The Best Lighting, Bedding, and Sleep Products for a Better Night's Rest

Still dreaming about the day you’ll finally sleep great? Experts share tips on navigating the five big factors of your sleep environment—light, sound, air, mattress, and bedding—and offer up several products that can help you get in the zone with your z’s.
By Petra Guglielmetti
August 06, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

You hear it all the time, in study after study: Sleep is critical to your health, energy levels, memory, mood, and metabolism. (Basically, sleep is life.) And there have never been more high-tech wellness products touting abilities to track, encourage, and/or enhance our shut-eye. Yet just 49 percent of people feel satisfied with their sleep, according to a 2020 Philips Global Sleep Survey of more than 13,000 adults. What’s still standing between us and our pillows? “Good sleep is like a puzzle,” says pulmonologist and sleep expert Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California. “Often, there’s one missing puzzle piece, and you’ve got to figure out what that is. It could be the sound or temperature in your home, the lighting, or the comfort of your bed.” The first step in ID’ing the missing piece(s) of your sleep puzzle is checking out this roundup of products that leading sleep experts swear by—for both their patients and themselves.

Different wavelengths of light help regulate our circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle. By day, we need plenty of the blue wavelength found in natural sunlight and bright light bulbs; this keeps us alert by suppressing the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. As evening approaches and the sun begins going down, we can cue melatonin release by mirroring that gradual dimming effect in our homes. “Light is a stimulant that tells your brain it’s daytime, so if you continue to see light well into the evening and before sleep, the brain stays alert, and that causes problems with falling asleep,” says Steven Lockley, PhD, a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist who researches sleep and circadian disorders. “Light also has a half-life, much like caffeine, where its effects carry on after exposure, so the light you see before bedtime will affect your sleep for at least a couple of hours and also impact how deeply you sleep.” If you tend to gaze at a smartphone or tablet in the hours before bed, use the blue-light filter or put your device in night mode, which reduces blue light; for TV watching, put on a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses. Once you’re under the covers, aim for total darkness (blackout shades are helpful); even a night-light or bright alarm clock can disrupt your sleep cycle. “Because they’re bright spots in the darkness, you can often see them even with your eyes closed,” Lockley says. Here are some highlights in sleep-enhancing light technology.

  • Manta Weighted Mask
    This sleep mask features cup contours over the eyes to avoid irritating your lids and lashes. The mask creates total-blackout conditions while applying gentle, even pressure to ease tension and anxiety as you drift off—like a weighted blanket for your eyes.
    $30
    SHOP IT
    Amazon
  • Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light
    This light/ alarm combination simulates sunset and sunrise to support your circadian cycle—especially if you wake up before the sun—and is packed with other sleep- enhancing features, all of which you can personalize via the SleeperMapper app. Experts also love its non-jarring morning alarm and ambient bedtime sounds and guided breathing exercises.
  • Bamboo Night Swannies Blue Light Blocking Glasses
    Watching hours of TV on a giant screen before bed is no good for melatonin levels, but expecting people not to do it isn’t realistic. Blue-light blockers are an easy fix. While lots of brands now offer clear-lens versions, Swanwick’s yellow lenses do a tremendous job of filtering out blue light.
    $70
    SHOP IT
    Amazon

Best Nonglare Alarm Clocks

Sleep doctors don’t want your phone anywhere near your bed, yet traditional digital clocks give off harsh light and sound. These will wake you up, not keep you up.

  • iHome Bluetooth Alarm Clock with Dual USB Charging and Nightlight
    It has plenty of high-tech features, yet its tweed-covered face filters out glare and the alarm is gentler than your phone’s buzzes and beeps.
  • Arne Jacobsen Alarm Clock
    his petite clock (just 4.5 inches tall and 4.25 inches wide) has an old- school bell alarm that can be silenced with a quick tap, and its LED touch sensor allows you to see the time at night.
    $140
    SHOP IT
    Amazon

Clearly, a partner’s snoring or a neighbor’s pounding music can be a sleep killer, yet a dead-silent bedroom can prove almost as disruptive for sensitive or anxious sleepers. “When you’re in complete silence, your hearing becomes more defined and your brain starts looking for sounds, so the slightest one can disturb your sleep,” explains Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist based in Manhattan Beach, California. Depend- ing on your preferences, options include nixing all noise by using comfortable-for- sleep earplugs or sleep headphones, or smoothing out the sound level by intro- ducing monotonous background noise. While research continues to delve into the sleep benefits of specific types of sound, there’s no need to get so scientific to reap good results. Any background noise that helps you fall asleep is fine—just choose what relaxes you, Dr. Dasgupta says. The key is sticking to uniform, uninteresting sound. Listening to a calming podcast or music can be a great way to release anxiety before you close your eyes, but avoid sleeping with these (or the TV) still on. If they play all night, your brain attends to those sounds, and this interferes with the quality of your sleep, says W. Chris Winter, MD, a Charlottesville, Virginia–based neurologist, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, and Health Advisory Board member. Here, some audio-centric product picks worth hearing about.

  • EarPlanes
    Stick to earplugs rated to block 33 decibels or less (any higher and you may not hear a home smoke detector going off at night). If you haven’t found a pair that feels good, give EarPlanes a try. “Because of the cone shape and silicone, these can be put pretty far into the ear canal without any risk of causing damage,” Breus says. “They also don’t get hot like soft memory-foam earplugs can.
  • Yogasleep Dohm Classic Natural Sound Machine
    Invented in 1962, this sound machine remains the favorite among sleep experts— it emits a fan-based white noise (like a large window fan, minus the rush of air), and you can adjust the volume and tone. “It’s analog instead of digital, which makes a better sound screen at lower decibels,” explains Janet Kennedy, PhD, a New York City–based clinical psychologist specializing in sleep disorders.
    $40
    SHOP IT
    Amazon
  • Kokoon Sleep Headphones
    You can sleep comfortably wearing these cushy headphones (unlike with most noise-canceling headphones), and they come equipped with a library of soundscapes and music developed by scientists, as well as sleep-tracking sensors that enable the audio to automatically adjust as you drift off to sleep. You can also use them to listen to your own audio sources.
    $350
    SHOP IT
    Amazon
  • Sound Oasis Bluetooth Sleep Sound Therapy System
    If you like falling asleep to nature sounds, this is an upgrade from the apps that can end up sounding annoying or distracting. “These sounds don’t repeat,” Dr. Winter says. “With some of the cheaper noise machines, if you listen to the sound of a babbling brook or the ocean, after a while you pick up on the pattern, almost like you’re singing along to a song.”
    $80
    SHOP IT
    soundoasis.com
  • BrainTap Sleep Rx
    These downloadable audio sessions use proprietary technology to balance brain waves for better sleep. The mix of music and spoken word also incorporates binaural beats—scientifically shown to trigger a slowdown in brain-wave activity by sending tones with slightly different frequencies to each ear at the same time.
    $10
    SHOP IT
    BrainTap Sleep Rx
  • Muse S Meditation Headband
    This headband allows wearers to seamlessly go from daytime use to bedtime prep by utilizing the Muse app and its Go-to-Sleep Journeys, responsive guided meditations that lull you to sleep. Biometric sensors provide real-time feedback on your brain activity, heart rate, and breathing.
    $38
    SHOP IT
    Amazon

Ambient conditions can have a real impact on sleep quality. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60 to 67 degrees, with about 50 percent humidity. Research shows that the quality of air you breathe all night long also matters. “Particulate matter and allergens may lead to inflammation and mucus production that disrupt sleep,” says Martha E. Billings, MD, a UW Medicine pulmonologist in Seattle. Regular dusting and vacuuming make a difference in removing particulate matter, as does replacing the filter in your HVAC system every three to six months. Fresh air helps, too; a 2015 study in Indoor Air: International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health showed that better ventilation in dorm rooms overnight improved alertness among college students the next day. Make it a habit to open the windows for a few minutes before bedtime to flush out volatile organic compounds and CO2. Also, those lovely linen sprays and scent diffusers may be more than just charming amenities. “At least two double-blind placebo studies have shown that lavender and ylang-ylang help with the muscular relax response, which can help you to fall asleep more easily,” Breus says. Research has also linked lavender aromatherapy to lower blood pressure and heart rate.

  • Dyson Pure Humidify
    Everything you need in one sleek package: An activated-carbon filter eliminates VOCs, HEPA filters capture 99.97 percent of allergens and pollutants as small as 0.3 microns, and the humidifier automatically maintains moisture levels in the air (with up to three days between fillings and an easy-clean design that prevents mold growth)
  • The Aera Touch Diffuser
    This machine circulates ultra-tiny scent molecules and keeps fragrance hypoallergenic and evenly distributed, plus it lets you customize the scent strength you prefer. Each essential-oil capsule, sold separately, lasts up to 800 hours.
    $150
    SHOP IT
    Amazon
  • Aura Cacia Lavender Aromatherapy Mist
    An easy, safe alternative to burning an aromatherapy candle at bedtime, this mist—made from 100 percent pure essential oils—can be spritzed right onto your sheets or pillow.
    $8
    SHOP IT
    Amazon

Good mattresses have always been expensive, but sleep experts say they’re worth the investment. “Your mattress is the most important health-care product in your home, one you probably spend more than 50 hours a week on,” says Terry Cralle, RN, a Washington, D.C.– based clinical sleep educator. “We need to shift our focus [on mattresses] away from just price points and to how important sleep is in our lives.” A good mattress eliminates pressure points and keeps your spine in a neutral position throughout various sleep positions— but can’t be expected to keep doing so indefinitely. “The dynamic between a mattress and our bodies is constantly changing,” Cralle says, who, like other experts, recommends getting a new one every seven to 10 years because worn mattresses lose support and comfort. “As we age, we lose subcutaneous fat and may sleep more comfortably on a softer surface than in the past,” she says. Thanks to fierce competition posed by the countless (some say more than 150) bed-in-a-box companies that have popped up since Casper arrived on the scene in 2014, technology has never been better, and most companies offer generous return/exchange policies, so you can test the goods without a showroom attendant awkwardly small-talking you. Here are some of our experts’ favorite picks that are worth considering.

  • Sleep Number 360 c2 Smart Bed
    Coming in at a more attainable price point than many smart beds, this one lets you select the firmness on each side, automatically responds and adjusts as you sleep, and syncs to a sleep-tracker app.
    $1000
    SHOP IT
    sleepnumber.com
  • Avocado Green Mattress
    This brand takes its organic label seriously, using GOLS organic-certified latex and GOTS organic-certified wool and cotton.
    $1400
    SHOP IT
    Avocado
  • The Nectar Memory Foam Mattress
    Voted one of the best mattresses for the money by the National Sleep Foundation, this medium-firm model isolates motion well and offers support for most body types and sleeping positions.
    $700
    SHOP IT
    Nectar
  • Simmons BeautyRest Black
    Combining the flexible support of innersprings with layers of pressure-point-reducing memory foam, this mattress is designed to maintain optimal spinal alignment and coziness for years to come. “You feel supported; you feel luxurious,” Breus says.
    $2100
    SHOP IT
    beautyrest.com
  • Tempur-Pedic Tempur-breeze°
    New tech for hot sleepers and steamy climates, this mattress actively cools your body for 20 minutes after you lie down. (Three breathable layers cycle heat and humidity away from your body instead of retaining it.) Select your model based on how cool you want your mattress to feel at night—3 or 8 degrees—and by firm or soft.
    $4000
    SHOP IT
    Tempur-Pedic
  • Luma Sleep Sweet Dreams Hybrid Topper
    If you don’t have the money to get the whole mattress right now, experience this brand’s comfort via a luxurious 3-inch-thick mattress topper—it’s reversible, so you can either choose the temperature-regulating natural latex on one side or flip it for the supple comfort of Serene memory foam on the other.
    $200
    SHOP IT
    lumasleep.com

Be honest: Do you even know how old your pillow is? Have you washed it lately? If the answers are no and no, you’re not alone. It’s important to pause and do a “bedroom audit,” as Cralle calls it. During daylight hours, consider whether each bedding item still serves you well or if you might benefit from a change (more breathable sheets, a pillow that won’t have you waking with a stiff neck). “A lot of people don’t stop and think about their sleep environment until they turn off the light, lie down, and realize they’re not totally comfortable. Then they stay in a nice hotel and experience how comfortable a bed can really be,” says Cralle. Your bed’s topper items are more than a surface concern: An ill-fitting sheet that slips off the mattress can rouse you several times a night, while a worn-out pillow will require fluffing into the wee hours. On the flip side, investing in an excellent pillow and/or mattress topper can elevate a bargain mattress. “Spend money on your pillow. The easiest way to take a $2,000 bed and turn it into a $200 bed is to put a $20 pillow on it,” Breus says. Meanwhile, back to that old-pillow question: You really should be buying a new one every two years, max. Here’s some of what’s new since you last shopped for bedding.

  • Yaasa Weighted Blanket
    People with ADHD, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and/or insomnia often benefit from the snuggling, companionship effect of a weighted blanket and the way it relieves tension in pressure points. Look for one that’s about 10 percent of your body weight. This blanket’s hand-knit design offers added breathability for overnight use.
    $250
    SHOP IT
    Yaasa
  • Bedgear Storm Series Pillow
    This brand’s pillows feature patented airflow technology that experts love. Choose from four heights meant to fit your body (a quiz guides you to the right one).
    $200
    SHOP IT
    Amazon
  • Everpillow Curve Side Sleeper
    This pillow is so customizable it comes with a drawstring bag full of extra fill, so you can adjust the loft and shape for perfect spinal alignment. Shredded latex offers a more natural-feeling alternative to popular shredded memory foam.
    $75
    SHOP IT
    infinitemoon.com
  • Cool-jams Cooling Bamboo Sheet Set
    “If you want added thermoregulation from your sheets, look for fabric that’s woven to have a wicking action, to pull moisture off the body,” Breus says.
    $160
    SHOP IT
    cool-jams.com
  • Brooklinen Percale Classic Core Set
    Bedding that’s made from 100 percent cotton is naturally breathable and temperature-regulating, plus can be washed at high temperatures to nix dust mites and other allergens and irritants. Percale is a weave that feels nice and crisp yet cozy.
    $125
    SHOP IT
    Brooklinen

Tech Support

The sleep industry is embracing cutting-edge technology to help you get a better night’s rest. While these products aren’t yet tried and true, they give you a glimpse into your sleep future.

  • Ebb CoolDrift
    This wearable device literally chills out your anxious thoughts—by cooling your brain. “The data on it is absolutely spectacular,” Breus says. “It’s the best sleep technology I’ve seen come out in a long time.”
    $400
    SHOP IT
    Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • ChiliPAD Sleep System
    Utilizing hydropower (water), this sleep system—mattress pad, thermal-regulating control unit(s), and a remote—operates between 55°F and 115°F, helping encourage quality, restorative sleep.
    $600
    SHOP IT
    Amazon
  • Eight Sleep Pod and Carbon Air Pillow
    The Pod is a smart mattress that features automated heating and cooling, with custom temperature on each side. The Carbon Air Pillow uses carbon- infused foam to dissipate heat and increase airflow so it stays cool.
    $2600
    SHOP IT
    eightsleep.com
  • The Dreampad
    A battery-free pillow equipped with a vibrational sound system that only you can hear. It connects to the Dreampad music app on your phone or tablet via Bluetooth or an included cord.
    $150
    SHOP IT
    dreampadsleep.com

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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