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I live in the city. Activity outside my windows can be noisy and distracting—especially when I’m trying to fall asleep—so I like to listen to recordings of rain or singing bowls to help me drift off. They’re not hard to find. There are all kinds of apps to encourage and enhance sleep.
But as soon as I pick up my phone to do, well, anything, I tend to get distracted. I’ll check my email, then check my social media, then check the weather (for absolutely no reason), and find myself checking what phase the moon is in. When I pick up my phone to find a playlist of nature sounds, ambient music, or a meditation to help me sleep, I’m likely to take all kinds of detours.
When I do find the soothing sounds I want, I still have to worry about some strange ad popping up in the middle or a song I never selected auto-playing after my selection ends. Imagine waking up at 2 a.m. to the sound of some guy whispering about the founding of Rome.
The benefits of sleep
We’ve been warned about the sleep-disrupting dangers of keeping a glowing rectangular chaos device next to our beds. Experts assert that using your phone within 30 minutes of going to bed is bad sleep hygiene. They emit sleep-disrupting blue light, and many apps are designed to keep us scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. Even having a phone near your pillow has been associated with poor sleep quality.
That means we’re missing out on the rest we need. According to the CDC, 35% of American adults aren’t getting sufficient sleep, which can have adverse effects on health. The sleep deprived among us risk having lower immunity, depression and anxiety, and a higher chance of heart disease.
Apps for sleep
In response, the number of sleep apps has exploded–including systems to help you fall asleep, track your sleep, and wake up from sleep. But downloading an app means you’re still tethered to your smartphone. Fortunately, there are electronic sleep aids on the market that have the convenience of a digital device without the distractibility of a smartphone. There’s the ostrich egg-sized Lumie Bodyclock Luxe that gradually dims the light to a sunset glow to encourage you to sleep at night, then brightens to wake you in the morning. Kokoon Relax over-the-ear headphones play white noise, nature sounds, breathing exercises, and guided relaxations to help you sleep. The Loftie alarm clock offers a range of neutral sounds, music, meditation, and storytelling sessions that you can put on a sleep timer.
When my YJ colleagues heard about a new sleep and meditation audio player called Morphée, I agreed to try it out. The device promises a solution to restlessness, sleeplessness, and insomnia, without the distractions that come with phone apps. It’s completely analog—no blue light, no screen. In addition to disconnecting you from your tech, it offers a range of intentional breathing and visualization exercises to get you to pay attention to your body and disrupt the circular or anxious thinking that can keep you awake at night.
The device’s relaxation exercises are based on sophrology, a therapeutic method that sounds a lot like yoga. The technique, popular in Europe, makes use of meditation, breathing exercises, and mindful movement to encourage calm. For example, you might focus on a mental image in order to limit anxious thoughts, or progressively tighten and release your muscles to reduce tension in your body.
Analog sleep aid
The Morphée is about the size of a coffee mug and looks a little like an upscale egg timer. A wood shell covers the device, and becomes its holder when it’s in use. On the black face are tiny icons and three gold keys similar to what you might see on an old-fashioned music box. You rotate the knobs to choose the length and type of meditation practice you want.
The options include breathing exercises, tension-relieving movement sessions, and visualization sessions designed to drop you into locations all over the world. The music sessions range from sitar-filled tracks to natural sounds—a storm recorded in Japan, insects chirping in the jungles of Guatemala, the soft snores of a Burmese cat sleeping in an apartment in Paris. There are also body-scan meditations similar to yoga nidra, as well as cardiac coherence sessions that guide you to reduce the number of breaths per minute, thereby slowing your heart rate and reducing anxiety and stress.
Putting my worries to rest
When it was time to try out Morphee, I lay in bed and fiddled with the golden keys on this magical egg timer to select a theme and a session. I had the option of “Jessica” or “Tim” for my audio guide. There were more than 200 meditation and sound options to choose from. I had to decide whether I wanted an eight- or 20-minute session.
I selected a 20-minute visualization. At the narrator’s prompting, I imagined a boat ride over crystal waters, dolphins splashing in the waves. The specificity of the images helped pull my thoughts away from my to-do list and tomorrow’s worries. Before the session was over, I was drifting in and out of dreams.
I also tried Morphee’s “napping” sessions. A four-minute relaxation exercise lulls you to sleep, then the device wakes you up with nature sounds after 20 minutes. My nap felt contained and intentional. Afterward, I feel replenished—which is exactly the idea. For me, it works much better than setting a timer on my phone.
The Morphée now claims the nightstand spot where my phone formerly rested, and I can truly disconnect to get the rest I’ve been dreaming of.
Gina Tomaine is a Philadelphia-based editor and writer. She is a frequent contributor to Yoga Journal and her work has appeared in New York magazine’s The Cut, VICE, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Good Housekeeping, and Longreads.