Written by

Chris Gonzales


Quin Stevenson

There is no arguing with the fact that sleep is a critical part of one’s health and performance. And yet, many of us simply don’t get enough of it.

Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker paints a picture of what bad sleep habits can lead to:

While we all suffer from sleep inertia (a general grogginess and lack of mental clarity), the stickiness of that inertia depends largely on the quantity and quality of the sleep that precedes it. If you’re fully rested, sleep inertia dissipates relatively quickly. But, when you’re not, it can last far into the day, with unpleasant and even risky results.


As we age, unfortunately, our quality of sleep only gets worse. If you sleep six hours a night for twelve days, [Harvard neurologist and sleep medicine physician Josna Adusumilli] says—and that’s about how much many Americans sleep all year round—your cognitive and physical performance becomes virtually indistinguishable from that of someone who has been awake for twenty-four hours straight.

So, how can we gain a better night’s rest? We at Tools & Toys are not certified sleep specialists, and we recommend seeing a doctor if you think you have an actual sleep disorder, but we do have a few audio recommendations that may help.

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AcousticSheep's SleepPhones. ($34–$40, depending on size and color)

AcousticSheep’s SleepPhones. ($34–$40, depending on size and color)

AcousticSheep SleepPhones »

If you do strive to be in bed at the right time but can never fall asleep right away, it can be helpful to put on some relaxing music, nature sounds (which we’ll discuss in a bit), or spoken-word materials. The thing is, using headphones and earbuds while lying down gets uncomfortable quickly, especially if you prefer sleeping on your side.

This is where AcousticSheep’s SleepPhones come in. They’re basically a soft fleece headband with two embedded speakers and a cord for connecting to a headphone jack. The speakers won’t win any audiophile awards, but the main point here is that the SleepPhones are quite comfortable no matter what position you’re lying in.

You can wear them over your eyes like a sleep mask if you need total darkness for a proper slumber, and the speakers can be removed when it’s time to wash the band.

They come in three colors — black, gray, and lavender — each with three sizes to choose from.

The Marpac DOHM-DS sound conditioner / white noise machine. ($50)

The Marpac DOHM-DS sound conditioner / white noise machine. ($50)

Marpac DOHM-DS Sound Conditioner »

Sometimes it’s not bad habits that lead to lack of sleep, but the external noises of the world — loud neighbors, incessant cricket chirps, dogs barking all over the neighborhood, a snoring spouse, nearby trains, planes flying overhead…you name it.

The Marpac DOHM-DS Sound Conditioner is a small machine that uses an internal fan to generate white noise (like a constant whooshing sound), creating a soothing background noise that masks all that other racket so you — or your spouse, or even your baby — can sleep more deeply. Take it with you when traveling if you find it hard to sleep in strange places.

If you want a noise machine almost on par with the Marpac but at a much lower price, check out the Sleep Easy sound conditioner ($22). Be warned though, it can be a little on the quiet side for some users.

Thunderspace for iOS »

There’s white noise, and then there’s Thunderspace. This app lets you listen to stellar recordings of thunderstorms, rain, and wind for as long as you want. You can also enable (or out in public, disable) an option for the app to coordinate your iPhone’s flash with the thunderclaps to create a surreal experience of being in the middle of a calming thunderstorm.

The storm sounds are unbelievably realistic, thanks to high-quality recordings by ecologist and self-dubbed “sound tracker” Gordon Hempton. You may find yourself taking your earbuds off several times to make sure a storm isn’t actually descending upon you.

In addition to helping us fall asleep, we’ve found Thunderspace can help create a focused work zone when it’s time to concentrate.

Sleep Cycle for iPhone. ($1)

Sleep Cycle for iPhone. ($1)

Sleep Cycle for iPhone »

There are a lot of alarm apps available in the App Store today, but Sleep Cycle goes a step further by tracking the quality of your sleep.

It runs during the night and tracks your movement — which means your phone needs to stay under your pillow and plugged in, a minor annoyance — and duirng the half-hour leading up to your alarm time (or any other amount of time between 10–90 minutes, it checks your movements to detect when you are most likely in a “lighter” phase of sleep, and thus ready to wake up feeling the most refreshed. Over time, the app collects interesting graphs and data that can help you understand your sleep habits, and why (if ever) you feel unrested in the morning.

Calm meditation app for iPhone. (Free)

Calm meditation app for iPhone. (Free)

Calm for iPhone »

Mindfulness meditation can be a very relaxing activity to do just before bed, and Calm for iPhone is an app that vocally guides you through the process.

The basic version of the app is free and includes an introductory program called “The 7 Days of Calm”, which you can listen to (and repeat) as often as you like. Once you’re ready to move beyond that, you can enable their in-app subscription for $10/month or $40/year, which unlocks the “21 Days of Calm” program and a bunch of premium guided meditations (with more released each month).

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The list above is by no means comprehensive. There are loads of common methods out there to help you get a better night’s sleep, audio or otherwise. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of diet and exercise, or an inconsistency in routine. Or, you could try simple tricks such as drinking chamomile tea before bed or lowering the temperature of your room.

Do some research and find out what works best for you.