Healthy online activities if you can’t sleep

Wifi has brought the world into our bedrooms, whether we want it or not

Saturday, 11 April, 2020

In the olden days – basically before 2010 – an inability to sleep would usually be tackled by getting up and putting the TV on, or reading a book in a different room.

Today, it’s more likely to be tackled by picking up a smartphone or tablet.

Wireless broadband had brought the world into our bedrooms, regardless of whether it’s always appreciated or not.

However, it’s also created significant potential to disrupt our sleep patterns, especially in a time of national crisis and personal upheaval.

Every notification is instantly checked for fear of bad news regarding a loved one, and every news update is scrutinised for clues as to when life can start getting back to normal again.

These unhealthy online activities not only stop us from drifting off, they can also keep us awake in the first place.

With friends like these…

Although we tend to regard smartphones as liberating, they can actually be detrimental to our mental well-being if they’re used excessively or inappropriately.

The risks of white screen light and late-night browsing/gaming are well known, but what’s less commonly discussed is using this technology effectively to help facilitate sleep.

And since we tend to use them as alarm clocks, they’re usually sat on our bedside tables, just a stretch away.

Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy online activities worth pursuing if the heating’s knocked off til morning and the streets have fallen silent.


Many people find it easy to drift off while listening to an audiobook with a soothing narrator – ideally something calming like a biography, rather than an action or adventure novel.

The soporific effects of repetitive ambient noise can also create a calming, rhythmic soundtrack, while blocking out other night-time noises which might jolt you back awake.

YouTube hosts six-hour videos of looping ambient noise, while Spotify has an Ambient Sounds category dedicated to the noises of fire, birds and running water, among others.

Some people swear by white noise, and there is growing enthusiasm for online meditation and mindfulness recordings. These tend to focus on muscular relaxation and breathing.


Before downloading a book onto your phone, ensure the screen will only emit blue light at night.

As with podcasts and audiobooks, the choice of source material is crucial. Dominic Sandbrook’s latest book will calm your mind more than The Hunger Games or Harry Potter.

Look for non-fiction books where each chapter is a standalone segment rather than a continuous narrative, so you can enjoy tackling it in short bursts over multiple nights.

The Amazon Kindle app provides access to millions of titles in its Store. It can also be used offline and/or in Airplane Mode, so you can disable or mute updates and messages overnight.


If a low-volume soundtrack or non-fiction title isn’t helping you to drift off, having instant internet access can be both a blessing and a curse.

Avoid social media sites, where contentious opinions may set your mind racing. Staying off news sites is advisable in the current climate, with bad news pouring in around the clock.

If you must read something topical, rather than skipping between pages, look for long reads. The BBC publish these on their news app, while newspapers also regularly upload lengthy articles.

Scrolling through a long single-page feature could reduce your resting pulse rate as long as you’ve muted the sound or blocked pop-ups to prevent on-site ads startling you awake again.


This is controversial, since most games are intrinsically addictive. App-based titles are particularly likely to have that one-more-go desirability to keep people coming back.

Instead of FIFA or Minecraft, look for enjoyable but slow-paced games. Sudoku is the smartphone equivalent of Solitaire on an old PC – suitable for playing at a gentle pace.

Some swear by bedtime Scrabble or crosswords, though certain people find these games stimulate rapid-fire thinking – the antithesis of winding down for the night.

Stick to games which don’t require sound, since asking your brain to process input from multiple senses at once is unlikely to expedite the arrival of Morpheus.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!