Five hacks for a better night’s sleep

Woman in bed at night in front of bright laptop screen.

Lucy Cleeve

Posted November 20, 2019

Think white noise is just for babies? Here are five hacks to help you sleep better.

Research shows that 40 per cent of Australians are struggling to get enough sleep, and it’s killing us. That might sound dramatic, but poor sleep causes many more serious problems than just feeling tired. More than one Aussie a day dies after falling asleep at the wheel, and heart disease, depression, Type 2 diabetes and obesity have all been linked to a lack of sleep. Sleep scarcity is also costing us in mistakes and productivity at work, to the tune of $66 billion each year, according to Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation.

Why aren’t we sleeping?

Many things can keep us awake, from stress to snoring, small humans to shift work – as well as those dreaded 3am showreels of all our personal failings. 

Of course, these sources of insomnia are as ancient as some of their remedies, like good old sheep counting or chamomile tea. But the past decade has thrown up some new reasons to keep our eyes wide open. 

It probably won’t shock you to learn what the experts say Australians are really up to between the sheets – a lot less sex and a whole lot more screen time. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings even named sleep as his media company’s “number one competitor”. 

But TV binge sessions and other chaste digital distractions don’t just keep us up late, they can impair our ability to sleep once we switch off.

Heard about blue light?

Emitted from electronic devices and energy-efficient bulbs, blue light gets a lot of negative press, but it’s mostly a good thing. The sun gifts us with natural blue light – it’s what makes the sky blue – which improves our alertness and mood. But at night, when we absorb artificial blue light from screens, LED and fluorescent lighting, it tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime. This reduces the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, and messes with our circadian rhythm, impacting overall sleep quantity and quality. 

Warnings about the risks of blue light haven’t reduced our use of tech at night – we’re scrolling and streaming more than ever before. But it has led to the creation of blue-light blocking technology. And it’s big business. The question is, is it possible that technology can both sabotage and save our sleep? Science says yes. And there’s no shortage of new gadgets and gizmos designed to help achieve deeper dozing.

Use blue-light blockers

A swag of anti-blue-light products has hit the market in the past few years, from screen stickers to software. These are designed to allow our body’s melatonin production to function without interference, despite our growing all-hours addiction to screens. Australian company Baxter Blue makes stylish-looking glasses that filter out harmful blue light and help wearers sleep. 

Stick-on anti-blue-light screen protectors are another simple and affordable solution, such as the optometrist-designed products from UK-based Ocushield. Colour-adjusting screen software has also become popular, such as Apple’s built-in ‘Night Shift’ mode. Made to use on electronic devices from sunset to sunrise, it adjusts a screen’s colours towards the warmer end of the spectrum.

Head to bed with a robot

There may be raised eyebrows when your usual sleeping partner hears of your plans to sleep with a robot, but whatever works, right? 

Somnox is a huggable, programmable robot that makes calming signals and sounds to help slow and sync your breathing until you achieve a low-stress, meditative state.

Its makers say you’ll nod off faster and stay asleep longer. 

If spooning a robot isn’t your thing, there’s a ‘light metronome’ sleep device called Dodow that also helps relax and slow your breathing to send you off to slumber land. The French invention projects onto your ceiling a pulsing ring of light that gently shrinks and expands, and claims to retrain your brain to fall asleep with ease.

Apply some white noise

The idea of adding sound to help you sleep might seem counterintuitive, but many swear by the soothing rest that continuous white – or pink or brown – noise brings. Like static or a whirring fan, noise colours use the same intensity at each frequency to mask all sounds heard by the human ear. 

A few clicks on YouTube will give you access to an impressive catalogue of tedious sound effects promising to lull stubborn babies or wired adults. Tumble dryers, washing machines, hairdryers and vacuum cleaners are all there, ready to calm or bore you. Amazon’s Alexa will play an array of noises if you ask nicely, and portable bedside sound machines such as Snooz, built with a real mechanical fan inside, are popular sleep inducers for insomniacs of all ages. 


Five non-tech tricks for better sleep

Keep your room cool

Our body temperature drops when we sleep, so a bracing bedroom will help get you there faster.

Invest in bedding

Too hot, too cold or too scratchy are the enemy of sound sleep. Be like Goldilocks and layer on your ‘just right’ bedclothes and you’ll dream deep.

Eat dinner earlier

Late meals and even later-night snacking can stress your digestive system, causing acid reflux and interrupted sleep.

Limit late lattes

You know that chocolate, coffee, tea and energy drinks all contain caffeine, but did you know its stimulating effect lasts up to seven hours?

Calm with colours 

Research shows cooler shades of soft blue and green promote peace and rest, while purple and red are the most energising.