August 04, 2021

Van Nostrand: ‘Sounds of sleep’

By John Van Nostrand,

I have a sentimental feeling toward the warmer months of the year, summer specifically, just for the sounds. Many of those sounds have a calming effect on me and, much to my anticipation, can put me to sleep. That’s a good thing; not a sign that I easily get bored.

Probably like many of us, I grew up in a family that used box fans for hot days in the summer, like what we are experiencing this week. I grew up on the High Plains east of Denver where humidity is not near a summer characteristic as it is in Iowa. During the warmth of the day, my parents would usually run a box fan, sitting in an open window. There was something about the hum of that fan that soothed the soul.

Common in Colorado, when the sun sets on a hot summer day, one could feel the cool during sunset. Of course a hot, humid day in Iowa can feel the same even after the sun sets.

Like most other house appliances, and having purchased fans during my adult years, today’s box fans have more plastic parts as metal box fans were probably too heavy or got to expensive to produce. I don’t hear exactly the same hum sound from plastic box fans but it still works for me. The fan’s slowest speed is all I need. Not all fan speeds are the same. Low on one may be like medium on another.

I’ve known people who have fans in their bedrooms and I am no different. The fan cools the room which provides better rest for the person. I, too need that, but the sound is as important to me as the room temperature. I’ve lived in houses with ceiling fans, which also provide the comfort, but they are intentionally made to run quieter than box fans.

I, too, am usually a warm sleeper, even in the bitter cold nights of winter.

Nature’s summer sounds also help me doze off. The years growing up in Colorado with open windows, it was common to hear the crickets outside, which is no different than the Midwest. Those little critters also provide a comforting sound for me. I’ve heard stories of this year’s emerging, and rather large cicada population, mostly on the East Coast has been annoying loud to people. I can understand as too much noise, at a time where comfort and calm are desired, causes its own set of problems.

When my children were younger, it was common to have a few tent-camping weekends during the summer with friends at a nearby lake. It was never a problem for me to sleep in a tent as only a thin sheet of polyester, or whatever the tent was made of, stood between those noise-making insects and my ability to fall, and stay, asleep. My sleep during those times had an “appetizer” of kicking back in a reclining camp chair listening to the crackle of a camp fire. But I’ve also learned, and not while camping, the bird chirps during sunrise are nature’s alarm clocks and usually when it is too soon to get up.

Winter months are different. Typical forced air, natural-gas furnaces do not have the same effect on my ability to fall asleep as do box fans. The furnace is not near as loud or obviously run consistently as the fans. But I found an alternative. Last winter I discovered some of those sleep sound programs that can be played through an internet speaker. Some are more creepy than comforting as it sounds like it came from a low budget, science-fiction movie.

I prefer the soft, piano sounds.

No matter what it takes to get you to fall asleep, I hope you are able to. Sleep deprivation may be an underrated medical condition. The past year plus has been enough of a reason to stay up and lose sleep as covid may have had us worry about our jobs, financial situation, how and what the kids are doing in school and, of course, our health.

I will admit I have been one of those people.

A lack of sleep is not healthy as it effects blood pressure, the ability to stay alert (and awake) for the next day. If you think it takes you longer to find a solution to something, maybe it’s because you have not had enough sleep? If you are fretting over any of those problems, and not sleeping, depression may be next.

Those in health care suggest seven to nine hours a sleep for most adults. Of course, not everybody is the same. Some may function well with less than seven hours while others may need more.

If you don’t need an appliance or something with six or eight legs to put you to sleep, that’s great. No matter what puts you to sleep, just make sure you are when you need to be.


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.