The best ways to wind down using tech

Turn on, tune in, drop out.

Woman meditating on the beach
Desperately need to relax? Technology can help. The sand and water are optional. Simon Rae via Unsplash

Whether it’s endlessly scrolling through Twitter or binge-watching Netflix, technology is often to blame for keeping us up way too late. But our gadgets don’t have to be the culprits behind a bad night’s sleep—they can also help us wind down and rest as if we were sleepy toddlers all over again.

From reducing the distractions and eye strain linked to your phone, to setting up a pocket light projector that will have you nodding off in minutes, these apps and gadgets promise to get you a one-way ticket to Snoozeville.

Set up Wind Down on your Android phone

Screenshot of wind down on android
Use Wind Down on Android to reduce the temptation to check your phone. David Nield

Android includes a special mode for getting you ready for bed called Wind Down, available on the latest smartphone models running Android 9.0 Pie and above. You can turn it on by opening Settings, tapping Digital Wellbeing, then Wind Down.

The feature changes your phone in two ways. For one, it turns the entire interface to grayscale, not only to ease the pressure on your eyes, but also to make those colored icons less tempting. It also enables Do Not Disturb mode, which means no sounds or notifications from any apps. If you’re not comfortable with total silence, you can customize a list of which apps can override this mode. Just go to the Do Not Disturb option on the Wind Down menu to set which apps and contacts can interrupt you and which can’t.

To make it a habit, you can schedule your phone to go in and out of Wind Down mode automatically from the settings panel. Set it to turn on at a specific time—maybe an hour before your bedtime—and have it switch off whenever your phone alarm is set to ring.

Wind Down also features the Night Light option which can be used in tandem with, or instead of, the grayscale mode. It adds a warm amber glow to the screen that reduces blue light—which has been linked with the disruption of our circadian rhythms—and therefore makes it easier for you to feel sleepy.

Enable Downtime on your iPhone

Wind down on iOS screenshot
Downtime in iOS blocks access to certain apps when it’s time for bed. David Nield

iOS 12 (and later) has a feature similar to Wind Down with a very similar name: Downtime. To turn it on, go to Settings >Screentime >Downtime. Once you’ve enabled it with the toggle switch, you can pick the days and times that it automatically turns itself on and off.

Like Wind Down, Downtime is intended to put your phone into a Do Not Disturb mode, which is less distracting. It also limits access to the apps of your choosing to deter you from falling into the temptation of spending another few minutes scrolling through Instagram or Facebook—which, we all know, could turn into hours.

When Downtime is activated on default, most apps (except for Safari, Clock, Settings, Maps, Messages and FaceTime) are grayed out. If you try to launch them, you’ll get an alert that Downtime is active. You can tap through it to use the app for 15 minutes, but you’ll be reminded again after that time, so it should at least be annoying enough to make you think twice about firing up Netflix late at night.

To configure which apps can be accessed without a nag screen on Downtime mode, go to Settings > Screen Time > Always Allowed. You can disable Messages and FaceTime as well, if you want.

Hit the app store

Noisli sceenshot
Noisli generates a whole host of sounds that will relax you or help you drift off to sleep. Noisli

Besides what Android and iOS offer, you can find a plethora of apps to help you relax and get drowsy before bed. A few of our favorites are listed here, but there are a ton of alternatives available, so it’s worth doing some hunting yourself.

Calm for Android and iOS is one of the most well-known and popular de-stressing apps out there because of its versatility—it covers everything from breathing exercises to stories designed to send you to sleep, and sessions can be as short as 3 minutes or as long as 25.

The app includes more than 30 natural sounds and scenes to help you chill out or nod off, and new ones are added daily. While some content (like the spoken meditations) requires a $60-per-year subscription, there’s enough stuff here to fully enjoy the app for free.

Noisli for Android and iOS will set you back $2 but is worth the investment. It lets you mix and match sounds like rain in the forest or a train along a track, then build them up in layers to create your perfect, never-ending chill-out mix. Experimenting with different sounds is a lot of fun, and the fade out function lets you have the audio stop when you’re sleeping.

Pzizz for Android and iOS offers a combination of soothing sounds—such as melodic music or nature sounds—and voice cues to help you get to sleep faster. Do not use this app up while operating heavy machinery, because you could be out like a light within 10 minutes, based on our experience. The sounds you hear are generated with algorithms based on scientific research, so they change automatically to help lull you into the Land of Nod.

You get a limited number of sounds and narratives to listen to with the free version of the app, but that’s more than enough to decide if Pzizz is actually going to work for you. Pay $10 a month for the premium version, and you’ll unlock a lot more content.

If sounds don’t do it for you, there’s also Breathe2Relax. Available for Android and iOS, this app, as its name suggests, concentrates on breathing exercises. As well as teaching you how to breathe in a relaxing way, it explains the science behind it.

Get some help from gadgets

Woman sleeping with tech gadget on nightstand
The Dodow uses projected light to send you into a peaceful slumber. Dodow

If you feel like investing in an extra bit of tech to help you wind down for the night, you’ve got lots to choose from, so you can tailor a setup that perfectly fits you and the relaxation method you like best.

Most smart lights on the market come with built-in options for calming and relaxing scenes, such as swirling colors or colors that slowly fade to black. Lights from Philips Hue (the starter kit is $160 on Amazon and Lifx (bulbs from $40 on Amazon) can be programmed in various ways to get you in a chilled-out kind of mood.

You might also want to consider a standalone smart light, something like the Dodow Sleep Aid device ($60 on Amazon). It uses timed breathing exercises based on lights projected on the ceiling above you to get you nodding off in record time, even if you usually have problems getting to sleep.

We also like this smart essential oil diffuser ($39 on Amazon), which can be controlled via an app or through an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. Set up the level of mist you prefer, then add your preferred oils for a sweet-smelling, relaxing way to wind down at the end of the day.

If sound does it for you, you can always stick a favorite album or podcast if you want to get in some relaxation time, but in terms of dedicated devices, consider the LectroFan Evo ($45 on Amazon). It pumps out a variety of white noise sounds to help your mind zone out and get ready for bed. Another option is the Avantek 30 ($40 on Amazon), which comes with 13 nature sounds and five ambient sounds besides a white noise selection.

David Nield

David Nieldis a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.