At times these days I find myself awake at odd hours. Falling asleep usually isn’t a problem, but at say, 2 or 3:30 a.m., a siren will wail as an ambulance speeds up 6th Ave., or my cat has forgotten house rules about quiet hours, or that late morning coffee comes back to haunt me. One night it was the connected printer announcing it was awake for no apparent reason. Once I’m roused, it can be a stretch until the sandman comes back around.
A recent pre-dawn Google search showed I’ve got company. In fact it’s a thing that can be traced to the nearly year-long pandemic. “It’s being called ‘coronasomnia,” reports the University of California-Davis, saying the phenomenon is “very real and very widespread. We’re all fatigued by COVID-19,” says the article. “When you pile on exhaustion from lost sleep, every new annoyance, large or small, creates frustration and anxiety – and more disruption to sleep.”
At least I’m trendy.
When the waking hours creep into the night, I try to make the most of the idle time. Sometimes I’ll start a column in the wee hours on my phone (“I know … I’ll write about how I can’t sleep!”), or make a shopping list, or compose a long email to catch up with a friend.
Expert advice, of course, warns not to use a smartphone late at night because the blue light from the display limits production of the hormone melatonin, which manages our sleep-wake cycle. I made a compromise with my phone on that one. I set it to dark mode, which the American Academy of Ophthalmology thinks is a good idea, if you can’t follow their suggestion to limit screen time for two hours prior to bedtime.
“The warm colors of night mode don’t confuse the body about what time it is and make it easier to fall asleep than it would be if looking at a device using a regular display mode,” says AAO.
There’s a lot to do on a smartphone in the wee hours: Author Kristin Hannah gets a good share of my eye time, as do Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ll go through a round or two on the Elevate app to keep my brain alert, though I’ve found I’m much sharper at 3 p.m. than at 3 a.m. Music soothes me, and sometimes white noise or nature sounds sends me into la-la land.
Select podcasts or sleep stories can do the trick, if done well. I tried listening to a podcast on the history of Ireland a while back, thinking the Irish brogues and a history lesson would put me into snooze mode. But the mics of the male and female speakers were placed at different distances from the recorder so they spoke at different volume levels; it was jarring when they took turn reading.
Then there’s early morning shopping, which can be dangerous. I should really delete the Amazon app because I’ve made an ill-advised purchase a time or two at 2 a.m. A couple of weeks ago I researched sleep headphones — not the first time I’ve experimented with the genre. I borrowed an inexpensive Bluetooth headband with built-in speakers a while back. The hard plastic housing for the rechargeable battery was uncomfortable pressing on my head. Any benefit from the soothing readings from the Calm app was overshadowed by the shooting pain in my forehead.
Still, I think sleep headphones are my best bet for easing back to dreamland. I like the idea of being lulled to sleep by soothing music or a sonorous voice. So I Googled sleep headbands designed for that purpose and found insomniacs appear to be big business. Bose sells $249 earbuds called Sleep Buds, designed only for sleep. They come with their own sleep-oriented content and can’t be used to play music. That’s a lot of money for a single-use device, especially one that I imagine would fall out of my ears at night, despite the company’s claims to the contrary. I passed.
I settled on $99 SleepPhones, a Bluetooth headband with a lot of positive reviews on comfort, and one I was happy to find was recommended by Sleep Foundation. There’s a housing on this band, too, for the tiny amplifier and Bluetooth receiver, but it’s made of lightweight silicone and distributes weight better than the last one I tried. Lilliputian speakers in the stretchy headband play to each ear.
I gave the headband a decent opening-night review when I auditioned it last week. Though I could feel the electronics housing in the band, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. I fell asleep to tracks from Constance Demby’s Sacred Space Music but woke up when the music morphed to Shadowfax’ Another Country. I have to work on my Sleepytime playlist to make sure transitions are smooth. I ended up taking the headband off at some point, but it was only after I was well on my way to Nod.
Last night, I gave the band another go at about 4:30 a.m. after street noise broke my sound sleep. There were some Bluetooth issues as I tried to connect the band to the iPhone without waking my partner. After some inexplicable beeping, the phone and band paired. I tried a new sleep story from the Calm app, using it as background noise, but I woke out of my half-sleep state 40 minutes later when the reading stopped. I fumbled for one of the Calm music selections and nodded off soon after.
It’s still early days with the SleepPhones, but it looks like they’ve secured a spot in my nightstand drawer. Now I just hope I don’t need to use them very often.