she won’t sleep as well,” she says. “Is the teddy bear changing her sleep? No, but she associates it with falling asleep.”

So the Pavlovian conditioning is a positive thing, Dr. Drerup says. Thankfully, technology has made this conditioning much more manageable to rely on too.

“Before, people who used a fan to fall asleep couldn’t bring the fan with them when they were flying somewhere. So they’d have to go and buy a fan once they got to their destination,” she recounts. “But now that there are apps, you’re not likely to be without it. It’s easier to have a consistency with it.”

Who it works for — and who should skip it!

Pink noise is generally safe and a good idea for anyone (of any age) who wants to try it, Dr. Drerup says.

Those with hearing loss or sensitivity to sounds might find pink noise a bit frustrating, but she says there’s probably not any concern if they want to give it a shot.

Dr. Drerup also adds that pink noise isn’t a magic bullet to cure bad sleep hygiene.

“You need to make sure you get enough hours of sleep, have a consistent sleep schedule and don’t overdo it on caffeine,” she says. “If you’re having difficulties sleeping, it’s not usually a one-trick pony that’s going to help you.”

Best sounds for sleep

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