When you’ve a billion things flying through your brain, it can be tricky to wind down and tune everything out.
If when your head hits the pillow, you feel like endless thoughts and demands carry on riffling through your mind, try these websites and apps to help you focus, relax, and get your 40 winks.
Websites to help you doze
If you’re wedded to a PC or Mac rather than a mobile device, these sites will help you snooze.
This oddball art project came into being when creator Eric Eberhardt was scanning a police department stream while playing ambient music in the background. He deemed this fusion worth passing along, and now 28 US cities are covered.
Select a city and you hear regular bursts of police action coupled with an atmospheric playlist piped from SoundCloud. It shouldn’t work to help you drift off, but it does – although we’d love a mixer to tone down the police feeds a touch.
More traditional in nature, Noisli is all about the noise loops you’d expect when exploring apps to help you doze off. You get weather, water, trains, fans, white noise, and more, along with a groovy colour-cycling background (man).
Sounds can be randomised with a single click, and if you sign up (which is free), you can store favourite combinations and set timers. And if you’d prefer the system on your smartphone instead, you’re in luck: Noisli’s available for Android and iOS, priced US$1.99.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is basically the tingles – that sensation that starts on your scalp and travels down your neck and spine, making you feel positive, relaxed and mildly euphoric.
It perhaps pays to have some healthy scepticism regarding the ‘science’ behind ASMR, but some people really do respond favourably to ‘triggers’ like softly spoken voices and quiet, repetitive sounds.
And, yes, even if it helps, it’s still a bit weird having someone whisper at you for hours from YouTube.
Apps to help you relax
Need to calm down a bit before trying to sleep? These apps will get you in the zone.
Created by ambient pioneer Brian Eno and musician and software designer Peter Chilvers, Bloom is part artwork, part composition tool. On each tap, a note plays and a coloured circle slowly expands and disappears. Quickly, you realise your notes are being played as a loop.
Settings enable you to adjust the voice and manner of playback, and a timer can be triggered when your eyelids start drooping. And for those nights when you’re not in the mood to ‘be’ Eno? Just have Bloom play itself.
Stick some headphones on, and Pause will immerse you in a world of crashing waves and birdsong as you slowly follow a pulsating blob around your phone’s display with your finger.
The idea is to make you slow down, focus on something simple, and ignore whatever else is going on around you or in your head. The blob eventually fills the screen, by which point you should be ready to drift off into a meditative state for some much-needed blissful relaxation.
No, we haven’t lost our minds. This frenetic match game really does have a Zen mode. Said take on the classic gem-swapper makes it impossible to lose – more or less eradicating frustration – and adds chill-out options.
The built-in mantras are on the toe-curling side, but the ambient soundtrack and background breathing regulator prove surprisingly effective relaxation aids as you thumb gems – at least if you nuke the ads and disable other in-game audio. (A deep voice growling EXCELLENT! probably isn’t going to help you drift off.)
Relaxation apps that do all the work
Need some background ambient noodling, but have no energy to make decisions? Let these apps take the strain.
Science! The Pzizz website spends a long time talking about the utilisation of “effective psychoacoustic principles” to create “beautiful dreamscapes”. In short, it’s all about algorithmically generated ambient music combined with soothing voiceovers, customised to your needs. (Saved you a click.)
You can mix components to suit, set timers, and even have the app play 24/7 if it’s really your thing. For free, you get the classic theme, along with nap and sleep modules. Go ‘Pro’ (US$4.99 per month) and you unlock a ton of extra content. Need convincing? Try the 7-day trial.
We could have included any of Franz Bruckhoff’s apps in this round-up, because they’re all great, but Windy just edges it. Here, you pick a scene, tap play, and are treated to seriously impressive psychoacoustic 3D audio wind recordings – ideal for shutting out the world.
If you don’t want a virtual gale blowing all night, you can set a timer. And should you fancy some variation, mix in birdsong, crickets, crashing waves and soothing music by composer David Bawiec.
Two relaxation aids in one, Wildfulness 2 contains a straightforward breathing aid on its home screen. Once that’s helped you unwind, the app’s audio loops should aid your dozing. Available sounds vary from the chirpy Uplifting Daybreak (nice for relaxing to, but probably not ideal for sleeping) to babbling brooks and rumbling thunder.
Each loop is accompanied by a minimal illustration, most of which are subtly animated. The rainfall scenes are particularly nice, with drops falling between tree silhouettes. For free, you get the breathing and Uplifting Daybreak; a one-off IAP unlocks the rest.
Chill-out apps for personal remixes
Fancy yourself as a chill-out DJ? Try these apps for fashioning your own sleepytime soundtracks.
This app comes in three flavours, with features and content increasing depending on how much you pay. Essentially, though, it’s a set of background sound loops you can swipe between, setting a timer when you find a good one.
But access the mixes section and it gets more interesting, allowing you to combine recordings and position them in a stereo mix. Find you can only sleep when on a plane dreaming of lapping waves and a ticking grandfather clock? White Noise is your app.
Nothing to do with the previous entry, White Noise+ is a modern take on remixing ambient audio. You get a grid, to which you drag icons representing wind, rain, birds, streams and some slightly odder sounds, such as Tibetan bowls and whalesong. Those placed towards the top play at a higher volume; those towards the right become more complex.
Custom mixes can be saved, and a few are bundled with the app, with suitably relaxing names like ‘Zen Ocean’ (an ocean where The Orb is apparently playing nearby, with a whale on vocals). As ever, there are timers and alarms, too.
Our final entry has a real veneer of cool. TaoMix 2 has a jet-black canvas on to which you plonk neon discs, each representing a sound. A circle is placed on-screen to mix the soundscape, or nudged to make the audio subtly shift over time.
Not keen on the sounds? Buy more or record your own. Feeling uninspired? Tap the randomiser for a brand-new mix. On Android? You’ll have to make do with the original TaoMix, because the follow-up’s not made it to your platform yet. Still, have a kip and you can have a nice dream about it doing so.