7 Best Sounds for Sleeping (2021): Rainscapes, White Noise Machines, and More

On boats in southeast Alaska, they call it the “diesel coma.” The gentle whirr of boat engines combines with the rolling sea and eau de petroleum, lulling you into some of the best z’s you’ll ever catch—on a fishing vessel or otherwise. When I was a camp counselor at Sitka Fine Arts Camp, I discovered the joy that is the diesel coma. Some of the best naps I’ve ever had were on trips between islands.

Early in the pandemic, my latent desire for an at-home audio sleep aid swelled to an absolute need. I had to distract myself from my racing thoughts after sundown. Without a large body of open water and a pair of diesel V-8s, I looked at the next best thing: the Echo Dot with a clock. I scrolled through various sleep sound options, but to no avail. None of them felt real enough, natural enough, that they could lull me to sleep.

Finally, I discovered Rainforest Sounds by Voice Apps, LLC. It’s a layered soundscape built on top of a softly rolling stream. You hear birds chirping, the low hoot of an owl, and other soothing sounds in a combination that captures your attention and then does nothing with it. When listening to Rainforest Sounds, my brain becomes the inside of the white room where God hangs out in movies. Every time I need something to help me sleep, it’s the first thing I turn on.

This got me thinking: what do the other members of the WIRED Gadget Lab use to pass out? During one of the WIRED Gadget Lab’s recent weekly meetings, I mentioned my beloved Rainforest Sounds and received a barrage of others’ special sounds in return. So without further ado, here are the sounds we like to fall asleep to, from traditional favorites to more quirky options.

If you’re looking for a speaker to listen to sleep sounds, we recommend the small smart speakers from Amazon and Google. They cost under $100 and easily offer enough fidelity to emulate streams, fans, and other distracting noises. Don’t forget to check out our buying guides to the Best Bluetooth Speakers and the Best Wireless Headphones as well. Do you have your own hyper-specific favorite to send you a-snoozing? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Rainforest Sounds by Voice Apps

Amazon

For over a year, my favorite sleep sound lulling me to sleep uses the gentle sounds of nature. The combination of the rushing water, bird calls, and buzzing bugs makes me feel like I’m out camping. I also like that it’s a super long loop, about an hour, but that it fades between intro and outro so you never get jostled awake by a quick change of sound. —Parker Hall

Rainscapes

iOS, Android

This no-nonsense app lets you choose from different rain sounds. You can opt for a thunderstorm, the patter of raindrops on a rooftop, and a couple of other options. It’s a good free alternative to the also-excellent Rainy Mood app ($3)—Louryn Strampe

ASMRplanet

YouTube

Watching ASMR videos to fall asleep can build up a tingle tolerance, making it harder to achieve the same relaxed feeling. Stumbling on this channel was a stroke of luck. Sophie, the creator, makes aesthetically pleasing videos centering on crafts, nostalgia, makeup, and hours of plasticky tapping sounds. ASMR is a saturated space, but these videos comfort me without fail. —Louryn Strampe

Times End II

Spotify

Sometimes I need a little ambiance to get to sleep—to get my brain into a particular place, into a particular vibe. One of my favorites is the album Time’s End II on Spotify. It’s made up of remixed music from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the delightfully bizarre follow-up to the hit N64 game Ocarina of Time. It’s moody, dark, and has the occasional forest sound mixed in. It doesn’t lull me to sleep as much as it takes me somewhere as soft, dark, and safe as a bed of moss inside the Great Deku Tree. —Jess Grey

Box Fan Sound

Spotify

During a three-week trip to Asia, my partner and I sorely missed the box fan we usually leave on while sleeping. We played this reliable, realistic loop for eight hours every night. Spotify Wrapped even said it was my top song of the year. Pro tip: Use the crossfade setting to avoid awkward pauses when the “song” starts over. —Louryn Strampe

White Noise Ambience Lite

iOS, Android

While I love listening to the rain or birds outside my window, I’m not a fan of the fake versions often available on sound machines. But I also needed to filter out all the noise that happens in apartment buildings. Thats how I found the White Noise Ambience Lite app. It has your classic options, like ocean waves and chirping bugs, but there’s also the crackling of a vinyl record and my personal favorite, a clothes dryer. It’s just the right amount of noise to block everything else out and put me to sleep. —Medea Giordano

From fellow product reviewer Matt Jancer to other folks across the WIRED family, many swear by the picks inside our white noise machine guide. Our top pick, the LectroFan Classic ($50), features a surprisingly sophisticated array of pink, brown, and white noise. It even has the ability to go up to a whopping (but still safe enough that it won’t damage your ears overnight) 85 decibels of distraction.


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