As WIRED writer Emily Dreyfuss recently noted, none of us get enough sleep. Chronic sleeplessness is damaging your health and risking your safety on your morning commute. What's worse, it's not for lack of trying. A good sound machine (also called a white-noise machine or a sleep machine) is just one tool in an arsenal of high tech gadgets that can help you get your recommended number of z's. Even mattresses are getting high tech. I've filled my house with sleeping sound machines, to block the battles of Thor: Ragnarok in the living room while my children snooze, or to let my husband sneak into the bedroom if he's been working late. These are my favorite machines for getting a good night's rest.
You may wonder why we call these "sound machines" more often than we say "white-noise machines." It's because we're nerds. Technically, most steady background whirr isn't white noise at all. Most sound machines use pink, or brown, noise instead. If you think of sound waves as being loosely analogous to light waves, then the different colors of noise refer to different parts of the sound spectrum. Pure white noise is a mix of all the frequencies that humans can hear, so it can be a little agitating (think of the static on your TV). Pink and brown noise are at the lower end of the spectrum and have been found to help people sleep a little more deeply.
The Lectrofan Classic is the sound machine in my children's room right now. At 4 inches across and 2 inches tall, it's small and unobtrusive enough to fit on the most crowded cabinet top. It's surprisingly sophisticated: You can pick between fan sounds, or from a spectrum of pink, brown, or white noise. You can crank it up to a whopping 85 decibels or keep it low enough to barely be heard at all. It also has a 60-minute timer. I've used it for a year now without problems. It's worth noting if you're buying for a child, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents to keep sound machines to around 50 decibels and farther than 200 centimeters (or 6.5 feet) away from where your baby sleeps.
Marpac's Dohm (originally called the Sleep-Mate) was invented in 1962, and it's still one of the most reliable sound machines you can buy. At 4 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide, it's a little larger than the LectroFan, but it's much simpler. A rotating fan is set within the Dohm's acoustic housing, and it has just two settings (the lower one is under 55 decibels). If you normally sleep with a box fan but don't want dust bunnies blown into your face all night, this is the pick for you.
The Hatch Baby Rest combined all my children's needs in one adorable lamp: A sound machine, a night light, and a time-to-rise. After you download the app, you can customize the Rest's colors, adjust the volume, and pick from a sound library to soothe your child to sleep. You can turn it on or off by touching the top, or set it to lock. When it's time to get up, you can program the Rest to turn green, alerting your preschooler that you will no longer be a grumpy rage-monster if they poke you in bed. This July, Hatch Baby will release an updated version that is Alexa-enabled, portable, and includes an audio monitor.
Do you already have a Google Home Mini or any smart speaker in your closet? Congratulations, you already have a sound machine capable of white noise, and much more. A simple command, like "Hey Google, help me relax" will trigger 12 hours of ambient noise (if you don't stop it). You can also say "play rain sounds," fireplace sounds, country night sounds, or babbling brook sounds. Google speakers let you create a bedtime Routine, as well (learn more about Routines). These features work on any Google Speaker. You can also search for and play white-noise playlists on Spotify or other music services.
If you have an Echo Dot or any other Alexa speaker, you can enable an Alexa skill called Ambient Noise to select sounds ranging from a whale (!) to a dishwasher or washing machine. There are dozens of other Alexa sleep sounds Skills available as well. Alexa may even suggest some if you ask for white noise or sleep sounds. And again, you can also search for white-noise playlists on Spotify or other music services, like Prime Music.
Forgot your Google Home Mini in your closet? If you have a smartphone, you can also turn any of the best Bluetooth speakers into a sound machine with an app on your phone. My favorite app is White Noise. You can pick from a staggering array of ambient noises—like "Tibetan Singing Bowl" or "Crowded Room"—record your own sounds, make mixes or playlists, or set timers and alarms. If you're using an app and Bluetooth speaker to put your children to sleep while traveling, just don't forget and start texting wildly the minute you close the door.
The Marpac Go is Marpac's latest, portable, rechargeable sound machine. I've used it for a few months. However, I recently learned that it has been recalled because the internal battery can leak, making it a burn hazard. That's a shame, because I like having a rechargeable, dedicated sound machine to put the 2-year-old to sleep in the car. Luckily, Marpac makes another machine that won't burn you while you sleep.
Block Molding Machine
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