12 Expert-Approved Tips to Get a Better Night's Sleep
We get it, life is busy. but here’s something you should know: sleep used to be considered one of the three pillars of health and wellness, along with diet and exercise. Today, though, research points to sleep being the foundation to living a better life, says Terry Cralle, RN, certified sleep educator for the Better Sleep Council. Here, we review what to focus on in order to get the rest you need.
Block out noise
You may not recall the racket caused by yesterday’s midnight garbage pickup, but your body probably does. Even if you don’t wake up, noise can disrupt your slumber and cause restlessness, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in breathing patterns, explains Cralle. “These interruptions can lead to fragmented sleep, which makes it harder to reach the deeper, more restorative stages.” Earplugs are a great way to avoid disturbances. Try Mack’s Sound Asleep Soft Foam Earplugs ($6 for 12 pairs; amazon.com). They mold to the shape of your ear canal, filtering out noise almost completely. Another idea: Consider buying a fabric headboard or a plush rug to help minimize noises.
Take a whiff!
Creating a bedtime ritual that includes diffusing (a process of dispersing) essential oils 30 minutes before sacking out is a simple and effective way to cue the body to rest, says Sara Panton, essential-oil expert and cofounder of Vitruvi. Not only are there certain scents that encourage drowsiness, but the very act of setting up a routine helps signal to your brain that it’s time to start shutting off. Panton suggests this blend for ultimate rest: seven drops of lavender, four drops of frankincense, four drops of cedarwood, and two drops of bergamot. (Vitruvi Essential Oils, from $10 to $15 each; nordstrom.com).
Stay slightly chilled
Body temperature regularly fluctuates throughout the day—it’s usually at its highest in the afternoon and lowest in the early a.m. So if your room is hot, your body will work all night to cool down—and if you’re sweating, you’re more likely to wake up. The sweet spot: 65 degrees, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The easy-to-install Nest Learning Thermostat ($249; amazon.com) can help you keep the temperature just right.
Room stuffiness can hike nasal congestion and hinder your ability to breathe while you doze. Per a study in the journal Indoor Air, people who kept their window open overnight felt more alert the next morning than they did when it had been kept closed. If you live in a city and opening your window exposes you to noise, crack it open for 15 minutes during the day instead. No windows? No problem. Invest in a plant like a peace lily, which naturally purifies air.
Dim the lights early
Not only does light send “stay awake” alerts to the brain, it also has an effect on circadian rhythm, which controls your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, explains Lawrence Epstein, MD, assistant medical director of Brigham Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Brightness also stops the production of melatonin (the tired hormone), suppressing your sleep signal. While you likely kill the lights before you get in bed, you actually need to dim them much sooner. Switch from overhead lights to lamps around dinnertime to help your body wind down.
Find the right mattress
- The problem: You wake up with a sore back.
Consider: Purple Mattress, $999 for a queen; amazon.com
- Why: It’s made out of a supportive hyper- elastic polymer that is crafted in a honeycomb shape for maximum give-and-take. The unique construction allows heavier areas of your body—like your hips—to sink, while parts that need more support stay afloat. This makes it especially great for side sleepers.
- Extra perk: No need to hit up the store. Order your mattress online, and it will arrive on your doorstep a few days later—all rolled up. Just unroll and it’s instantly sleep-ready.
- The problem: You sweat all night long.
Consider: Serta iComfort Hybrid, starting at $1,099 for a queen; serta.com
- Why: This pick is the perfect blend of old- and new-school. The quilted top and innerspring center are reminiscent of a traditional mattress, but it also incorporates modern gel foam, which helps keep your body cool while you sleep.
- Extra perk: There are lots of variations—choose anything from a plush pillow-top model to something that’s super firm.
- The problem: Your partner’s tossing keeps you up.
Consider: Spindle Natural Latex Mattress, $1,350 for a queen; spindlemattress.com
- Why: This one is constructed out of three layers of 100 percent natural latex, which has an innate elasticity that allows it to absorb motion and impact well. That means your partner can toss and turn, and you won’t feel a thing.
- Extra perk: It’s American-made and composed of natural materials, including organic cotton and wool. The ethically sourced Eco-Wool wicks away moisture and creates a flame barrier sans chemicals.
Rest your head right
Below, Michael Breus, PhD, sleep specialist and founder of TheSleepDoctor.com, prescribes the best pillow based on your go-to position, plus editor-tested picks.
If this is your nighttime move, you’ll want to fill the space between your ear and shoulder, explains Breus. He suggests a medium-plump bolster (six or seven inches high) that keeps your nose aligned with your chest.
Try: Z by Malouf Gel Convolution Pillow in Queen High Loft, $108; maloufsleep.com. “The supportive gel core kept me cool and perfectly cradled my neck.” —Anthea Levi, assistant editor
"When you’re lying on your stomach, anything underneath your head lifts it backward and can cause lower-back problems,” says Breus. He recommends a thinner option that will keep your head, neck, and spine aligned while you snooze.
Try: The NIGHT Beauty Pillow in Standard/Queen, $150; discovernight.com. “This was the perfect height, and the silk encasement protected my hair and skin.” —Bethany Heitman, executive editor
Once again, it’s all about alignment. “You want a flatter pillow that won’t push your chin to your chest,” says Breus. “It can be firm or soft, as long as it’s low.”
Try: Isotonic Indulgence Back/Stomach Sleeper Pillow in Standard/Queen, $30; bedbathandbeyond.com. “It was squishy, hypoallergenic, and so snooze-worthy!” —Arielle Franklin, contributing senior editor
Skip that chocolate dessert
Whether it’s ice cream, brownies, cookies, or candy—all cocoa contains caffeine. Which means your nightly choco habit could be costing you precious z’s. If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, consider yogurt (high in muscle-relaxing magnesium) topped with fresh cherries (which contain melatonin).
Pass on the booze
Alcohol is a double-edged sword. Yes, that nightcap might initially help you doze off, but don’t be fooled—it reduces sleep quality, explains Dr. Epstein. That’s because while booze is linked to increasing certain sleepy feelings, it also causes you to wake up repeatedly, interfering with restorative sleep. Instead of pouring yourself a glass right before you hit the hay, take your last sips two hours earlier.
Put down your phone
In theory, a feature like Apple’s Night Shift is supposed to help reduce the impact of melatonin suppression (a.k.a. that wired feeling you get from staring at your phone) by enabling users to make screen light “more warm.” However, a study in the journal Lighting Research & Technology showed that changing screen color alone does not completely eliminate the impact on melatonin levels. Unfortunately, scrolling yourself to sleep is a bad idea no matter how you look at it. Just as with alcohol, it’s suggested that you try to avoid staring at any screen one to two hours before bedtime.
Think about what you brush with
Peppermint toothpaste and mouthwash might help bad breath in the morning, but it should be avoided at night. Minty flavors keep us alert, explains Cralle. Instead, opt for something milder, such as Weleda’s Calendula Toothpaste ($8; amazon.com). The fresh fennel taste makes you feel clean and calm.
Be careful with meds
Along with some cough and cold remedies, certain over-the-counter migraine medications are packed with caffeine and could be the culprit for keeping you up. Make sure you check the label and go for pain relievers without the stimulant.