What’s saving your life right now?

Right after Thanksgiving, a very loud construction crew replaced the water lines on my street. It was a big project, which required many big trucks and lots of jackhammering (which always seemed to start up right when I sat down to record a podcast). It wasn’t terribly convenient, but it wasn’t supposed to take long, and besides, I’m grateful my city is maintaining our lines.

By the time the holidays rolled around, the project was almost complete. In fact, most of my neighbors probably thought it was done. But the repairs on the street weren’t quite finished: a giant steel plate lay in the road right in front of my house, the kind that goes ka-thunk when you rumble over it, like you’re driving over railroad tracks. It was awfully close to where I lay my head down each night to go to sleep.

At first it was kind of funny. I’d lay down at night and think hey, that’s kind of loud, but then… I’d fall asleep. No big deal, it’s temporary.

But then the holidays came, and the temperature dropped—a lot—and then came the snow, and ice. Crews can’t work in those conditions.

I thought I’d get used to the rumble. Instead, I began dreaming of fireworks, nearly every night.

But earlier this month I traveled for work, and caught winter storms coming and going that ruined my itinerary, and that—plus the time zone change—threw my internal clock completely out of whack. I didn’t sleep when I was gone, and then, like an overtired toddler, fell further behind once I got home. I’d go to bed early only to stare at the ceiling, hearing ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, for hours and hours, and drag myself out of bed nine hours later (9!! I was trying so hard!!), miserable and exhausted.

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This is the part where I tell you an app is saving my life right now. It sounds lame, I think, that an app is rescuing me—but an app is absolutely rescuing me right now.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner. We’ve given dozens of sound machines as baby gifts (where was ours, now that I needed it?), and the similar apps have saved many a potentially sleepless night before, in noisy hotels, but I must have been too tired to think clearly. Finally, after sleepless night #3, I remembered—and downloaded a free white noise app, chose the “running shower” setting, turned up the volume, and slept like a baby. (Or, as my college health professor used to say, like a ten-year-old boy—they sleep much sounder than tiny infants.)

And after a few nights of sleeping nine straight hours (after my husband requested a change to the “heavy rain shower” setting), I felt like a functioning human again.

An app sounds silly, but sleep is essential. Sleep is saving me. And if an app helps that happen, so be it.  

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Next Friday is February 2, the halfway point of winter. For the fourth year running, we’re joining together to combat the winter doldrums by making our lists of what’s saving our lives right now and sharing them here. Some line items on my list will sound silly (think: apps); some will sound more serious (think: exercise or meditation or morning prayer). This list-sharing and life-sharing has been one of my favorite things we do all year around here, and I can’t wait to do it again.

On February 2, I’ll share my list—and you’re invited to share yours, too.

Winter is hard, but by pausing at its halfway point to share the things that are helping us through it, we’ll lighten the load.

I can’t wait to hear what’s on your list.

P.S. My list from last year, and the fab four habits for a better life.


Leave A Comment
  1. Christine says:

    I don’t think that app sounds silly at all! We are HUGE fans of our sound machines, and we have one in every bedroom. (Crazy enough – we even take them with us when we travel because nothing’s worse than not being able to sleep in a noisy hotel.)

    Cheers to sleep and making it (almost) halfway through winter! 🙂

  2. Jane says:

    I’ve, for years, wanted to do yoga regularly. I went to classes for years but would always forget to practise in between classes. Well, this year, I’ve been doing yoga every day using youtube videos (I know – it sounds so basic, but I honestly never thought of this until I read about it online!), and have found I’m sticking to a regular practice now! I needed this practice and it’s come at a time when I feel like I’m sucking at everything else in my life.

  3. Brandyn says:

    I sleep with a desk fan on every night except when traveling. I’d never had a big problem before, but in one hotel probably 5 years ago the heater cycled every 40 seconds. On for 40 seconds, off for 40 seconds. I was exhausted and I knew if it would just do one or the other for 5 mins I could fall asleep, but no luck. As I was lying there “There’s an App for that” went through my head. I downloaded the White Noise App (literally called “White Noise”) and set it to the Brown Noise Option. Instant success. At home I still use my fan, but on the road the app saves me.

  4. Ellen says:

    A white noise app is not silly in the least. I use mine because it’s TOO QUIET in my apartment. I blame my college freshman roommate who always had to sleep with a fan. I personally love the “White Noise lite” app.

  5. Bethany says:

    Sound machine app for rain really helps me with the husband’s snoring, but also to calm my mind. Recently, the productivity app Trello helps me keep it together. It’s not bullet journaling, but it’s a great quick and dirty way of getting the job(s) done.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I use the “White Noise Lite” app too! I was having trouble sleeping because the house was too quiet. When it’s too quiet, your ears actually seek out noise. So, every little sound in the house becomes amplified. I love the brown noise and it helps so much. My dog even sleeps better!

  7. C. Smith says:

    Right now I need an escape from all the negative news. I have stopped watching TV (except for BBC dramas). I have always been a fan of audio books and listen to them whenever I am doing mindless tasks. Someone recommended Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. It is just the kind of escape I was seeking, but now I am on book 13 and there are no more. Any suggestions? I do my serious reading in print format, but I need something light for audio, because I often miss parts.

    • Adrienne Hudson says:

      I’ve been listening to the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series on audio. You might try these. They’re charming and sweet books, and I love the accents used in the recording. Very different from Louise Penny though….

    • Judy says:

      Love Louise Penney, just finished her recommendation of Woman in the Window. For light reading, I love Amy Stewart’s books about the real life Kopp sisters. First one is Girl Waits with Gun and then Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I need to download an app like that because I have so much trouble sleeping when we travel.

    • Brenda says:

      I’ve been listening to Elizabeth George novels on CD (on my way to work). Sometimes it takes a few chapters to get into it but I’ve grown to like Detective Thomas Lynsey and the tousled Sargent Barbara Haves.

    • Elisabeth says:

      Back in the fall I started Rhys Bowens’ Royal Spyness series. There’s mystery, “spy”ness, a little romance. I’ve been reading them in print but they’re available as audiobooks.

  8. Deb Coco says:

    The sound apps are great. We use “Calm” and you can select from tons of naturally sounds (I like Night which truly sounds like a field of crickets) but there’s ocean waves, waterfall, music, etc. They come in so handy traveling too:)

  9. MP says:

    I have 3 different sleep aid apps I alternate between. They help me fall asleep initially, stay asleep better, and go to sleep again if I have insomnia. They are NOT silly at all! Lack of sleep makes everything harder so I see them as vital!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      What app do you use to stay asleep and go back to sleep? I have no trouble going to sleep, but staying asleep is tough. I have been keeping my Kindle beside my bed with my earphones plugged in and turning on a book to help me drift back to sleep. But I will have to go back and re-listen to the book since I miss parts.

      • Brandyn says:

        One app that completely changed my sleeping habits was CF.lumen. I set my location and it filters out blue light from my cell phone at sundown. I hadn’t realized how much the light from my phone was affecting my brain chemistry. I noticed a difference in how fast I fell asleep and how well I slept within a couple days. Ipads and Iphones have a built in setting for this under “Display & Brightness” then “Night Shift”. I don’t know about Kindles.

  10. I used to turn on our creaky ceiling fan to drown out the sound of the TV. I’m an early bird, but my husband is a night owl. Our house is small, so the TV was inescapable. And my husband loves to watch US cop shows. So I would hear some woman’s hysterical voice pleading, “Please, have pity!” before being tortured by some serial killer. Didn’t make for good dreams. The ceiling fan, though, required that I make a tent of the duvet, or else I would freeze. What saved me: wireless headphones for my husband. No more frantic screams of TV victims to disturb my sleep.
    The other thing that save my life: my kid. Since having a child, I have tried to be the best example possible. But my kid has turned out great and, instead of me worrying about whether I will be worthy of my kid looking up to me, it is I who am looking up to my kid–an amazing, generous, sensitive, rational and reasonable person.

  11. Janean says:

    Don’t throw snowballs at me, but honestly, winter is what’s saving my life right now ? I hate the heat and humidity of summer, my least favorite season. Winter is heaven for me. I love the crisp cold and the snow. I’m entirely alone in this feeling in my frigid state of Minnesota, but I’m a diehard fan of all things winter. Summer brings the kind of doldrums for me that you describe for winter and I tend to hibernate inside with the AC. It’s altogether too bright and too hot for me. I have chronic, severe migraines and my neurologist said that many migraine sufferers do not like summer, because their brains learn to associate bright light with pain and we become light averse. I thought that was interesting. It’s at least a sensible explanation for my vampirish tendencies. And while beachy reading gets so much love, I think nothing beats cozy reading, with a fireplace, coffee, snow falling outside and my puppy warming my lap. (Don’t kick me out of the club, Anne ?)

    • Marsi says:

      This is fascinating. Thank you for sharing that about migraines. I loathe summer, though much less so since leaving Denver for Seattle four years ago. Too much sunlight makes me feel edgy, heat is agitating and makes me irritable, and yep, I have migraines.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I am with you! Summer is my least favorite time of year! I live in the south and it get HOT and STICKY!!! I do love Fall the best, but gray winter days give me energy. Bright summer days make me tired. You are not alone!

  12. Melanie says:

    My sound machine travels with me. Funny story, the beach is my happy place. When I got my sound machine, I turned on the ocean waves thinking it would be perfect for me. The 1st few nights I kept waking up thinking one of my cats was locked somewhere–there is a sea gull in the ocean setting and it sounds faintly like a cat crying. I had to switch to rain.

    • Danielle says:

      There is an app called the insight timer and it has a recording of actual ocean waves off the coast of England. I’ve never heard any sea gulls in it. The app is free.

  13. C. Smith says:

    We have been watching “The Crown” every night. Unfortunately last night was the final episode of the season. I like to watch one episode per evening of a good PBS or BBC series. Then I retire to read and my husband watches news. “The Crown” was amazing. Now I think /hope “Victoria” will be available.
    Reading is my salvation—-winter or summer.

  14. Renae Reis says:

    I use an app like that, usually when I’m in hotels and even on airplanes. I used to use “airplane travel” (even on airplanes) but have since switched to “brown noise”. At home we have an old cool mist humidifier that sits in our hallway so all four of us hear it at night. I can’t sleep without noise anymore…

  15. Danielle says:

    Yoga with Adriene is saving my life right now. It is hard to have many physical goals with fibromyalgia but I started her thirty days of yoga this year. While I can’t do it everyday because of the pain, I am slowly making my way through it. It gives me hope that I can be active. It grounds me and centers me, also important with fibro.
    My meditation app Insight Timer helps me fall asleep. It’s also free and the sleep body scans are amazing. I have trouble falling asleep but with these sometimes I fall asleep before they’re over!!!
    Books are saving my life because they help with the isolation.

  16. Zoe Wheddon says:

    I love this idea. I had never heard of it before. At a point where the thrill of freedom to do what I want (read and write) without the demands of a job, I am now starting to worry that the reward I thought I would get for all my job applications has yet to come to fruition. I love the idea of us reaching out to each other. I must say too that I love your voice, and I read this post as if you were next to me reading it aloud. Thank you Anne.
    I’m going to get thinking…the list will help save my life right now too 🙂

  17. Lacey says:

    I have a dohm sound machine in my bedroom, a travel sized dohm for traveling and the white noise app on my phone. Not silly at all.

  18. Kim says:

    I remembered this a couple weeks ago when I was feeling a combination of winter and post partum blues. My running list is saving me beyond just the things on it.

  19. MarciaMarciaMarcia says:

    I don’t have trouble sleeping at home, but I am a big fan of using a white noise app when I travel and stay in hotel rooms. I love the sound of heavy rain, and between that and ever-present eye mask, I sleep like a baby. I’m so glad it’s working for you as well!

  20. Andrea Wells says:

    I just clicked back through some of your past “What’s saving my life” posts and read “Small Sips” for the first time. I really love that post:)

  21. Marjane says:

    I love your blog, Anne. I’ve enjoyed all the comments about the white noise apps. I sleep with a fan on every night, but will keep the apps in mind for travel. What saves my life on dark winter mornings is an alarm/light that mimics a gradual sunrise before the alarm goes off. You can set the sunrise to start either 20 minutes or 40 minutes before the alarm goes off. You can choose sounds or radio for the alarm. I have the sound of birds tweeting, which sounds pretty fake, and becomes so annoying that I have to get out of bed. Which is a good thing, and much easier because “the sun” is up. This is the product I have. There are other, less expensive variations too.

  22. Kristian says:

    The app doesn’t sound silly at all! We use an Amazon Alexa to play “White Noise (747)” on a loop as our baby’s white noise machine. Just putting it out there an alternative for anyone who does have a device like that.

  23. smh says:

    I’m almost 40 and have used a box fan as a source of white noise for about 30 years. I’m glad to know that millions of people can sleep without white noise, but at this point hearing “every little thing” would make me crazy. 🙂

  24. Leslie Lewis says:

    I was born in Buffalo, N.Y., but moved to California when I was six. All I knew about winter was sledding and snow forts. It’s so different when you’re an adult! I will sympathize with you now if you will think of me in the summer. I live in the desert where the temperatures are in the triple-digits from June through October. By the end of July we are sick of it. Buy the end of August we’re going nuts. By September school is starting; when I was a teacher I’d be standing out on the black top doing recess duty and getting fried. If you look out the window at snow you can say, “Oh, it’s so beautiful.” There’s nothing beautiful about heat waves coming off the driveway and pool water the temperature of chicken soup. Today I was thinking about how beautiful it is here right now: mild temps, blue sky, hummingbirds on the patio, and snow on top of the mountains (where it belongs.) It’s nice while it lasts. Come August, I’ll tell you what’s saving my life right now. Meanwhile, strap on some snowshoes and take a walk or build a snow fort for me. I’m thinking of you.

  25. Christa says:

    Oh, Anne, I love this post! You are my sound machine (and the only other woman allowed in my bed). I just love What Should I Read Next so much and fall asleep to you most nights (you really are reminiscent of Delilah, dare I say- better?). So, thank you for wonderful content that assists in getting me to sleep with wonderful bookish thoughts!

  26. AngD says:

    I sleep with a fan running in the room (when traveling and app that makes the noise) and an essential oil mix pointed right at me. Plus I have a pillow spray that is supposed to promote sleep. Can you tell I have a hard time sleeping.

  27. Becca says:

    Bath time (which is a new indulgence for me), Harry Potter books on Audible and coffee are totally saving my life right now.

  28. Ruth says:

    These are little things but Burt’s Bees pomegranate lip balm has saved my chapped lips this winter. Plus it gives you just a little bit of color on your lips and tastes yummy. The seats in my car are heated which has helped so much when we have had our cold snap a while ago. And audio books and podcasts are so welcome on my long commute which is longer when the weather is bad.

  29. Melanie says:

    My diet – and some planning ahead I did in the summer – is saving my life right now. After several months of eating my feelings, I noticed how it was impacting how I felt and handled other stressors. I’ve gone back to eating more simplified foods, cut out an extra cup of coffee that had become a habit and increased protein for the past two weeks and I can already feel a difference. As a result I dug into the blackberries I froze from my garden this summer. I throw a cup of frozen berries sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg in a container in the morning and warm them up at lunch. SO bright, satisfying and comforting during the dreary winter days!

  30. Elizabeth says:

    I was unfamiliar with your blog until I went to the Liane Moriarty panel you hosted last week. I’ve been looking through some of your old posts to break up my work as a copy editor, and after reading about your steel plate woes, I realized we must be neighbors (working through the construction was very trying for me as well). It’s nice to see so many neighborhood sights pictured on your blog (and I’m loving all the book recs; my “to read” list can hardly take it). Thanks for keeping people reading and supporting our local bookstore and library!

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