Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Ethel community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Subscribe here

The One Thing I Need to Get a Good Night's Sleep

Sometimes the simplest thing does the trick.

Comment Icon
White noise sleep machine with drawings of loud noises being pushed away
Filip Fröhlich/Shutterstock
Comment Icon

It sits in the corner, next to the Vornado fan and a pile of assorted masks and hand sanitizers, small enough to fit under the white Cape Cod bench, but loud enough to take over the entire girth of my studio apartment. This beige Sleep Sound is a family heirloom that in recent decades was bequeathed to me. I use this white noise machine nightly to help wash away the demons — mute the city streets and allow this insomniac to do as its name states; sleep sound. This contraption used to sit outside the living room in the house I grew up in — in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn, New York. 

We lived in a large Victorian house that doubled as a place for my mother to see her patients. She’d closed the wooden French doors to our living room and press the button and a whoosh of air and muffled sounds would purr out of the machine. It was her way of muting what her patients said while simultaneously buffering out my sister and I and our constant sibling rivalry. It worked. Well, most of the time.

I wish I had one of my own growing up in that house when the neighbors would spend late nights singing loudly and drinking on their porch. It would have come in handy to drown out the endless sounds of radios and loud talkers who would scream down from their apartment windows to communicate with each other.

“I’ll be down in a minute!” the woman would scream as if annoyed that someone stopped by.

Instead, I tossed and turned and barely slept during those early years. Now things have changed.

I own my own small place, a studio apartment furnished with love. Plush couches, high-thread sheets, the softest of pillows — anything to make me sleep. But sleep is a sacred thing and one not easily obtained. You need to have the right balance of letting go, minimal screen time, reduced anxiety, and a low caffeine ratio. This recipe is hard to get right. Most nights I don’t. If it weren’t for this little device, I might never get any sleep in a city; with cars honking and sanitation trucks beeping and lifting early in the morning.  I need a way to live among the noise and still be able to get some zz’s. That’s when I use it. I place my finger on the button and once again hear that familiar whoosh. It’s meditative really. I turn off the lights and wiggle into my plush bed. Some people might think of this white noise as just more noise, but I don’t. It is my bedtime story, my warm cup of milk, the gentle touch of a loved one sitting with me while I dare to sleep.  Dare to shut my eyes and start another day.

Now more than ever I have trouble sleeping. I worry about my family, my friends, my own mortality. I think about all the dissonance and disconnection in the world and I perseverate on this angst for hours. I don’t think I am alone. I get texts from friends in the wee hours, as if it is normal to be wide awake at 3:33 in the morning. Maybe it is. Maybe the new normal is a life of worry. We must find a way to slumber.

There’s a myriad of pills people take to help them fall asleep: Ambien, Nyquil, melatonin, you name it. I’ve tried them all, but none seem to work. For me, I need to turn off the news and devices, to tune it all out. Once I press the magic button, somehow the air bursting out of the machine puts my mind at ease. In a way, it’s the sound of home.

Today, there are so many types of sound machines available, some mimic nature, others gentle hums. They come in all colors and sizes. You can hear them rustle and sprinkle rain at spas and deflect sound in office buildings, or chill to their gentle hum at a yoga studio. You can even download apps. For me, this relic from the 1980s does the trick. 

Sometimes the simplest things do.
These days the sounds of my city have muted themselves. The traffic has eased up and the late-night debauchery is almost non-existent. I don’t always need the Sound Machine to muffle out the noises, but I still find comfort in its presence, it's routine. When everything around me is changing or gone, this ritual brings me back to the womb, to a safe place where I can shut out all the sounds and thoughts I can no longer hear. It allows me to find a way to sleep soundly and make it through another day. These days that means more than anything.

Good sleep is great, but so are resources for learning meditation and stress reduction techniques, and discounts on bedding, mattresses and more. Join AARP today and discover all that membership has to offer.

Editor's Picks
To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly.
, May 23, 2024
These are must-haves for the perfect day out.
, May 23, 2024
The truth is: We're not too old for anything!
, May 23, 2024