Between long workdays and that show you can't stop binging, it's hard to get a good night's rest. Quality of sleep affects so many other aspects of life—critical thinking, athletic performance, even food cravings—it's no wonder we're always trying to get better at it. Easier said than done, though... right?
One easy way to improve your sleep is to make your bedroom the quiet, restful environment you deserve. The good folks at Wirecutter are here to help—they've tested hundreds of products and rounded up their favorites to encourage that much-needed shut-eye. Here's the best of what's out there.
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work.
Whether you're trying to sleep on a plane or in a room that's too bright, you want a mask that's comfortable—preferably so comfortable you forget you're wearing it at all. The Nidra Deep Rest mask is designed so your eyes can still move under the contoured cups, and Wirecutter found it to be less restrictive than other masks. Even better: It fits a variety of faces.
Earplugs can feel super tight and awkward, but Mack's Slim Fit Soft Foam Earplugs were designed for small or sensitive ears (though they'll fit all but the largest ear canals) so they're less uncomfortable to wear. Plus they beat out the competition in Wirecutter's tests by blocking out the most noise. We're sold.
For most people, a mattress needs to hit the sweet spot—just firm enough without putting pressure on the hips and back. The Leesa foam mattress hugs your body without making you feel too hot or constricted. It's firmer at the edges than most models, and its soft surface feels great under thin sheets. As a bonus, it has the best exterior design out of all other mattresses tested.
If you and your partner switch sides of the bed often or sleep on your back, the Casper foam mattress is a better bet than Leesa. It's a leader in the box-and-ship field for a reason—the classic model is versatile and breathable and provides great support for people looking for a firmer mattress. It offers only slightly less sink than the Leesa for side sleepers, and though it runs a bit warmer, overall it's an awesome choice.
While it’s probably too firm for side sleeping, the Tuft & Needle foam mattress is great for back sleepers and anyone who wants a super-firm feel. Wirecutter says it’s about “as firm as foam can get before it becomes uncomfortable,” thanks to the two-layer design that keeps it soft on top and supportive underneath. It’s also less expensive than the competition, making it a great budget pick (or guest room option).
If your roommate snores or your neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking at 2 a.m., a quality white noise machine could be a game changer. The LectroFan is small, easily adjustable in the dark, and super effective at blocking out a wide array of sounds. It even fits easily into a suitcase if you want to bring it on vacation.
If you want a duvet cover that's soft, lightweight, and easy to clean, the Brooklinen Classic Duvet Cover is about to be your new favorite thing. It's made of high-quality cotton, won't shrink in the wash, and comes in a variety of classic colors. Plus, it's just as comfortable as more expensive options, and it's durable enough to last you for years. Wear it out to your heart's content—this cover will be in your life for a while.
For classic cotton sheets, look no further than the L.L.Bean Pima Cotton Percale Sheets. Wirecutter has ranked them as a top pick for four years running, and it's easy to see why—they're breathable and just as durable as pricier competition. These are especially great for warmer temperatures because of their crisp and cool feel. They'll remind you of soft hotel sheets.
If you like a silkier feel to your sheets, the Royal Velvet 400 TC WrinkleGuard Sheets are a great option. They're slightly heavier than the percale variety, but they wrinkle less and are smoother on your skin. They also feel super luxurious, which means you'll sleep like a king or queen. (C'mon, they're called royal for a reason… )
Wirecutter's sleep experts agree there is no best pillow for everyone, but if there's one that works for most people, it's definitely the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow. The shredded foam means the pillow won't feel too stiff, but it also provides excellent support for back sleepers, side sleepers, and many stomach sleepers. It's fairly moldable depending on your sleeping position preference.
A great comforter is a classic item you need for a great night's sleep. After researching more than 100 models, Wirecutter chose The Company Store's Alberta Euro Down Comforter as the best of the bunch. It has three different warmth options (light, medium, and extra warm) and one of the softest covers out there. It's also made with eco-certified materials with a lifetime guarantee, so you can feel good about your purchase.
For a blanket you can throw on the bed year-round, try The Vermont Country Store Constant Comfort Blanket. Wirecutter found it to be comfortable under a comforter in a cooler room or with a sheet in a warmer room. It keeps its shape through multiple washes and can even tuck into a mattress when you're making your bed. Snuggle up in this even when it's hot outside... we won't judge.
There are few situations quite as frustrating as going through your whole day in a state of exhaustion, only to find yourself completely wide awake at bedtime—a state of affairs that gets only worse when trying to fall asleep also makes you anxious.
Anyone who has struggled to drift off knows that when you're staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m., the thoughts that pop into your head tend to be anything but rosy. You might start off considering something as innocuous as your to-do list for the next day, but even this can quickly spiral into concerns about your wildest fears, embarrassing memories that no one else possibly cares about or remembers, and terrifying hypotheticals.
Your brain doesn't care that you're safe in your bedroom under your coziest blanket—it's busy hanging out in crisis mode over random worries in your waking life.
What's insomnia panic really like—and how normal is it?
"Generally what we see is the person attempting to go to sleep, then they begin to ruminate about what they have to do tomorrow, or what they didn't get done today," says Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW, licensed therapist at Brentwood Wellness Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee.
"This can lead to the frantic thoughts, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing. It's a vicious cycle—because of the rumination they don't sleep, and the lack of sleep makes everything feel worse, and then the person becomes anxious and fearful that they will not sleep another night, and then the cycle starts all over again."
Sound familiar? That lack of sleep can increase your susceptibility to anxiety, which just makes you that much more likely to struggle with the same symptoms again the next night.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, about one in three people have at least some form of insomnia, which is defined as a regular difficulty in falling or staying asleep. Panic symptoms, like a racing heart and difficulty breathing, are a separate issue—but it's not uncommon for them to show up alongside insomnia. Panic and anxiety can be terrifying, but they're treatable, and understanding where they come from is a good first step.
Why is this even happening?
If you've got more responsibilities than you can count, you're more likely to experience panic symptoms as you attempt to juggle it all. Women are particularly susceptible.
"I often see panic issues in clients who are very strong and prone to placing a lot on their shoulders," says Kelsey M. Latimer, Ph.D., L.P., a licensed psychologist and assistant director of the Center for Discovery. "In a sense, they are asking their minds and bodies to hold an incredible amount—without an opportunity to release it."
According to Latimer, this phenomenon is why panic and anxiety often show up when our guard is down—like when we're trying to fall asleep. "Before clients understand that, they often get scared because it seems so counterintuitive to feel panic in times of relaxation," Latimer says. "However, knowing that we can predict the panic in itself gives it less power and makes it easier to control in a healthy way."
When panic and insomnia show up together, it can be tough to define the relationship between the two. Sometimes, anxiety is part of the cause of your insomnia. Other times, anxiety and panic show up as a result of the insomnia-induced exhaustion you're feeling.
So what can you do about it?
Seeing a medical professional is an important step in feeling better, but there are also some practices you can try at home in tandem, like developing mindfulness habits.
"Panic is often based in the shame and blame of the past or worries of the future," Latimer says. "Basically, anywhere but the present moment. Simple mindfulness practices, which focus a person on the here-and-now, are incredibly effective at reducing anxiety symptoms."
Practice letting your thoughts just be, rather than engaging with them. "I suggest not fighting the thoughts, but focusing on your breathing to help center yourself," says Robert Goldman, a New York-based psychiatrist. "Fill your belly with air, hold it for two seconds, then exhale. This is called diaphragmatic breathing and has been proven to reduce anxiety and relax you at the same time."
Also try to practice good sleep hygiene. You've heard this advice a million times before, but that's because it can really make a difference: Avoid looking at glowing screens before bed, exercise earlier in the day rather than later, and keep work assignments out of the bedroom.
Another easy trick is to keep a notebook and pen next to your bed to capture late-night thoughts. "I teach my patients to write down their thoughts or concerns as they present in their minds," says S. Frances Robbins, MSN, PMHNP, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and author of The Complete Insomniac's Workbook to Restorative Sleep. "Having a place to dump their thoughts allows their brains to rest. The notepad will be there in the morning and can be reviewed then."
So the good news is that these symptoms aren't a life sentence—you can feel better with proper care. "Insomnia and anxiety are treatable; they are not a character flaw or a problem that can be ignored," Robbins says.
When you work with a doctor or therapist, you can get to the root of the issues and find a treatment method that works for you—and you'll get started on a path toward the good night's sleep you deserve.
Claire Hannum is an NYC-based writer, editor, and traveler.
Sometimes insomnia can be triggered by worrying about all the ish you have to cross off your to-do list—or maybe you just made a life choice and chugged a flat white in the late afternoon. Regardless, the health consequences of insomnia can be alarming, including increased risk of car accidents. If you've ever dealt with insomnia, here are 14 GIFs that are relatable AF.
1. You spend most of your days feeling like this:
2. But this is your reality when bedtime rolls around:
3. You feel optimistic—at first.
If I fall asleep right now, I can get exactly 8.5 hours of sleep.
4. So you decide to take a hot shower, hoping it'll help you fall asleep faster…
5. It seems to be working until you get a text from your mom.
Are you kidding me?!
6. Searching the internet for natural home remedies…
Warm milk and honey? *rolls eyes*
7. Yeah... nothing this wholesome is working tonight.
8. The frustration you immediately feel when you realize it was 9:30 p.m. when you jumped into bed and now it's past midnight.
The Lord is testing me.
9. When you decide to pull up your party playlist because you can't sleep anyway.
Whoomp, there it is!
10. It's a struggle to get out of bed after only getting three or four hours of sleep…if you're lucky.
11. As a result, you turn to coffee to stay awake—and alive, for that matter.
12. Reading a study about all the negative effects that lack of sleep can have on your health…
Welp, guess that means I'm screwed.
13. When someone suggests counting sheep before going to bed:
14. Treasuring those nights when you instantly fall asleep:
Princess Gabbara is a Michigan-based journalist and storyteller. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @PrincessGabbara.
Can't sleep? We asked sleep experts for recommendations for everything from sleeping positions to white noise to the best foods to eat before bed. We've even looked into the best bed in a box and sleep tech products out there.
How to Sleep Better: From Sleeping Positions to Eating Before Bed
Sleep Experts Say You Need to Stop Doing These 7 Things If You Want to Sleep Better
7 Sleep Tech Products That Can Help You Get a Full Night's Sleep (and a Few That Won’t)
Can Sex Legitimately Help You Sleep Better?
How Every Body Part Is Affected by Sleep
The Best Foods to Help You Sleep Better (and Others to Avoid)
How to Stop Your Mind From Racing in the Middle of the Night
Do These 4 Yoga Poses When You Can't Sleep
The Best (and Worst) Positions for Sleeping
Here's How to Choose the Best Bed in a Box for You
Editor's Picks: 8 Products That Have Totally Helped Me Get Some Effing Sleep
19 Sleep-Inducing Drinks to Sip Before Bed
10 Free Meditations to Encourage Restful Sleep
So You Didn't Sleep—Here's How to Stay Awake
This 15-Minute Morning Yoga Routine Wakes You Up Better Than Coffee
7 Ways to Get Through the Day on Little to No Sleep
Whether you had a long night of drinking or have a new baby who has yet to learn the fine art of sleeping, you might need a few tips on how to stay awake after a rough night. When you feel tired, we all know you can pound an energy drink or splash cold water on your face for a pick-me-up… or just cut out the middleman and splash your face with an ice-cold energy drink.
But there are better ways to give yourself an energy boost than relying on cans of caffeine. I consulted doctors, sleep experts, and health professionals to find the best and healthiest ways to stay alert after a night or two of sleep deprivation.
Find Your Light
When you find yourself dozing off during the day, your circadian rhythm might be out of whack. Typically, our bodies use sunlight as a cue to wake up and darkness as a cue to sleep. But working night shifts or having a varied sleep schedule can mess up your body's internal rhythm.
Luckily, it's easy to get your rhythm back on track. Just go into the light! I mean, don't go into the light like Carol Anne, but get yourself out of the darkness. "Expose yourself to bright light, ideally sunlight," says Tzvi Doron, D.O. "This sends a message to your brain that it's 'awake time' by shutting off melatonin production."
Sleep science coach Chris Brantner adds, "The more you can expose yourself to sunlight, the more awake you'll feel. Also, you'll have a better chance of resetting your sleep/wake cycle and getting a better night's sleep the following night." The burst of sunshine helps rebalance your circadian rhythms (and can help you avoid developing a sleep disorder in the future).
According to Doron, it would be great to get 30 minutes of sunshine every day, but you really only need a few moments in the light to get energy-boosting effects. So take a five-minute walk outside, soak up the sun, enjoy the fresh air, and you'll get back to your day feeling refreshed.
But remember to avoid exposing yourself to light (especially blue light, like from your computer screen) closer to bedtime—it'll keep you from falling asleep when you want to.
One of the easiest ways to stay alert when you're feeling tired is to exercise. Now, I fully admit that when I'm insanely tired, the last thing I would ever want to do is exercise. In fact, if someone told me to get up and do a couple of jumping jacks when I was feeling fatigued, I'd only be able to muster the energy to jump up and punch them in the face.
But when you really need to stay awake, a little bit of exercise is your best option. Richard Honaker, M.D., says you don't need to bust out a whole routine at the gym, you just need to get your heart rate up. When your heart starts pumping, it forces the body to wake up.
Again, I know how hard it can be to do any form of exercise when you're imagining that your keyboard is a fluffy pillow. But when you start feeling super tired, just stand up and do 10 squats. Even that little bit of exercise is enough to get your blood moving and keep you awake and alert. Then repeat the exercise whenever you start to drift off. You'll power through a sleepy day and get a great butt workout all in one!
But avoid exercise in the evening if you want to go to bed at a reasonable hour—it can keep you up after you want to go to bed.
Chug! Chug! Chug!
If you want to learn how to stay awake, you need to start drinking. No, this isn't an excuse to fill your coffee mug with bourbon. But if you're lethargic, you've got to drink more water.
"Drink water like it's your job," says Neal Shipley, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist—a.k.a. no stranger to pulling all-nighters. "Make a point to take a five-minute break every hour during your day to get up and take a walk to fill your water bottle. Staying hydrated will keep you healthier and more alert."
This advice works in two ways. One, getting up to get water is a form of exercise. That little walk to the water cooler wakes your body up and keeps you from an unwanted desk nap. Two, staying hydrated allows your body to function more effectively, so you get an extra energy boost right there. Of course, drinking water doesn't actually alter your body’s intrinsic ability to stay awake, but dehydration can result in fatigue, so staying hydrated can definitely help.
Keep Away From Carbs
This may not be a huge surprise, but eating a ton of carbs will not improve your energy levels. Yes, I wish that eating a huge bowl of fettuccine Alfredo would give me Popeye-like strength to power through my day, but sadly, it just doesn't work that way.
But here's the tricky part—our bodies crave carbs when we're tired. Junk food is seen as more rewarding to a fatigued brain. Because your tired body wants quick energy, you'll start to crave doughnuts like a cop on a stakeout. But although that doughnut helps you stay awake for a little while, that energy won't last.
Hormuz Nicolwala, M.D., a third-year resident at WVU Children's Hospital, gives his expert tips on how to snack to stay awake. "Eating carbs during a night shift will only make you more sleepy due to the high release of insulin following intake of a high-carbohydrate meal," Nicolwala says. He recommends eating yogurt, jerky, or other protein-filled foods to give you the nutrients you need to make it through the shift. If you pay attention to your carbs, you won't have to worry about a blood sugar crash tanking your energy.
To keep your energy levels high, don't slam down a triple shot espresso. It's better to ingest small doses of caffeine throughout the day, according to a study performed by researchers at Harvard Medical School. The study found that one large dose of caffeine didn't help wakefulness throughout the day. Instead, the study gave participants the equivalent of two ounces of caffeine every hour, and this steady dose helped participants score higher on cognitive tests and avoid accidental naps.
Now, this was a very small study where men were forced to stay up for 42 hours at a time, so their sleepy circumstance was a little more extreme than usual. And though the participants on caffeine performed better than those without, the caffeinated patients felt more sleepy than their decaf cohorts.
Still, a little bit of caffeine through the day can be helpful—especially when you're dealing with working night shifts or all night study sessions.
The suggestions in this section are definitely curious and may work, but we definitely don’t want to imply that there’s a ton (or, uh, any) scientific evidence backing them up...
Put Peppermint on Your Face
Holistic health coach Hannah Alderete recommends putting a dab of peppermint oil on your temples for a little boost. "The peppermint is a stimulant and will both cool your body down and rev your attention back up," Alderete says.
Switch Up Your Toothpaste
Since peppermint is such a good neural stimulant, reserve your minty toothpaste for the morning says Mark Burhenne, D.D.S. But peppermint paste "harms the brain's winding-down process at night." So, before bed, switch to a non-mint toothpaste. This helps tell your brain that it's time to sleep, and you won't have mint keeping you up at night.
Watch Your Meds
Beware of antihistamines and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) when you're feeling groggy, Honaker says. Both drugs can make fatigue worse, or they could be causing your sleepiness in the first place!
Shut Your Mouth
Burhenne has an unusual recommendation for a good night's sleep—tape your mouth shut. Seriously. Literally, put tape over your mouth. This isn't some pseudo 50 Shades stuff, it's meant to help you breathe during the night. Taping your mouth forces you to breathe through your nose, which Burhenne insists increases the body's supply of nitric oxide, which helps reduce blood pressure and improves memory and sleep quality—so getting more might help.
Now, there aren't many studies to back up the claims of mouth taping, and if you have a nasal anomaly or a medical condition that makes you rely more on mouth breathing, taping your mouth shut definitely isn’t recommended. But Burhenne and others say they have had many clients claim their sleeping improved through taping, so it may be worth talking to your doctor about.
None of these tips will replace a full night's sleep. But a little sunshine, exercise, and protein really can help you power through even your sleepiest days.
Amber Petty is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. If you like easy crafts and Simpsons gifs, check out her blog, Half-Assed Crafts.
I really resisted getting into meditation. I thought it was too quiet, boring, and unproductive—I like action. But I noticed the calm in people who meditated often, and I'd read how the brains of those who meditate become wired in ways that help us function better despite common stressors. Now I think that those of us who are wary of meditation are probably the ones who need it the most.
So I've meditated every day for 80 days now. This is—by far—my longest stretch, and I never thought I'd last this long. I began meditating to handle some pretty intense stress, and after a couple of months, I noticed that my sleep had seriously improved: I fell asleep more quickly at night and stopped waking up in a panic. A stress-induced skin rash I'd developed disappeared, and I was better able to manage difficult situations.
One thing that helped me get into it has been Insight Timer, an app that offers free access to hundreds of meditations and a way to track hours spent meditating. It's been incredibly helpful for me. Here, I've rounded up some of the best free meditations I've used over the past 80 days for you to try out, some from Insight Timer and from other sources too.
My list includes meditations that are short, long, guided, unguided, by women and men, so you can find what works best for you. Some people want longer times for silence, while others find the long silences stressful and prefer guided meditations. Lack of time is a common reason people don't meditate, so with that in mind, I've included a meditation as short as one minute.
Tara Brach's soothing voice guides you through every step of this meditation. I think this one is excellent for a complete beginner because she reminds listeners not to worry if thoughts pass through their minds while trying to meditate. She invites us to compare our thoughts to the weather, noting that they're both similarly passing. I've ended up returning to this meditation often.
Lisa Hubler, Healing Relaxation, 24 minutes
Insight Timer app
In one of Hubler's bios, she mentions that her friends will ask her to talk to them on the phone so they can fall asleep more easily. I'm not surprised; her soothing voice may be her superpower. At the start of this meditation, she invites us in for healing and relaxation. After this meditation, I was so relaxed that I felt like I'd just received a massage. My muscles felt loose, and I fell asleep easily.
Shawn Leahy, Cabin Retreat-Light Rain on Roof, 30 minutes
Insight Timer app
This meditation opens with the sound of rain, which continues for 30 minutes. Recently, I played it and let myself drift off for a nap. At one point, I woke up and felt anxious, but I focused my attention on the sound of the rain and quickly drifted back to sleep. I've used this for both naps and evening sleep, and it works well in both cases. I'm always surprised by the good quality of the sound.
Suparni Neuwirth, Yoga Nidra: Guided Meditation for a Deep Sleep and Relaxation, 7 minutes
Yoga Nidra doesn't require doing yoga. Instead, it's often done lying down while a teacher guides you through relaxation methods. This video opens with deep breathing and asks you to position your body in a comfortable way before moving on to having you focus on areas of the body—right down to your individual toes and fingers—to release tension and promote sleep.
In this recording, you'll hear peaceful instrumental music and a soothing voice to help you release tension, first on one side of your body and then the other. Once you learn these techniques, you can use them when you're having trouble falling asleep, whether or not you have a teacher or recording to guide you.
Pable Arellano, I See You Harp, 47 minutes
Insight Timer app
Over the years, massage therapists would play background music featuring harps when working on me. I knew the massage helped me sleep better, but what about the relaxing music? After I became comfortable with the basics of meditation, I decided to test harp music to see if it would help me improve my sleep. As expected, this music blocks out noise. Secondly, it induced a relaxed state that helped to calm my mind. If you prefer to listen to music instead of words when heading to sleep, then this is a good recording to try.
Joshua Canter, Om Mani Padme Hum, 12 minutes
Insight Timer app
In The Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche writes that reciting the "Om Mani Padme Hum" mantra helps "achieve perfection in the six practices, from generosity to wisdom." Chanting along to this isn't required, of course, but doing so can relax your body, and I found that the act of chanting focused my mind—fewer random thoughts raced through my head—and the minutes passed by quickly. With my first try, I didn't always follow the voice or tune properly, but that didn't matter. By the end, I felt more focused than I had earlier and was better able to sleep.
Lisa Hubler, Deep Trance Sleep Healing, 60 minutes
Insight Timer app
One night, my daughter couldn't fall asleep, but we both had to be up early the next day. She asked if she could try the meditations I'm always talking about. I first played Hubler's "Healing Relaxation," mentioned above, and my daughter liked how Hubler's calm speaking voice kept thoughts at bay—but she didn't fall asleep.
This longer meditation includes relaxation techniques that ask us to focus on an area of our body and release tension there. As the meditation progresses, we're invited to relax areas we previously relaxed in order to enter a deeper state of calm. My daughter and I both fell asleep quickly.
I started using this particular meditation because it was short and I was impatient. Brach's website describes this as guided practice that invites you to awaken a "relaxed and friendly attention that rests in the breath and opens to whatever is arising." In many of her meditations, she advises us to observe what arises—thoughts or emotions—without becoming entangled in them. I appreciate Brach teaching that we can note a thought's appearance and simply let it go.
I found this after Googling "relaxing harp music." I wanted to see if I would like it and felt like experimenting, and I'm glad I did. In my experience, finding ways to de-stress throughout the day means I'll have an easier time getting to bed at night. Since this music is instrumental, I use it both as a way to help me fall asleep and as a way to provide calm during my workday.
In this video, Bradley sits on a fallen tree trunk in Valley Forge National Park and shares a meditation and brief "how-to." If you're new to meditation, this provides an introduction to the basics and shows you how you can regain calm even if you only have a short period of time.
I once thought I couldn't take time for meditation, but I think I was overcomplicating the idea by thinking I needed certain tools or lots of time. Meditation can take a minute and doesn't have to require special materials. The other day, I spent 90 seconds standing outside my car in a parking lot feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. These small moments of joy are everywhere, and once you learn these basic techniques, you'll have a repeatable way to gain calm anywhere.
I used to really suck at sleeping, y'all. Although I only had occasional trouble falling asleep, for years, I would wake up around 4 a.m. with racing, panicky thoughts. I'm sure this is largely due to my pretty next-level anxiety disorder, which has sent me to the hospital with perceived—but totally not at all real—heart attacks not once, not twice, but three times this year. (Thanks for putting up with me, Mt. Sinai!). But in addition to being garden-variety crazy, I had also cultivated a series of absolutely crap sleep habits, and I wasn't doing anything to help myself sleep better.
Since my anxiety disorder isn't going anywhere anytime soon, I really only had two options: Start making getting a good night's sleep a priority or get used to being a zonked-out zombie. And since it turns out that regular lack of sleep can really mess up your body, I've been attempting to quit my bad sleep habits and start using some products that help me both fall asleep and then stay the eff asleep.
And damned if it isn't working—my ability to get a full seven-to-eight hours has increased significantly since I've started taking sleep more seriously. Check out some of the stuff that's actually been working for me:
I am a serious goddamn princess about my bed. I'd heard that hard mattresses are supposed to be good for your back my whole life, so I used to own one, but the truth is that I absolutely hate sleeping on a hard mattress, and in the end, the mattress you can sleep on is the mattress that's good for you, the experts say.
But it's not like I wanted a featherbed, either—I'm not looking for a super-soft marshmallow to slowly sink into, never to reemerge, like Artax in the Swamp of Sadness. I still want to be able to do normal stuff in my bed, like "roll over" and "have sex."
Enter Casper. Like everybody else, I've been hearing about this company nonstop for the past year or two and didn't necessarily believe the hype, although I did enjoy their intricate subway ads. However, I can now attest that Casper really is the T. They make far and away the best mattress I've ever had; much like my imaginary boyfriend, it's responsive, supportive, and cool. I've been sleeping on one of these bad boys for a couple of months now, and although they said I had 100 days to return it, if they want it back, they'll have to pry this thing from beneath my blissfully unconscious body.
I used to think it was fairly normal to wake up in the middle of a winter night with a Sahara-dry parched throat, chug an entire glass of water, and spend the next 20 minutes silently willing myself back to sleep. It turns out that’s not actually the case, and a decent humidifier can go a long way to fixing this problem.
I’ve gone through a few, but Crane’s cool mist humidifier has been the most effective by a damn sight. It’s not the prettiest humidifier on the market—it frankly looks kind of weird, like an enormous plastic teardrop—but it works so much better than any of the delicate, pretty ones I tried, so I think it's worth it. Oh, and spring for the cleaning kit too—you really need to wash out these things about once a week or they get pretty gross.
OK, so this is kind of extra, but I have a Philips Somneo sunrise light, and it's freaking amazing. This thing puts you to bed and wakes you up, and yes, you feel like a huge nerd going to bed next to a fake sunset, but the truth is that having a bedtime ritual really is relaxing and helps prep you for a solid night's sleep, and I love it. I also cannot tell you how pleasant it is to be woken up gradually, through incrementally increasing light, rather than an obnoxious alarm on my phone.
Not to be confused with THC, CBD oil doesn't get you high, but I like it anyway. I like to drop some of the Charlotte's Web mint chocolate oil into a mint leaf tea, and it's off to bed. There's some good evidence to suggest that the sleep-promoting effects of CBD oil are very real, and this stuff is definitely not hurting my anxiety, either.
About half an hour before bed, I like to turn on a diffuser scented with 10-15 drops of lavender essential oil. If you're asking yourself, "But aren't essential oils kind of bullsh*t?" the answer is, "I used to think that too! But like most things in life, the answer is fairly complicated: Lavender oil has actually been studied way more than you might have thought, and there's some really strong evidence to suggest that it can help you sleep and really chill you out."
Depressingly, this Vitruvi porcelain diffuser is probably the most elegant thing about my apartment—they even sell this thing at Anthropologie, that's how good it looks. It definitely makes me look like I have better design taste than I do, and the company's lavender oil is certified organic and smells beautiful, so I recommend that too.
I am not normally someone who would suggest dropping $200 on bed sheets; the sheets I used to use were from Sam's Club because I love a good deal, and they felt soft enough to my untrained skin. But holy sh*t, Sheex sheets are unbelievably comfortable.
The company claims that their luxury copper sheet sets are made with copper ions that are both good for your skin and keep bacteria at bay, which may be true, I don't know, but I can tell you for sure that they're incredibly soft, they stay cool in the night, and since I've been using them, I haven't woken up in a pool of sweat once, which has not always been the case in my life. I know, how sexy is that? It's amazing I'm single.
I live in an apartment building with fairly thin walls and neighbors who keep some extremely curious hours, so a white noise machine of some sort is a must. I used to own a cheap one I picked up at Target, and it kind of did the job, but then I got Nightingale, and it works a hell of a lot better.
It's like a super-smart white noise machine that allegedly tailors itself to your room's acoustics, and I can attest that it definitely masks noises better than my last one did. Plus, it plugs into the wall and provides two pass-through plugs, which means it doesn't take up any space on your nightstand or in your outlet, which is a great design. According to Amazon reviews, connectivity is an issue for a lot of folks, but so far, I haven't experienced any problems—fingers crossed!
OK, technically, Eminence Organics strawberry rhubarb mask isn't a "sleep mask," but if you can sleep in it and it's a mask, I think it qualifies. Normally, however, I wouldn't put a bunch of stuff on my face that isn't designed to be there for eight hours, but since Eminence takes their organics very seriously, and this product is paraben/phthalate/SLS/propylene glycol-free, I figure that this stuff will work.
Plus, it smells amazing, and the hyaluronic acid is incredibly hydrating, so I don't wake up in the night fumbling for more face cream because my skin feels desiccated as a mummy's. Oh, and if you want the most obvious pro tip of all time: Throw a towel over your pillow on nights you use this, lest you get face mask smooshed all over your sheets.
I am a terrible sleeper. Even though I go to bed completely exhausted most nights, once I get into position, I find the whole becoming-unconscious thing basically impossible. As soon as I turn off the lights, my mind starts racing with anxieties, usually useless ones that I can't turn off: Why did I say that dumb thing to Hayden Greenfield in 7th grade? Did people have fun at my wedding? What would I name a poodle if I had one? Even though I usually get in bed early, at least a few nights a week, I'll find myself still awake at 3 a.m., wondering when my brain will finally switch off.
I've tried everything to get some sleep. I've literally counted imaginary sheep. I've played soft music. I've imagined my body slowly filling up with sand (a tip from a therapist that ended up just making me worry about serial killers). Nothing helped. Until I discovered Sleep With Me.
Sleep With Me is a podcast designed to be incredibly boring. But there's a good reason: It's so boring that people with insomnia will fall asleep to it. It sounds crazy, but it works. It's hosted by Drew Ackerman, who is—by his own admission—not a sleep expert, just someone like me who has struggled his whole life with insomnia, which means he gets how frustrating it can be to not able to fall asleep. Drew speaks in a low, soothing voice and puts his listeners to sleep by telling stories that have absolutely no point.
You know how your high-school English teacher told you stories have to have a beginning, middle, and end? Not on Sleep With Me. The stories Drew tells are impossible to follow. He goes off on boring tangents, never comes back to main points, and rambles softly in a stream-of-consciousness narrative that goes nowhere.
Every episode is a new kind of boring: He makes up a fairy tale, he reads recipes, he retells episodes of Star Trek from memory. Each podcast is about an hour long, which is enough time that you don't have to worry whether it will be over before you finally fall asleep, but I even set a sleep timer so they turn off automatically. The podcast is incredibly calming—it distracts me from my own thoughts without getting me invested in a story.
Drew notes that you'll probably need to listen to it a few times before it will work, and he's right: It took me a couple tries before it started putting me to sleep. At first, I was kind of interested in how someone could possibly fill an entire hour with such a boring story, so I ended up staying awake for the whole thing, even though the episode was just him describing a house he once lived in. But after a few tries, it clicked—and now it puts me to sleep within a few minutes. In fact, I almost never remember what he talked about in each episode because I fall asleep so quickly. Goodbye, worrying about my non-existent poodle's name. Hello, sleep.
Lucy Huber is a writer, multiple cat owner, and sufferer of Reverse Dawson's Creek Actor Syndrome, which is a disease she made up for when you are 30 but look 15. To see her other work or ask more specific questions about her cats, visit lucyhuber.com.
Admitting you browse Twitter in bed has become a social shame nearly on par with confessing that you occasionally sneak onto a bar's back patio for a cigarette. We do both with the full knowledge that these habits are bad for us, but sometimes they just feel too damn good to avoid.
But if you're often sleepless or find yourself exhausted during the day, the causes could be deeper than shame-filled 2 a.m. Instagram scrolling. Here are some less commonly discussed reasons you might not be getting in your full night's sleep.
1. Ignoring your circadian rhythms.
Humans are wired to a biological clock that tells us when we need to sleep and when we need to be awake, set to a 24-hour cycle. That cycle is affected by melatonin, physical activity, social interactions, and most importantly, light.
However, working in offices full of artificial light (and the unpredictability of our days) can set that cycle slightly off-kilter. According to Roy Raymann, Ph.D. and vice president of sleep science at SleepScore Labs, we can start preparing for a good night's sleep at lunchtime.
"An outdoor walk at lunch serves both fitness and sleep; the sun will tell your body it's midday and makes sure the body clock keeps ticking in alignment with the day-night cycle," Raymann says.
2. Working out too close to bedtime.
And if you tend to do more strenuous exercise, hitting the gym later in the day might not be great for your sleep, according to Sujay Kansagra, M.D., director of the pediatric neurology sleep medicine program at Duke University Medical Center and author of the book, My Child Won’t Sleep: A Quick Guide for the Sleep-Deprived Parent.
"For those who have difficulty falling asleep at night, it's important to avoid late night exercise," Kansagra says. "Exercising earlier in the day can certainly help you sleep better at nighttime. However, exercising too close to bedtime can artificially raise your body temperature, which makes it harder to fall asleep."
3. Eating certain foods (especially before bed).
Most of us know that having a venti soy latte with an extra shot right before bed is a terrible idea for a good night's sleep. However, a recent study showed that diets low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar led to less restorative sleep and more instances of waking up in the night, especially when consumed later in the day.
According to Hrayr Attarian, M.D., professor of neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and co-author of the Society for Women's Health Research guide, Women & Sleep, our diets can disrupt our circadian rhythm.
"This paper seems to suggest, reasonably so, that the timing of high-carb and high-fat foods has something to do with circadian regulation of body temperature," Attarian says. "Basically, instead of keeping core body temperature low, the metabolism of these high-energy foods at night increases core body temperature, therefore disturbing sleep." Attarian suggests a "light, high-fiber, low-fat meal in the evening" for better sleep.
Keeping blood sugar stable throughout the night is also important for undisturbed sleep, according to Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
"Many people go to bed and by 2 or 3 a.m., their blood sugar is low, so their brain produces cortisol to generate insulin, and that wakes people up," Breus says. "Keeping blood sugar stable at night solves the issue. I ask many of my patients to eat a teaspoon of raw honey 20 minutes before bed. This will help keep blood sugar stable all night long. If honey isn't your thing, try guava leaf tea, but not guava juice or extract. It's got to be the tea."
4. Procrastinating at bedtime.
After a busy day, a quick dinner, and maybe a couple of drinks, it can be tempting to stay on the couch for just one more episode of the new Queer Eye. Sure, you're tired, but the nightly routine just seems like too much, and a quick doze on the couch before the business of getting to bed could seem like just the thing. But that catnap could actually be keeping you up.
"After dinner, start scheduling your sleep and don't procrastinate," says Raymann. "Since it takes some time to fall asleep, and even in healthy sleep you have some short wake periods during the night, you need to schedule around eight hours and 45 minutes of shut-eye time to reach those eight hours of sleep. Avoid napping after dinner time: You might feel like dozing off, but daytime or evening napping can disrupt your nighttime sleepiness and sleep."
5. Worrying with your eyes closed.
The opposite of the quick couch nap at bedtime, getting in bed when you're not tired just to replay every awkward conversation you've ever had can be pretty bad as well, Kansagra says.
"A common cause of difficulty falling asleep is worrying excessively in bed," Kansagra says. "Many insomniacs have become accustomed to worrying when they lay down and have a hard time turning off their minds. One key to improving sleep is avoiding the bed until you actually feel sleepy, and saving the bed only for sleep and intimacy."
6. Binge-watching Black Mirror.
At this point, we know it's a big no-no to bring screens into bed (though, yes, of course we do it anyway). But the TV we watch in the living room could actually be affecting the shut-eye we're getting in the bedroom. Not only does the light from the TV mess with our natural rhythms, binge-watchers have reported poorer sleep, and arousal—the kind you get from a GOT cliffhanger, not the other kind—can affect our ability to get restorative, uninterrupted sleep.
"Try to establish a nightly pre-sleep routine, signaling your body that you're preparing to sleep," Raymann says. "Around an hour before bedtime, dim the lights and engage only in relaxing activities—so no games, no emails, no thrillers on Netflix. Avoid any stress. When it's time to go to bed, also try to stick to a fixed-order routine. Use the bathroom, brush your teeth, and wash and moisturize your face."
7. Tossing and turning.
Waking up in the middle of the night and doing quick math to see how much sleep you can still get if you fall back asleep right this second isn't doing you any favors—anxiety around sleeping actually causes you to lose sleep, so it might actually be better to get out of bed for a bit to calm down and feel sleepy again.
"When trying to fall asleep again, you might feel disbelief that you'll ever get back to sleep," Raymann says. "Some might feel sleepy again after 30 minutes; for others, it takes longer. The best thing to do when this happens is to get out of bed and try to engage in some relaxing activity under dim light and comfortable conditions. Start reading a book, listen to music, drink some water if you're thirsty."
The most important advice for quality sleep is trying not to panic and remembering to take care of yourself. Be your own best Mary Poppins at bedtime.
"Make sure you're comfortable," Raymann says. "After a while, the sleepiness will kick in—and then it's time to go to bed again."
Emily Alford lives in Brooklyn, NY, and writes about beauty, food, and TV. Sometimes all at once. Follow her on Twitter @AlfordAlice.
Lately, it feels like we're increasingly pressured to fill our lives with more and more tech, embellishing everything we own with a touchscreen this or a "haptic feedback" that. But although it can be generally good advice to limit the amount of time we spend defining ourselves by our gadgets, sleep is one part of our lives that is largely out of our conscious control—which makes it ripe for the assistance of smart tech.
In our hunt for the almighty Z, sleep technologies are being introduced by the dozen, primarily offering ways to solve our largely tech-induced sleep problems, which is… both great and kind of devastatingly ironic. To learn more about which of these sleep products are nonsense and which can actually help you sleep better, we dove into the research, wore embarrassing blue-light filtering glasses in front of other humans, and spoke with a couple of leading experts in the field.
Below, you will find seven categories, in each of which is—in our opinion—the best option to help you sleep better based on consumer reviews, expert knowledge, and some in-person testing. At the end, you'll find a couple of product categories that, according to our research, don't really offer you help falling asleep, despite their claims.
We spoke with James Maas, Ph.D., a New York Times best-selling author, a former professor, and chairman of the board of psychology at Cornell. He consults on sound sleep practices for universities and businesses and runs an online resource for sleep optimization called Sleep for Success. Our second expert, Michael Breus, Ph.D., is also a best-selling author of sleep resources and a board-certified sleep specialist. He runs the online sleep resource TheSleepDoctor.com.
One resounding caveat for this category that both our experts noted: The most popular sleep tech—things like fitness trackers and smart watches—often claim to measure your sleep but aren't particularly accurate in doing so.
"These wearables supposedly measure your sleep based on movement, which isn't solely effective," Maas says. "You'd need a device that measures your heart rate and also brain waves."
To understand why brain waves are so important, we'll turn to The Promise of Sleep, by William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., a great intro to understanding sleep science. Dement explains that our ability to chart the brain's activity with equipment that measures brain waves absolutely changed the essential nature of sleep medicine—and that they’re the most accurate way to measure the true depth or phase of someone's sleep. But as Maas points out, heart rate is a close second.
The Fitbit Charge 2 doesn't tackle brain waves, but according to Fitbit, it does factor both heart rate and movement into its sleep tracking abilities. On top of that, according to a 2017 Brown University sleep analysis, heart rate-sensing Fitbit trackers measured the most accurately compared to a group of ten other wearables when compared to the clinically used AMI MotionLogger. So if you're looking for a tracker that factors in actual medical considerations for sleep tracking but won't make you shell out $500+, then the Charge 2 is a good option.
So are there sleep products that really offer medical, brain wave-centric, at-home tracking? Maas says that a new kid on the block, Dreem, is going to make waves in the industry by offering a consumer-attainable, brain wave-reading sleep tracker (and nope, he isn’t affiliated with the brand).
Dreem offers not only tracking data, but also some sleep coach tech and a smart alarm, which means that it’s equipped to tell you if you're hitting all of your sleep cycles throughout the night. But how would you even use this data to get better sleep, even if you were to shell out $500 for it?
"The actual numbers from sleep trackers may not be exact, but the night-to-night change is accurate—and arguably more important," Breus says. He emphasizes that all devices—both the top-notch and the movement-tracking ones—can be effective if you look at sleep trends in the aggregate. Compare your personal sleep-tracking numbers night-to-night (are you waking up often on colder nights? Are you taking longer to fall asleep when you didn't use a meditation app before bed?) and make notes. Once you get a handle on your sleeping patterns, you can at least be armed to distinguish problem nights and adjust your sleep habits.
Surprisingly, not all the light-related sleep products we tested were about filtering blue light (although we'll get to that in a sec). We stumbled onto a wealth of research done on a technology called "artificial dawn," which has made way for wake-up lights and smart alarms.
While many people might not notice much of a difference between a light alarm and a traditional alarm, it turns out that supplementing your alarm with light can help you sleep better. After testing a few brands ourselves, we settled on a just-released model in Philips' wake-up line called the Somneo.
The principle of artificial dawn is simple: Rather than just blast you awake with an ear-splitting siren, this light turns on roughly 30 minutes before the alarm, mimicking a natural sunrise to trick your body into easing out of deeper sleep phases. Once you've surfaced slightly from the light, an audible alarm can kick in and wake you from a lighter sleep phase. It offers a variety of built-in, gentle alarm sounds, an adjustable light level for waking and reading, an R&D-supported spectrum of light, and even a sunset-style bedtime mode that will play soothing sounds or guide you through breathing exercises. Bonus points: The thing looks kind of cool.
Sometimes the best tech is low tech, especially when it comes to something as simple as filtering light. Maas acknowledges that some of the screen-filtering software used on laptops or light-filtering bulbs might work (though a very recent study seems to show that one popular solution doesn't work), "but your best bet is to find a good pair of glasses that filter everything." It makes sense, because it isn't just your screen producing that pesky blue light—it's your lightbulbs, your smartwatch, and the blinking LED indicators scattered throughout your home.
Why is blue light bad? Well, it triggers your body to lock into a different circadian rhythm, often preventing you from feeling sleepy at night. Consumer Reports actually ran a test on the best goggles for effective light filtering in 2017 and determined that the best option happens to be a super affordable, sub-$10 pair of Uvex Skyper Goggles. They might look a bit silly, but popping these on an hour or two before bed could actually trick your brain into settling in for a snooze.
"Remember, the goal for sleep is to get your heart rate to 60 or below," Breus says. As a result, he says that meditation apps and breathing exercises can be hugely effective. The Somneo, mentioned earlier, has some breathing modes and bedtime sounds, and Breus recommends the iHome Zenergy device for a simpler option (which we found to be a bit expensive for the lack of additional features), but without a doubt, the most affordable way to achieve a more relaxed state is to use an app.
One beautiful option that'll also work via web browser is Headspace, an app developed by a team attempting to take the findings of in-person meditation studies—alongside some scientist partners—to teach you meditation exercises, which can help you fall into a natural sleep—without the help of a sleep aid.
We explored the world of smart pillows, which are just like your favorite pillow at home, except they can do tricks like track your sleep or stop you from snoring. Turns out, these tracker pillows are really are not that effective—which we'll touch on more in a minute—but there are pillows out there that can help you sleep better.
"Every time I'm in a store's pillow section, I see people squashing pillows with their hands," Maas says. "Why? You rest your head on a pillow, so that's what you really need to test in-store." Both doctors did recommend a firmer, more supportive pillow (one that doesn't flatten and isn't too squishy), because the neck-alignment inherent in firm pillows will help avoid middle-of-the-night strain. But they also cautioned that if you're someone who craves a softer pillow, trying out a style you just don't enjoy might make it take you longer to fall asleep. So listen to your personal preferences too.
When it comes down to it, the best thing a pillow can do is temperature regulation, which has more to do with the foam used to construct the pillows than anything else. The Coop Premium Adjustable Pillow checks both boxes: Because it's made up of shredded memory foam, it allows cool air to flow freely and allows you to adjust the filling to your desired firmness. If you can stay at an ideal temperature, chances are better than you can fall asleep faster—and stay asleep longer.
Perhaps the most critical factor to great sleep is the mattress, and as such, we could probably spend a whole article extolling the ins and outs of modern mattresses. And in fact, we did. But Breus touched on a concept for mattresses that led us to the Jupiter+.
"In general, most people can sleep on anything they think is comfortable," he says. Everyone has their preferences, but the Jupiter+ offers a reactive memory foam to give you catered support; a pretty well-reviewed, middle-of-the-night temperature regulation; and some (admittedly less accurate) built-in sleep tracking, all as a means to do the one thing that Breus says moves the needle: Customize your sleep.
As mentioned, take some of that tracking with a grain of salt, because you'll run into some similar issues as the wearable trackers above, but if you have a hell of a time sleeping, the temperature regulation and customizable firmness make this a tech-loaded mattress that is definitely worth a look.
And Some Tech to Avoid
Fitness trackers that don't measure heart rate
As mentioned earlier, the best way to actually, clinically measure sleep is to read your brainwaves via EEG machines. And while many fitness trackers can tap into the next best thing—your heart rate—fitness bands like Fitbit's entry-level Flex series, or the popular Jawbone Up and Up 2 trackers don't track heart rate (which is not to say they're not great for other things). As mentioned by Maas earlier, these trackers are just not reliable at tracking sleep, period. Relying on movement presupposes that someone who tends to toss and turn is always sleeping poorly. But both doctors and The Promise of Sleep say that's not always the case.
"Many people who move a lot in their sleep are actually doing so to try to regulate temperature, not because they're sleeping poorly," Maas says. In that case, the Fitbit Flex, for example, may register you as "awake" or "restless" when you could be at a relatively restorable level of sleep. These trackers are designed for fitness, and sleep is offered as a secondary feature… so it's best to take them with a grain of salt.
Of all the sleep products we researched, tech-loaded smart pillows seemed to be the least valid in terms of actual research. Neither expert recommended anything more than a nice, cooling, sweat-wicking pillow. What's more, these pillows seem to skip out on the foam construction and throw in a bunch of tech that is flat-out unnecessary to the primary functions of sleep: First, they too try to offer sleep-tracking via movement—which is super problematic.
Next, they claim to add "privacy speakers" so that only someone resting their head on the pillow can hear sounds being played. While Breus did say that soothing sounds have, in his experience, actually offered a profound effect on some people who have trouble sleeping, when you look at smart pillows like the Zeeq by REM-Fit, you'll see two issues: First, the Bluetooth connectivity is pretty suspect, and second, the thing costs an obscene $200 to accomplish something that a simple white noise machine or bedside speaker can offer for a quarter of that price.
Finally, the main feature these pillows seem to focus on is some sort of vibration-based snore alerting function. While this may be a noble (even relationship-saving) concept, the scope of this article is to help you sleep, not be courteous toward others.
And besides—snore-alerting tech seems to be achieved through a microphone inside the pillow that, based on consumer reviews, is just as easily triggered by background noise like a car alarm outside as it is by a snore. Instead, it's best to put your money toward an open-cell, sweat-wicking pillow that offers you a personal level of desired firmness.
Jason Schneider is a New York-based copywriter, musician, and redhead. When he isn't writing words on the Internet you can find him watching horror movies and trying his very best to avoid pizza. Follow him on Instagram (@jalanschneider) for new music and cat pics.