TECH FOR THE TIMID: Dreaming of electric sheep

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Can’t sleep? There’s a (n)app for that, says serial insomniac Terence Kennedy 

BACK in the day I thought I could game the exam system with a much-touted new technology: sleep-learning.

A tape recorder (remember them?) with a timer squawked a continuous loop tape of my study material through a desperately uncomfortable speaker under my pillow.

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What I got out of it other than a bruised ear was massive sleep deprivation and trouble staying awake for the actual exam. Any actual learning was probably from having to recite the material onto the tape in the first place.

Sleep-learning quickly fell into disrepute when researchers announced it was ‘impractical and probably impossible’. But today like millions of others, I still rely on bedtime technology – now to actually get me to sleep and never mind the Valium.


Brits who haven’t managed to nod off by 00:48 UK time often swear by the poetically soporific Shipping Forecast to dust their eyelids.

My own remedy is much simpler and more flexible: smartphone by the bedside, preloaded with BBC podcasts, and one comfortable earphone. Dry-as-dust history analysis ‘In Our Time’ is a guaranteed Horlicks; the hilarious ‘News Quiz’ absolutely isn’t.


Extreme aficionados go one step further, downloading ‘the world’s most boring podcasts’ to do the trick: from monotonous recitations of the that least-read famous book, James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, to tide tables delivered with no inflection, to ‘Game of Drones’ (yes, really), to two people you don’t know and don’t care about discussing their relationship at excruciating length.

Of course the object of the exercise is to stop the onset of the mind-clutter which can haunt us all in the wee small hours when no amount of sheep-counting works.

There is another approach for the hard-of-sleeping: white noise, a synthetic noise source for sound masking.

Hit the Google or Apple store and there are dozens of white-noise-type apps, many free, and if you prefer something less hissy than white noise itself, take your choice falling asleep to the clacking of a railway carriage, a purring cat, the gentle pitter-patter of rain on the roof or even the rumble and whine of an airliner cabin but without the chicken or beef.

Sleep inducement apart, these apps are a blessing in another way: a boon to those of us who can’t concentrate in noisy spaces.

Driven to distraction by your colleague’s whine, the crackle of a nearby TV or the ceaseless song of the Hoover?

Grab a decent pair of isolating over-ear headphones and work obliviously instead to anything from Metallica to Beethoven’s Tenth. Which does indeed exist by the way, though even Ludwig’s staunchest fans wish it didn’t.

Terminal boredom

THE astonishingly popular American ‘Sleep with Me’ is unlike any podcast you’ve ever heard.

Each episode is designed to get more boring the longer you listen, a sort of interestingness decrescendo. And it must be working given that it gets nearly 3 million downloads a month.

In a recent episode its deadpan presenter describes in mind-numbing, droning detail how to build a birdhouse – for one hour and 17 minutes.

Other topics shuffle from children’s fairy stories as told by an entirely disinterested parent, to no-holds-barred descriptions of the narrator’s latest holiday. And lest you might feel you’ve missed a gem, there are currently 738 of the darn things to download. Good night, sleep tight, make sure the earphones don’t bite.




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