As a grown woman who prioritizes self-care, I fall asleep with my phone inches from my head playing a soundscape from a meditation app that I may or may not be paying for because I do not understand subscriptions. I am now addicted to the app and cannot fall asleep without the calming sounds of wind in the pines or the soothe of severe thunderstorm. The men I’ve slept with this last year also seem to be addicted to falling asleep to fake nature sounds. The most popular with divorced white men over forty is heavy rain, which I find unimaginative, sometimes noting it’s actually raining outside, and I could hear that if he didn’t snore so loud.
The number of choices on my particular app has grown exponentially during the last year. When I first started using it, there were several varieties of rain and an equal number of ocean waves sounds—they can be crashing or calm, near or distant, you could fall asleep like you are actually drowning or as if you are in a bungalow over the ocean. Lots of choices for the wind. There was one with crickets. Maybe a purring cat, a washing machine, a train. All the sounds of nature.
Now there are dozens more choices that keep appearing as additional squares on my soundscape app probably because the algorithms are noting that none of us are actually sleeping, so they just keeping adding more choices, piling up in a Seussian frenzy. Still awake? Ok what about lightning in the distance over a canyon at dawn? How about child licking an ice cream cone?
There is a new soundscape called open plan office for people who miss falling asleep at their desks. I put it on today while working at home and there is considerable white noise, like if you work in an open office laundromat. It also includes the soothing sound of a woman talking loudly on the phone in the distance. There are also now the soundscapes city park and public museum for people who go to sleep in a comfortable, climate controlled bed but still want to connect with the experience of being homeless.
There is a lighthouse cottage that has a leaky roof, clearly just managed with a bucket on the floor and either a cat or an old man snoring. This choice was likely added because so many of the app users can only find real comfort by returning to the sound of being in a tower on a jagged ocean cliff bearing the responsibility of all the souls at sea on their hopefully still awake shoulders.
I generally stick with nature sounds, although I avoid any soundscapes that include the word “forest” because they almost always have chirping birds, which is the universal language for wake the fuck up. I like to think that using nature as a way to soothe myself to sleep is healthy and shows that I am outdoorsy, but more likely it is because there is not (yet) a soundscape that represents my comfort zones from childhood. I do not connect to the pacifying sound of city fountain.
I remember when I moved home, again, at age twenty-two and slept a hard nine hours a night, drifting into easy unconsciousness to the sound of my mom and stepdad watching whatever movie had the most gunshot sounds at a volume that would shake the kitchen cabinets. If the app adds a soundscape, aging parents in next room playing Full Metal Jacket in Dolby Surround, I could easily fall asleep wrapped in the comfort of knowing that I am an adult baby again.
I also spent time when I was an actual child sleeping at my dad’s house in the summers when he worked the night shift, and I would lay in bed all night terrified someone was going to murder me—the soothing sounds of footsteps outside bedroom at midnight. Although, the sleep sound that reminds me most of the warmth and comfort of sleeping like a baby would be the sound of parents divorcing in the kitchen. zzzzzzzzzzz
If we are going to keep adding sounds that actually exist as new methods of relaxation, we should think about what sounds make people the drowsiest, like my son explaining a video game, the sound of all the dances at the recital your kid is not in, a recording of a PTA meeting. Maybe the sound of shaking a bottle of Ambien.
Last night, I tried to fall asleep to living among trees but had to turn it off when tropical birds started calling to each other across invisible limbs. I switched to glacier snowfield, which sounds suspiciously just like wind in the pines. When I think of my most restful moments, like at six am, minutes before my alarm goes off, when all the noises have been assuaged, probably because my phone died, and I fall into a sleep so soothing that it’s almost ecstatic, I think, why can’t we create this ambience in an app?