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Christmas Gift Guide

Turn your Amazon Echo Dot into the ultimate nightstand accessory

Amazon's little Dot can find a home in just about any room, but it's best suited to your bedside. Here's why.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon's voice-activated Echo Dot arrived last month to almost universal acclaim, offering nearly all the same capabilities of the larger Echo for half the cost. Call it "Alexa for less." (Alexa is the name you use to wake the Echo to accept commands.)

Because it can pair with a wired or Bluetooth speaker, you might think it's best suited to a den or living room, someplace where you routinely kick back and listen to music. But I'm of the opinion that Dot deserves a home in the bedroom, right on your nightstand.

Consider: it's an alarm clock. It's a weather forecaster. It's a white-noise machine and a whole lot more. Here's a list of ways to turn your Echo Dot into the ultimate bedside companion.

Alexa, read me a story

This is the first of several tips aimed at helping you drift off to sleep. And what could be better than listening to a great bedtime story?

Good news: Amazon created the Echo Dot, and Amazon owns Audible. That means the Dot can play any books in your Audible library -- complete with a sleep timer so it automatically shuts off after a specific period of time.

So, for example, let's say you want to listen to the Pearl S. Buck classic "The Good Earth" (a personal favorite). Assuming it's already in your Audible library, you would say, "Alexa, read The Good Earth." (You might need to tack on "from Audible," but only if she seems to have trouble locating your selected title.)

From there you can add, "Alexa, set a sleep timer for X minutes."

Not into books? Alexa can also play podcasts from TuneIn. Example: "Alexa, play the program Battlestar Recaptica."

Alexa, let's meditate

If you're anything like me, you need to turn off your brain at night. And for me, the best way to do that by far is with a guided meditation.

Amazon offers a lot of Echo-friendly guided meditations as part of its Prime Music library.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Assuming you're already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you'll find tons of meditations you can add right to your library -- including at least one designed to help you fall asleep. (Not a Prime subscriber? Here's a 45-minute sleep meditation priced at just 99 cents.)

Once you've added that or another meditation to your library, now it's a simple of matter of saying, "Alexa, play Guided Meditation for Restful Sleep," or whatever is the title of the audio.

Alexa, give me some white noise

Some folks find white noise (or some variant of it) the best fall-asleep aid of all. As with meditations, you can find "sleeping sounds" that are free to add to your library as part of your Prime subscription.

However, it might take some experimentation to get Alexa to play an individual track. For example, I added the first track from "Thunderstorms & Rain" to my library, but Alexa didn't seem able to play it by name. At least, when I said, "Play 'Soothing Rain Effects,'" she played only a sample from a different album. Instead, I had to say more of the lengthy title: "Play 'Soothing Rain Effects and Distant Thunder Showers.'"

Alexa, set an alarm

Here's a no-brainer: Use the Echo Dot as your alarm clock. Just say, "Alexa, set an alarm for 6 a.m.," and you're done. (You can also insert the word "repeating" if you want to wake up the same time every day.)

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

The default alarm is a pleasant enough sound, but Amazon gives you a wide range of choices -- including some celebrities! (Alec Baldwin, anyone?) To peruse and choose a new sound, open the Alexa app, tap Menu, then Timers & Alarms. Tap Alarms, then Manage alarm volume and default sound. Finally, tap Alarm Default Sound to see the list of available options. (The aptly named Nightstand will give you an old-school alarm-clock ring.)

Alexa, wake me up with the news

Alarms are all well and good, but would you prefer your Echo Dot to wake you up to, say, NPR or your favorite morning radio station?

I haven't found a built-in way to accomplish that, but there's a rather amusing hack: Record yourself saying "Alexa, play NPR" (or "Alexa, play WDVD radio," or whatever station you want to hear), then use that recording as the alarm sound for an alarm app on your smartphone.

In other words, your phone wakes up at the designated time and tells Alexa what to do. (Yes, you could leave her out of the mix altogether and just rely on your phone, but what fun is that?)

Android users should check out Alarm Clock 3, which supports custom audio files. If you're an iPhone owner, just use the built-in Clock app and choose your custom sound from the Add Alarm menu. (You'll need to record it first using a voice recorder, of course.)

Alexa, wake me up with the lights

Studies have shown that it's much better to wake up to gradual light than to a blaring alarm. And as you may know, the Echo works with a variety of smart-home lighting systems and switches, including the Belkin Insight Switch and Philips Hue.

Light bulb! No, seriously -- if you pair something like a Lifx bulb with your Echo Dot, you can use an IFTTT recipe to make that bulb gradually illuminate when it's time to wake up.

There are other recipes that work similarly with other products, and you could always cook up one of your own as well.

Have you found any other cool ways to make your Echo Dot a practical bedside companion? Share them in the comments!