Engineering Everyday Life

My plan here is to talk about my solutions to a few perplexing problems in everyday life. I'm going to start out with the sleep problem. If you never have any trouble here, don't read it!

In the future I'll address other issues (this page under construction)

How to Sleep Better

One of the biggest problems facing society is lack of sleep. We send our kids to school before dawn, so they are half asleep in their morning classes, while their parents cut back on their sleep time to fit everything in. It sounds pretty grim; what's the solution?

Well, I can't help you sleep better if you are watching TV, except to recommend turning it off, or watching more boring shows. But if you want to make a good-faith effort to sleep but can't because of the common problem of noise, either external or generated by members of your own household, consider the use of white noise. People often tell me, “Oh, I couldn't sleep with that.” It's a typical unscientific off-the-cuff opinion which is wrong. People who live near giant waterfalls or busy highways have high levels of white noise all night and have no problem sleeping (ask them). Well, maybe a multi-car accident would wake them up, but that's not part of white noise. Have dogs barking? TV's on in the next room? People snoring? Crank up your white noise until they don't bother you at all.

How do you make white noise? Well, the traditional way is to use a large fan or air conditioner. That's a pretty expensive way to go given the price of electricity these days. Another way is to turn your FM radio between stations or all the way to the top of the dial, but you could be awakened by interference from CB radios at times (don't ask me how I know, but 27 MHz x 4 = 108 MHz). Still another is to tune a TV to an unused channel, turn up the volume, and turn down the brightness. This can also run up your electric bill. I have actually built some interesting home-brew white noise equipment, but the best way is to go to Radio Shack and buy what they call the Sleep Machine (don't get the alarm clock model, because that always shuts off within an hour). This is pretty cheap, and does the job.

How do you use it? Well, when my sister got married many of us attending the wedding stayed in a motel nearby. Unfortunately, a few drunken salesmen attending a convention decided to jump into the pool fully clothed and make a tremendous racket right around 3am. Most of us opened our doors to figure out what the situation was; I shut it, and cranked up the TV volume on an unused channel. We slept OK after that, but the next day most of our fellow wedding guests complained about getting less than a good night's sleep!

If you are a parent, you no doubt have experienced a sick kid who keeps everyone in the household up for much of the night since they just can't keep quiet. When we had that situation, we would take turns getting up with the kid. The person not on duty would crank up the white noise loud enough to drown out the crying kid, and catch up on valuable sleep. It helps a lot when the parents lose only half as much sleep.

Don't be afraid to crank it up as loud as needed to drown out extraneous noises; it won't keep you up. Should you always use it? I recommend it, unless you live in a high-crime area and need to hear who might be breaking in. Keep it at low to moderate levels unless you need noise masking; when that happens, it's easier to just crank it up rather than find it if it's off. What if you have small kids? That's what baby monitors are for; crank the monitor up also and you'll wake up fine if the kid(s) do.

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