After years in therapy, mediation workshops, yoga classes and sleepy time teas, I still had a lot of trouble falling asleep at night. It just so happened that my mind liked to pick up speed as my body liked to wind down. For much of my childhood and early adult years, I spent my nights rolling around, getting hot and kicking the covers off only to get cold and hot again. I'd count sheep, I'd make sure my breaths were like waves, rolling in and out, I'd douse my pillows in lavender oil, and yet I'd continue to toss and turn under a useless string of dream catchers.
After decades of stressful nights, crappy sleep and chronic headaches, I finally found something that worked for me. Ranging from orchestral arrangements to rumbling table top fans, I've put together a collection of sounds that help me fall asleep. Basically I've learned to treat myself like a big freakin' baby. Before bed, I arrange a selection of lullabies that will hold my focus just enough to keep my mind from its never ending to-do lists and yet will require so little of my attention that I won't intentionally try to stay away to listen to it.
For me, this routine works pretty seamlessly. Though sleep is such a personal journey, and if there's anything I've learned through my struggles, it's that what works so efficiently for one person might be completely useless to another person. While my "Big Freakin' Adult Baby Lullaby" playlist is constantly updated, these are some favorites:
The gentle, persistent purr from a table top fan can work wonders. Just make sure you turn the fan away from your face — unless it's 100 degrees in your bedroom, you don't want to mess with temperature, this is for audio only. It's just loud enough to distract you from thinking about that last text you sent and whether or not it was awkward (it probably was), but not too loud to keep you awake.
This is a win/win kind of combination. Dry or impure air can keep you from getting a good restful sleep and the slight mechanical sound that these devices emit can be very soothing.
Claude Debussy is a master of calm, melodic compositions. His pieces are delicate, without too many patters that might lasso your attention but just enough melody that your brain wants to follow it into dreamland. "Clair de Lune" is my go-to piece.
The woman who runs this YouTube podcast has the most soothing, hypnotic voice. Her meditations are only ten minutes but there's a strong chance you'll be asleep before then — yes, she's that good.
This app lets you play lullaby DJ. You can experiment with different sounds, layering them or isolating them as you please. You can set a timer, a volume and a playlist. Whether jungle thunderstorms and distant waves are your jam, or light jazz, this app has you covered.
I believe that music with lyrics wakes the mind up more than it slows it down. It's impossible not to pay attention to the words and re-stimulate your mind. That's why I love Explosion in the Sky. They're an instrumental band that stays in the chill zone. I can listen to them for hours, both to do work or fall asleep.
Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie No.1" is an hour long composition that is incredibly relaxing. The piece is relatively cyclical so while there are patterns that your brain will pick up on, they repeat so frequently that it won't become distracting.
Sometimes instruments and voices are distracting. If you don't feel like leaving a fan plugged in all night, The White Noise app is your friend. You can put together whatever sounds you like, set the timer and drift off to sleep.
This podcast is insane, that's the point of it. The host plays into that period of pre-sleep mind scramble that happens naturally. He starts to tell a story, slowly drifting into tangents and then after some time he just starts saying words and speaking nonsense. It tricks your mind into thinking you're sleepier than you are and then just lets you go. I wish I had a better scientific explanation for why this is so effective, but you'll have to just try it for yourself.
Yogi and meditation guru Jim Butler has created his own app. It's a podcast style show dedicated to quieting the mind and relaxing the body. If you pay attention to him, you'll find sleep.
Please don't ask me what delta waves are or why they work, and just trust me that they work! This combination of sounds at different frequencies sends a very strong message to the brain: SLEEP.
Image: Kittiphan Teerawattanakul / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images; Giphy