FOR AS LONG as I can remember, sleep has been my enemy — elusive, maddening, and always in short supply. I was a child incapable of napping, a young adult who existed for decades on only a few hours of sleep per night, and now, a middle-aged man, someone who is perpetually tired yet somehow physically averse to getting a healthy amount of shut-eye. To combat this, I’ve tried every sleep cure under the sun — both natural and technological — with generally unsatisfying results. Masks, medications, meditations, earplugs, weighted blankets, a variety of mattresses, and a bevy of nighttime rituals never changed the fact that I am a person who struggles to fall asleep or remain in that state.
The one constant friend along my decades-long sleep odyssey has been sound. Whether it be the CDs with the sounds of the rainforest or thunderstorms that I wore out during college and grad school, or the variety of fans that have spun through my NYC apartments over the years, I’ve found that some degree of white noise has helped calm my overactive brain and drag me kicking and screaming to slumber town.
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To that end, I’ve invested in a variety of white-noise machines and sleep-adjacent devices over the years, most of which are a mixed bag. While there is no shortage of sound machines, sleep apps, or gimmicky alarm clocks that promise to help you regulate your sleep cycle, most of them are more or less doing the same thing. I found that clocks that gradually light up and/or brighten the room in order to gently raise you into consciousness have little to no effect in my bright, sky-lit bedroom. And digital sleep machines, often loaded with a dizzying array of sleep sounds, such as a tumbling clothes dryer or the simulated hum of being on an airplane, are too synthetic sounding for me. Even worse, some essentially play a repeating loop of an audio, which can be maddening if you are an insomniac. This pursuit of a good night’s sleep became a full-time quest during the pandemic, and I eventually landed on three different sleep gadgets that were not only effective, but felt almost holistic in comparison to all the other digital doodads I’d cycled through in the past.
The funniest thing about the Dohm device is that upon receiving it in the mail, I realized that I’d been seeing versions of this device for years, most often in doctors’ waiting rooms, yoga studios, or discreetly parked in the corner of my therapist’s office. Invented in 1962, the Dohm is regarded as “the original sound machine,” and remains novel in that it produces an organic sound via a small fan inside. You can control the tone and intensity of the device’s calming tone and volume by sliding the outside case and regulating the airflow. Even though it is powered by electricity, the Dohm feels organic in nature — a little beige device that resembles a demure flying saucer. And the low-key whoosh that it emits not only works as a sleep aid, but is also shockingly effective at helping me tune out ambient noises, annoying neighbors, and the ever-present roar of New York City just beyond my windows. SHOP NOW
This device, created by Tuft & Needle (a company that also makes mattresses, a variety of wellness supplies, and luxe bedding), takes its cue from the world of Dohm but presents it in a slightly chicer package. Emitting a nice low-level hum (courtesy of a small interior fan), this machine pairs with your phone via Bluetooth, allowing you to control the intensity of the sound with 10 volume levels, as well as calibrate the tone (there are even special settings suggested for use in a baby nursery). The app also lets you employ a variety of timed settings, so you can program it to get quieter or louder as you fall asleep. You can also control multiple machines from the app, which means limitless possibilities for creating white-noise soundscapes throughout your home if purchasing more than one. SHOP NOW
The OneClock is something of an interloper in my coterie of sleep gadgets because it is essentially just a clock, albeit a really beautifully designed one. The device is described as “an analog timepiece with science-backed sounds that gently lift you out of sleep in a peaceful, more natural way. Built to last generations with sustainably sourced materials and a timeless design.” This all makes for a product refreshingly free of digital screens, app tie-ins, or extraneous features. It’s not a phone charger or a Bluetooth speaker. In fact, the real appeal of the OneClock is that it doesn’t interact with your phone at all, which is really the point. It encourages people (like me) to break the toxic cycle of lying in bed and staring at your cell phone before going to sleep, then using that same cell phone as your alarm clock — making it the very first thing you look at after opening your eyes. Leaving my phone in another room at the end of the day has proven the most difficult behavior to change and, not surprisingly, the biggest boon for getting a good night of sleep. Aside from being a really beautiful alarm clock, the OneClock does have a twenty-first century flourish — it comes loaded with music scientifically informed (using “the best tones, tempos, frequencies, structures, and instruments”) to gently rouse you from your sleep and help you face the day. SHOP NOW
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the deputy editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.