They say that the older you get, the more difficulties you have sleeping. This may be true, but I have always had trouble sleeping, so for me it is nothing new.
I have read all the advice about how to avoid – or, at least, minimise – sleeping problems. No coffee after 2pm (in my case, no coffee at all), no daytime naps, no screens an hour before bedtime, and so forth.
None of them seem to help much. Or if they do help slightly, I still do not sleep well.
And then I discovered sleep apps, and they have made a huge difference.
Some people sleep with their smartphones, but I don’t like to do so. I am always afraid that it will go off. It is somehow not relaxing.
But long ago, I discovered – and fell in love with – the Apple iPod. This is a very simple and small device on which you can listen to music or podcasts, updated regularly via the computer.
This is otherwise known as an MP3 player.
It is wonderful for sleeping, and I never go to bed without it. You can put an earplug into one ear, with no problems of size or weight and hence not disturb a sleeping partner.
In the daytime, the iPod is useful for listening to the radio or podcasts while cooking or gardening.
I have been using meditation programmes for years and managed to find one or two that I work well. They encourage you to relax your muscles, to breathe in a deep and soothing way, and to focus on various matters that take your mind away from your day-to-day concerns.
Some work better than others. I find those that direct your mind to focus very specifically on some image or action work best. Very general suggestions don’t work so well for me, because my mind goes back to whatever is worrying it.
A number of meditation programmes emphasise that it is important not to try to achieve some particular end, but how do you try not to try? This is a conundrum. Sometimes contemplating what this means in practice puts me to sleep. Problem solved.
The most recent addition to this genre is the sleep story. This is a brilliant idea. Reading you a story that lulls you off to sleep, just like a small child.
There are a growing number of stories available on sleep apps. Some are old stories you may have read before, whether fiction or non-fiction. Some have been written expressly for the purpose.
A common theme is a travel story, taking you on a journey from one well known place to another or along a particular coastline or through especially lovely scenery.
Many are labelled by headings to suggest that they are not arousing or that it won’t matter that you never hear the end. All this is sensible.
But the problem with sleep apps is that finding ones that suit is not as easy as one might think.
The Right Voice
First, you need the person doing the talking to have a pleasant voice. Not raspy or too nasal. No strong and distracting accent.
They need to be very mellow and gentle. Surprisingly, many are not.
Then you don’t want self-advertising. I found one meditation programme that I liked a lot, but every episode started with a long invitation to donate if you found it helpful. Plus where to do so.
Another informed the listener, with some excitement, that they had just produced a book and added where it could be bought.
If you know your system well, all these intrusions can be eliminated by a quick forward wind, but that is still annoying when you are trying to sleep.
The Nature of the Story
Whether fiction or non-fiction, the stories need to succeed in the delicate balance of being neither too interesting nor too boring.
You might think the latter would be perfect, but it’s not – if you are too bored, you cease to listen and then start thinking of your own worries. But if it is too interesting, of course, you try to stay awake to hear how it all turns out.
I have found this a major dilemma and difficult to get right.
Another difficulty for me is, I also get annoyed if I think the story is badly written. I am an inveterate editor when I read books, newspapers, or any other writing, which sometimes distracts me from the content.
The same is true for sleep stories. Too many adjectives? You need an editor! I am awake.
And there are still other difficulties. One reader did a wonderful job of lulling me to sleep, only to add at the end of the reading that he hoped this had put me to sleep. His voice was so loud that it woke me up.
Another was probably recorded in a not completely sound-proof room. I could easily hear the sound of a distant doorbell. Perhaps he thought no one would notice. But I was immediately awake – was it mine or on the recording? At this hour, who could it be? It certainly made me jump, and it took a while to settle down.
There are new sleep stories being developed each day. I will keep trying to find the app that works well and has none of the above annoyances.
If you suffer sleep problems, do give it a try.
Do you experience sleep problems? What do you do to get to sleep? Have you tried sleep stories? What kinds of stories work for you? Please share your experience and let us know!