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Can 16 gadgets give you one good night’s sleep?

The Science of Sleep


It is 12 minutes past three in the morning.

Thirteen minutes.


Fifteen. The ambulance that woke me passed by half an hour ago, but since then I’ve been kept awake by other sirens in my head: Why haven’t I gotten a response to that e-mail? Where have I seen that actor on last night’s CSI? Do I have everything prepared for work tomorrow? I check the clock again. Will I be able to stay awake at work tomorrow? As my mind does monkey leaps, all my questions eventually converge in to a single, more ominous one: Is my insomnia returning?

About 70 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Ten years ago I was one of them. I would lie in bed simultaneously exhausted and completely awake. I’d finally drift off only to awaken after four hours to begin the battle again. Sometimes I’d glance over at my wife, Gina, sleeping peacefully beside me, and I’d contemplate gently waking her and telling her to stop acting so smug.

Eventually, Gina thrust a book into my hands that proscribed a 21-day program for overcoming insomnia. Flipping now through my copy of The Sleep Solution by Nigel Ball and Nick Hough, I see my anxious notations on dozens of worksheets calculating time spent in bed, time spent sleeping, alertness levels, nighttime activities, and more. What I remember most is how much work the program was—like having a second job that was worth it only because of the substantial nightly paycheck.

One thing the book helped me do was unlearn bad habits. If you tell your doctor you’re having trouble sleeping, one of the first things he should reach for—before his prescription pad—is a list of “sleep hygiene” tips: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable; no caffeine, alcohol, or heavy foods for four to six hours before bedtime; lights out at the same time each night; no TV in the bedroom; use your bed only for sleep and sex, not work or reading the Sunday paper; never lie in bed awake for more than 20 minutes. But even these simple lifestyle adjustments take effort, and I’ve let some of them slide. I realized that while I want to sleep more soundly, I don’t really want to work at it. Just because I can’t sleep, doesn’t mean I’m not lazy. I soon discovered that I’m not alone. In the last decade, an entire industry has developed to channel the power of modern technology into helping people achieve that most ancient, low-tech state of being: slumber. The only work I’d have to do was hand over my credit card. I set out to find the most promising sleep gadgets, as well as the most preposterous, and put them to the test.

IN 2008, the research firm Marketdata Enterprises conducted an analysis of the sleep industrial complex. It found that Americans spent $23.7 billion the previous year on sleep aids, ranging from Ambien pills to buckwheat pillows. Following the lucrative model of the health and fitness movements, sleepmongers are targeting not only people with chronic insomnia—serious sleep problems that last a month or longer— but everyone who says they had trouble sleeping at least once in the past year, a population the National Sleep Foundation puts at 58 percent of the country. The National Sleep Foundation is one of several official-sounding nonprofit groups dedicated to promoting better sleep; many are funded by pharmaceutical or mattress companies.

“Americans are just beginning to realize the importance of sleep,” says Jim Gabbert, the owner of Zia Sleep Sanctuary. Items on the Eden Prairie, Minnesota– based company’s website include lavender-scented eye-masks, Zen Alarm Clocks, and $600 noise-cancelling earplugs. But what the site really sells is a new concept of sleep itself: a combination of health aid, spiritual practice, productivity tool, and sumptuous indulgence. “Most mattresses are still being sold like an appliance”— a necessity to be purchased reluctantly and cheaply, scoffs Gabbert. But the industry is catching up to his holistic vision. With a deft blend of techno-jargon and sybaritic iconography, new mattress ads persuade consumers that we deserve to spend more for a good night’s sleep. “Learn more about our science and experience our soul,” whispers a comeon for Tempur-Pedic. One in four mattresses now sell for more than $1,000, and it’s not uncommon for the sleep elite to spend $10,000 or $12,000 for an air-infused, memory-foamed, auto-cooling, computer-adjustable “bed system.” Gabbert envisions a day when shelling out for sleep will seem not unusual but essential. “You can do pushups and situps without spending money,” he points out, “but people spend thousands of dollars on exercise equipment and health club memberships.”

Could my sleep troubles have a purchasable solution? The first gadgets I tested were commonplace sound conditioners, introduced back in 1962, for people whose next-door neighbors kept blasting that infernal Bobby Vinton music all night. I first tried a basic model, the HoMedics Sound Spa ($25), which generates six ambient sounds, including “rain,” “waterfall,” and “heartbeat,” for infants pining for the womb. I turned the machine on and settled in to the sound of, well, static. Of all the settings, only heartbeat is convincing. Unnervingly so. Rather than lull me to sleep, it made me want to tear up the floorboards and confess to murder.

Then I plugged in the Marsona 1288A Sound Conditioner ($130). Right away I was glad the company put its budget toward digital audio engineering rather a New Agey name and design. The 1288A is beige and boxy, with a utilitarian panel of LED lights. But it sounds great. The brook babbles like genuine water. The lake laps. The 1288A even has a second tier of sounds that can be layered over the base environment. Add loons to the lake, a ringing buoy to the beach, owls to the summer night. Or go nuts and put frogs and hawks in the ocean. The only problem: I was deejaying nature sounds when I was supposed to be relaxing.

Neurologists say sound machines actually can improve sleep, and not only because they mask other noises. Dr. Ralph Pascualy is the medical director of Northwest Hospital Sleep Center in Seattle. He explained to me that the brain naturally craves sensory input. That’s why people in sensory depravation tanks hallucinate; robbed of any stimulus, the brain creates its own. During sleep in a quiet night, any random noise, whether a passing truck or a creaking floorboard, is likely to activate the restless brain, waking you up. Constant white noise, he told me, “gives the brain a tonic signal that dampens its own internal systems.” That said, he pointed out, a small fan is probably every bit as effective as a high-tech sound machine.


Sleep Gadgets

ONE REASON it is so difficult for many people to sleep naturally is that the way we sleep is unnatural. Until the 19th century, few people slept straight through the night. In his book At Day’s Close, historian A. Roger Ekirch demonstrates that for most of human history, sleep was broken up into two segments, with up to four hours of quiet wakefulness in between. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health in the 1990s demonstrated that people left to their own devices without clocks or artificial light will eventually ease back into this pattern. The invention of electric lights allowed people to stay active later, but a more important change than electricity, Ekirch proposes, was “time consciousness.” As the industrial era approached, clocks and watches proliferated, and those moving hands increased the pressure to get stuff done. “Sleep became at best a necessity to be endured and at worst an impediment to material success,” Ekirch told me.

Sleep experts continue to see the legacy of this shift. Dr. Mark Rosekind is the president and chief scientist of the consulting firm Alertness Solutions, a former director of the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Center, and a top fatigue advisor to NASA. Only in the last 30 years, he says, have doctors have recognized that sleep is as important as food, water, and air. Many patients still don’t believe it. “It’s a badge of honor to say, ‘I only got four hours of sleep,’” Rosekind says. At the same time, technology has made it harder to drift off when we want to. We’re watching round-the-clock CNN in bed and checking our BlackBerries until the minute we turn out the light. “With a remote control you can shut the TV off, but you can’t shut off all the news in your head,” Rosekind says. “We are so connected now with cell phones and the Internet and all the rest of it, that for many people literally the only time they have alone with their thoughts is when their head hits the pillow at night. And everything that happened during the day, everything that’s going to happen tomorrow, whatever is going on with your professional life, your personal life—that’s the one time your brain has to think about that stuff.”

How troubled was my own sleep, precisely? Everyone has seen photos of sleep laboratories, where machines monitor subjects’ brainwave activity, breathing, heart rate, and more. I didn’t need all that. Labs can determine if a patient’s sleep troubles are caused by some underlying medical disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, but for most people, sleeplessness is its own condition. It turns out the best way to determine if you’re getting enough sleep at night is by how you function during the day. If you need a double espresso to get you through the afternoon and you doze off after dinner, you don’t need an EKG to tell you something’s wrong.

But technology fiends who want an objective measurement of their sleep can try the Sleeptracker Pro ($180), a bulky digital watch that from the looks of it will help you sleep so long you’ll think you woke up in 1983. Sleeptracker works by detecting motion in your arm. Sleep is not one consistent state but a series of stages. There is REM sleep, when we dream; two stages of relatively light sleep; and two stages of deep slumber known as delta sleep. In an eight-hour night, the average adult cycles through these stages four or five times. Sleeptracker works on the principle that movement means you are in the lightest stage of the lightest stage, or almost awake. By monitoring the time between these brief, almost-awake moments, Sleeptracker will reveal how well you slept.

Better still, the gadget promises to help you wake up feeling more energetic and refreshed. Set the alarm to go off at one of those moments when you are already almost awake, and the transition from bed to rise-and-shine should be imperceptible. Waking from the lightest stage of sleep is supposedly so energizing that the Sleeptracker manual warns against using the watch to “intentionally deprive yourself of a full night’s sleep.”

I suppose there are some corporate warriors out there who would calculate that they could get up an hour earlier if they didn’t feel groggy in the morning, but I’d just as soon sleep in, and that was my problem with Sleeptracker. Instead of setting the alarm for 6:30, I would have to set an “alarm window” leading up that time. Which meant that if I happened to hit an almost-awake moment at 6:11, I’d lose a precious 19 minutes of morning sleep. The first night I tried the Sleeptracker, I worked myself into a minor panic at the prospect of being awakened too early. Several times throughout the night I half awoke and was about to roll over when I stopped myself. Without seeing the clock, I had no idea if it was 4 in the morning or 6:10. If I moved, would the alarm go off? I couldn’t risk it, so each time I drifted into semi-consciousness, I tensed up and remained perfectly still. Eventually the Sleeptracker buzzed me awake at 6:30, having found no almostawake moment leading up to that. My readout said that I’d had an unprecedented perfect night’s sleep. Which was strange, because I felt exhausted.

I would like to say that once I handed over my fate to the Sleeptracker it worked as promised, or even that it didn’t work at all, but in fact it did something in between. For the next few weeks, Sleeptracker faithfully reported that I was achieving 20 minutes to 40 minutes between each almost-awake moment, but I saw no correlation between this data and how I felt. As for the alarm, at least half the time I’d sleep until the 6:30 cutoff. On the mornings when the watch woke me because it detected movement, I felt no more refreshed than normal.

Still, the idea of waking up more gently appealed to me, so I ordered another non-traditional alarm clock, the Sunrise System Dawn Simulator ($170). Instead of sound, the Dawn Simulator wakes you by gradually increasing the light in the room over 15 minutes to 90 minutes. Sadly, this too was a bust. Most of the time, the simulated sunrise failed to stir me. And the clock’s backup alarm is a particularly shrill beep, much more grating than my old clock radio. On the mornings that the faux sunrise did wake me up, the experience  was as jolting as an alarm. I stumbled out of bed grumbling that it ought to be called the Jerk Shining a Flashlight in Your Eyes Simulator.

EVEN THOUGH I was beginning to need a universal remote for my sleep devices, I looked again for the magic For product that would help me fall asleep faster in the first place. If technology murders sleep, Mary Kelley is both a culprit and a victim. An executive who spent years in the Internet and financial services industries, Kelley realized the stress was getting to her when she began having trouble sleeping. She formed a new company, Sleep Garden, to apply a technology called “brainwave entrainment” to help people sleep. “In a way, I am doing my penance,” she jokes. Brainwave entrainment means causing brainwave frequencies to fall into step with a periodic stimulus—in this case, to induce sleep. “I think of the body kind of like a computer,” Kelley says. “You can put it to sleep, and it looks like it’s asleep, it looks like it’s powered down. But if you do anything to touch it, it springs back to life because you haven’t gone through the process of shutting it down properly.”

I ordered Kelley’s zMusic CD ($25), which uses relaxing, impossibly slow music to lull the brain to sleep. The effect was not unpleasant, like being gently smothered under an aural blanket. But does it work because of the biofeedback technology, or just because relaxing music relaxes people? A rival CD with no music uses a low-frequency sound effect the maker calls “blended harmonics.” According to Harmonic Sleep ($20), this phenomenon “was discovered by accident when it was found that students exposed to the harmonic grew tired and lost concentration.” It’s also known as high school algebra. Harmonic Sleep    warns that “because the CD contains a subliminal harmonic, it is recommended that other people not be exposed without their knowledge and consent.” I nudged Gina and asked, “OK if I play white noise with harmonics that increase feelings of tiredness and reduce intrusive thoughts?” She rolled her eyes. “Fine,” I said. “But don’t blame me if you wake up thinking you’re a chicken.”

Again, I fell asleep easily listening to Harmonic Sleep , but I had no idea if this was because of the brainwave entrainment or the white noise itself. Hemi-Sync’s Sound Sleeper CD ($20) takes a different approach. “The audio-guidance process works by sending different sounds (tones) to each ear with stereo headphones,” the instructions say. “The two hemispheres of the brain then act in unison to ‘hear’ a third signal—the difference between the two tones. This is not an actual sound, but an electrical signal that can only be perceived within the brain by both brain hemispheres working together.” An EKG image on the CD case showed the Hemi-Sync user’s brain lit up  symmetrically on both sides. It was so impressive that I didn’t let myself worry too much about why “hemispheric synchronization” should induce sleep in the first place.

A more pressing concern was the need for stereo headphones, which are not very comfortable for sleeping. For tunately, I found an alternative called Pillowsonic ($20), stereo speakers embedded in a thin cushion that slides into your pillowcase. Remarkably, music played softly through the Pillowsonic speakers are perfectly clear to the user, but inaudible to a non-insomniac partner in the same bed. Unfortunately, Sound Sleeper is not music but a series of alternating rumbles. And although they didn’t sound like much individually, perhaps there was something to the “third signal” theory, because something gave me a rather unpleasant headache.

The true test of brainwave entrainment is the extremely counterintuitive Relaxmate II glasses ($150), which trigger brain responses not through sound but light. That’s right, they flash blue and red LEDs directly into your eyes for 45 minutes until you fall asleep. A second application for the Relaxmate uses a faster pattern of flashes for 20 minutes to leave you “alert, refreshed, and ready to go about your business.” To my surprise, I actually did manage to fall asleep wearing the Relaxmate at night, though I think it was despite the flashing lights rather than because of them. The second mode did help me feel more alert after 20 minutes, but in a jittery rather than refreshed way. Instead of feeling like I’d just had a good night’s sleep, I felt like I’d played video games for 14 hours straight.

I ASKED DR. JEFFREY SALIZZONI , a sleep medicine specialist at Englewood Hospital and Sleep Center in New Jersey, if he thought there was anything to these products. “There’s a million things on the Internet,” he says, sighing. “None of them will hurt you, and the results are fairly subjective. If you think it’s helping you sleep, then it may be helping you sleep.” But he added that I shouldn’t be swayed by any scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo. The only things sleep aids can legitimately offer is comfort and relaxation: “If you want to buy a pillow to make you comfortable, that’s fine. If you want to buy earplugs or an eye mask, that’s fine.” And, he pointed out, “The brain will naturally go to sleep if you get out of its way. There are ways to relax without devices—for example, reading before sleep. I read Ben Hogan. It’s very relaxing for me.”

Still, concepts like brainwave entrainment aren’t complete nonsense. Neurologists have mapped certain brainwave activity to different stages of sleep. What no one has ever proved is whether external stimuli can affect that process; in other words, whether products based on this theory actually work. That unsupported leap, it seems, lies at the heart of a lot of sleep gadgets. Inventors pull some genuine discovery out of the scientific literature, and then hitch it to a consumer product with little or no justification. The creators of the Sleeptracker watch, for instance, apparently modeled it on technology used in professional sleep labs. But even the laboratories’ far more expensive and precise equipment gives only limited data that must be interpreted by professionals. Sunrise simulation, too, has shown promise in laboratory settings for helping people wake up more alert. But that doesn’t mean it can be converted into a home alarm clock.

The fundamental problem, Dr. Rosekind says, is that the all-American desire for a quick fix isn’t the best approach to sleep problems. What works is to overcome bad sleep habits—or, for severe insomniacs, a rigorous program of cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment that gives patients mental tools for recalibrating their nighttime physiology. “These are skills ,” says Rosekind. “Which means you’ve got to learn them, you’ve got to practice them, you’ve got to master them.” An admonition like that is a far cry from sleep gadgets made to brainwash ourselves to sleep.

Besides, it seems odd that we should turn to high-tech gadgets to help us with something as natural as sleep—plug in to unplug. Maybe that’s why many sleep gadgets don’t actually advertise sleep, but the benefits of having slept .There’s a difference. A good night’s sleep, we’re told, will give us an edge on the competition. So a relaxation gadget is just another business tool, like a wi-fi PDA. It’s true that we function better when rested. But if we learn to think of sleep only as a means to an end, it loses its inherent value. In a way, the sleep industry itself undermines our appreciation of sleep.

But like the path of a Mobius strip, this devaluation of sleep only leads marketers to pitch sleep as something extra valuable. If sleep isn’t something we truly need, than it must be a luxury we can splurge on. “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it?” says historian Ekirch. “Sleep has become something to be indulged in on weekends or on vacations.” Sleep treatments were the top luxury spa trend of 2007, according to the Spa Finder website. One afternoon, I stopped by a ritzy hotel in New York, 70 Park Avenue, to check out its “pillow library.” Guests can select one of a dozen specialty headrests, ranging from a magnetic pillow that supposedly stimulates circulation, to the “Beyond Indulgence” pillow, which combines a temperature-sensitive memory foam with a “luxurious feather-like micro-gel fiber.” On top of this pillow each night, the hotel places a piece of Dreamerz chocolate ($8 for 10), which contains the sleep-inducing chemical melatonin.

Zia, the sleep website, packages this luxury experience in the form of “30 minute vacations.” Owner Jim Gabbert sent me the summer night vacation kit ($72), which contained an orange-scented candle, herbal tea, lavender-scented body lotion, a CD of classical music mixed with nature sounds, and a book called The Daily Relaxer .

“A good night’s sleep is like a car that can be either a necessity or a luxury,” says Gabbert. “You can have a Lamborghini or you can have a Chevy. They both get you where you want to go, but they have different features.”

Setting aside a half hour before bed one night, I lit the candle, sipped my tea, and listened to Schubert’s Serenade over the sound of ocean waves. Then I opened the book of meditations: “Sit quietly and ask yourself, ‘Where is here? When is now?’ Close your eyes for a moment and visualize the room you are in…. Develop a rich, detailed visual map of your surroundings.” OK, this was problematic. The book was urging me to be here now, while the rest of the package was trying to fool me into thinking I was on vacation somewhere else. I decided to side with the vacation, and instead of picturing my surroundings, I visualized Zia’s ideal summer night. I am in an orange grove , I told myself, surrounded by a field of lavender. Also, I am on a beach. Where for some reason an orchestra is playing . I spent a few inconclusive minutes trying to decide if the musicians were wearing tuxedos or bathing suits, then I extinguished the candle and went to bed.

THE TWIN METHODS of marketing sleep—as luxury and as performance enhancer—find their ultimate expression in Yelo, a nap center in New York City. Pitched at businesspeople looking to recharge their batteries in the middle of the day, Yelo offers a suite of sleep therapies that range from a 20-minute nap ($15) to a 40-minute nap and reflexology combo ($65). It bills itself as “a new kind of wellness center” dedicated to “results-oriented relaxation.” I dropped in one day for a nap and founder Nicolas Ronco helped me settle in to one the “YeloCabs,” a gently curved, diffusely lit room straight out of Star Trek . Ronco, an urbane man with a pan-European accent and expensive haircut, was himself a good advertisement for results-oriented relaxation. Ronco’s tailored shirt was unbuttoned three buttons, as if he was prepared to nap at a moment’s notice.

“The best way to prepare the relaxation response is to let human beings build their nest,” he told me. Once guests are seated in the YeloChair, a recliner designed to produce a feeling of weightlessness, they are invited to choose their own ambient sound and aromatherapy. “Our reflexologists ask where you grew up,” Ronco told me, “because aroma is the best way of evoking comforting memories of childhood. We find that if you are from the South, you prefer fig; if you are from the North, maybe berry.”

“I’m from Brooklyn,” I said.

“That we don’t have.”

I went with berry, and some pretty music by Erik Satie. This turned out to be a mistake. The music was quiet enough to help me drift off in the darkened cabin, but then there would be a new movement or a chord change and suddenly I’d be awake again. Later, Mary Kelley, who created the zMusic CD, said she uses synthesized music to avoid this problem. “Real instruments have a more interesting sound,” she said. “It keeps you awake. With the synthesizers, the brain gets bored. Composing good sleep music is pretty much antithetical to what most composers want to do.”

The problem with nap centers is that many doctors consider the need for an afternoon nap a symptom of a sleep problem that should be treated, not papered over. Excessive sleepiness at inappropriate times, especially if it’s the same time each day, may mean your circadian rhythm is off. Cued by changes in daylight, your body suppresses the production of the hormone melatonin when you need to be alert and uncorks it when it’s time for bed. But a number of factors can throw this off, with one common result being that when 3 in the afternoon rolls around, you’re ready for a nap, berry-scented or not.

The good news is that the circadian clock can be reset by tricking the body into thinking the sun is up. I ordered an Apollo Health GoLite P1 ($250), a sleek bank of blue LEDs that produces a blinding light with the push of a button. You’re not actually supposed to stare at it though, just keep it within a couple of feet of your eyes. I logged onto the website to answer a few questions about my levels of tiredness throughout the day and was advised to use the box for half an hour every morning. Honestly, I’d tried so many gadgets by this time that on my first day I completely forgot that I’d used it until it came time to leave the office at 5:30 and I realized that my eyelids hadn’t drooped all day. The rest of the week brought the same results. As long as I got a decent night’s sleep, I no longer crashed after lunch.

Dr. Rosekind wasn’t surprised. The research behind light therapy is sound, and doctors frequently prescribe devices exactly like the one I’d ordered online. He did caution, however, that I was lucky to have very straightforward symptoms. Bright light first thing in the morning for afternoon sluggishness is an easy call. People who suffer from other patterns of sleepiness, especially changeable ones, would likely find it very hard to schedule proper use of the light box on their own, regardless of what the Apollo website tells them. The problem for me was the need to sit for half an hour absorbing the light. If I had an extra half hour to stay in one place each morning, it would be bed. A solution presented itself in the form of the Bio-Brite Delux LED Light Visor ($300), which embeds its LEDs into an eyeshade you wear on your head. It’s not a flattering look, but I appreciated the mobility. Unfortunately, I soon found myself getting tired in the afternoon again. The visor didn’t work for me as well as the light box. It may be that the LEDs aren’t bright enough, or that they are white rather than blue. Dr. Rosekind told me the research favors blue light for unknown reasons. Still , I told myself, those seem like easy problems to fix in a new-and-improved version .

THAT’S WHEN I REALIZED I was trapped. Once you get into the habit of spending money on something, there will always be a new-and-improved product just around the corner. Ten years ago, I worked through a bad bout of insomnia with a book, a pen, and a month of commitment. Recently I came across a product called SleepKey, a $90 hand-held computer that essentially automates that same process of behavior modification. Would I have used this myself? Possibly. The box says it’s “easy,” “effective,” and “scientifically based.”

“It’s very frustrating not to be able to sleep,” said Dr. Salizzoni. “People grab at straws, even though one consultation with a sleep physician costs less than a magnetic mattress or a sound conditioning system.” But for some people, buying a gadget may be more psychologically rewarding than going to a doctor, even if it’s less objectively helpful. The belief that technology is on your side is itself a powerful persuader, and spending money on products is a proven incentive to commitment. Once you’ve invested a hundred bucks, you’re more likely to stick with the program than if you have just a pen and a book on your bedside table. Plus, of course, gadgets are cool.

Even so, what are we telling ourselves about sleep when we learn to think of it as something that requires expensive science-fiction devices to do properly? Doesn’t that make sleep seem more elusive? Doubts about sleep will only grow as the market for sleep gadgets expands. For the time being, the sleep industry is new enough that it can focus on reaching first-time customers. But eventually it will have to shift its attention to keeping existing customers. The best way to do that is to convince us that even if we’re now sleeping well, we’re still not sleeping as well as we should . Surely your mattress could be just a little bit more comfortable, right? Just as the health and fitness industry survives on our fears of illness and flab, the ironic end result of these products designed to help us sleep may be to keep us up at night worrying.

So for now I’ve packed up most of my sleep gadgets. They weren’t a complete waste of money, though. If I still have trouble dozing off at night, I have the perfect aid on my bedside table: a stack of dense instruction manuals almost as dull as a book by Ben Hogan.

Daniel Radosh writes and sleeps in Brooklyn, New York. His last story in Spirit tried to convince everyone to blog. It almost worked.

The No-tech Guide to Dozing Off

Not a gadget freak? These simple steps can help put you out. (No batteries required.)

STAY ON SCHEDULE If you can, go to bed the same time every night and wake up the same time every morning—even on weekends. It’s all about training your body to know when it’s supposed to sleep. Leave yourself about 30 minutes of relaxation time before lights out.

TIDY UP A cluttered room begets a cluttered mind, and cluttered mind is the enemy of sleep. Clear out piles of clothes, accessories, books, CDs— and especially unfinished projects. Empty and dust the tops of dressers and sidetables. Straighten photos and other decorations. If you want to go the extra mile and repaint in warm colors or add soft curtains and candlelight, that’s better still.

BREAK A SWEAT A moderate morning or afternoon aerobic workout is proven to help people fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly at night. Stick to it, though. You might not see results for several weeks.

MAKE A LIST If you stay up worrying about stuff or planning things out in your head, write it all down as it comes to you. It’s easier to let go of mental gunk once you’ve put it on paper and know you won’t forget to deal with it the next day.

STOP TRYING The worst thing to do when you can’t sleep is to force yourself. Not only does stressing out over insomnia make it harder to catch some Zs, it actually conditions your body to associate bedtime with stress and perpetuates the problem.

GET UP Never toss and turn for more than 20 minutes. Instead, get up and read a not-too-exciting book until you start to drift off. (No television!)

TURN THE CLOCK AROUND Watching the numbers change will only make you worry about the sleep you’re not getting.

—Daniel Radosh

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