Health Sleep Awards 2021: 43 Products for the Best Sleep Ever

We’ve never had more products and technology designed to help us sleep better. And it looks like we’ll be needing them, considering that more than half of Americans reported an increase in sleep problems since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. But the isolation also served as a reminder to maintain our mental and physical health, which includes getting enough quality slumber. “Other than air and water, nothing is more important to immune function than sleep,” notes Michael J. Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist and clinical psychologist based in Manhattan Beach, California. During deep sleep is when our bodies boost our natural killer cells, which are crucial in fighting disease, he explains. Whether your bedroom could use a sleep-friendly update or your bedtime schedule needs a data-driven reboot, these are the innovative products experts swear by for better shut-eye. 

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Mattresses

These standout designs are the base on which a great night's rest is built.

Audio Devices

Whether it's silence, guided meditation, or white noise that makes sleep happen for you, these products will give you control over your audio environment.

Do I really need eight hours of sleep?

"If you're asking how much sleep we need on average, that's a reasonable answer. But does everybody need eight hours of sleep? The answer is most certainly no," says W. Chris Winter, MD, a neurologist and sleep expert based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Health Advisory Board member. "We create anxiety throwing that number around, because there are plenty of people who need less." If you regularly wake up feeling refreshed after seven hours and maintain that energy throughout the day, you've found the amount of sleep you need.

Mattress Toppers

Modern mattress toppers employ technology that's anything but fluff: The right one can regulate your bed's microclimate or add just the support you need to your existing mattress.

Sheets

There's more than thread count to consider when choosing sheets. The latest and greatest are woven to actively improve your sleep experience, whether you want your set to help dissipate body heat or envelop you in warmth.

Napping: Good or Bad?

Studies show that naps are anything but a waste of time—or a sign of laziness. Beyond reducing stress levels during the day, napping can strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems. "Napping can be a great tool to enhance alertness and productivity in the afternoon," says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a sleep scientist and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, who points to research that reveals that napping can even boost short-term memory and muscle memory. The key is to set your alarm and stick to it; 20 to 25 minutes is an ideal power nap (you'll avoid entering deep sleep and feeling groggy upon waking—or interfering with nighttime sleep patterns). On the occasional day where you're just totally beat, a longer nap is fine for playing catch-up. "If you're completely sleep-deprived from a long week of short sleep or a night of partial sleep deprivation, a 90-minute nap is recommended," she says. For the most benefit, time your nap about halfway between your morning wake-up time and your bedtime.

Sleep Trackers

Most sleep trackers don't come close to matching the results you'd get in a sleep lab. Still, experts like that they can attune you to your body's sleep rhythms and trends.

Should I try a sleep supplement?

If you've wheeled down the supplements aisle of the grocery store lately, you've likely noticed just how many sleep helpers there are. While there's science behind some, it's tricky to sort the proven from the unstudied. In the case of sleep disorders, doctors might incorporate supplements but will always recommend you work on your big-picture sleep routine first. "My main recommendations for people with insomnia are sleep-hygiene changes and cognitive behavioral therapy. But in certain situations, the two supplements that I will recommend are magnesium—which has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity—and a small dose of timed-release melatonin, especially for shift workers or people who are just trying to get back onto a regular sleep schedule," says Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, a certified sleep specialist in Arlington, Virginia.

Pillows

The perfect pillow is shaped for your sleep position: Side sleepers need a high profile, back sleepers benefit from medium, and stomach sleepers should stick to something slimmer.

Why do I snore?

For reasons ranging from environmental (allergies) to anatomical (the size/shape of your tonsils or tongue), there can be a temporary narrowing in your airway while you're in a sleeping position. The resulting vibrations or fluttering of airway and throat tissues are what cause those sounds we call snoring, says Jade Wu, PhD, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist and researcher at the Duke University School of Medicine. The fix can be as simple as changing your position. One trick: Stick a tennis ball in the back of a tight shirt to prevent yourself from rolling onto your back (prime snoring position). If your snoring remains loud and persistent, consult a doc for testing, as you might have sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder.

Snoring Aids

When snoring is a bother, these at-home helpers are a good starting point to guide you back to a better sleep.

Blankets & Comforters

Remember when your choices were comforter or quilt? Now you can wrap yourself in many textures, from a fuzzy self-heating cuddler to a weighted blanket without the excess heat.

Do I need a sleep study?

If you've already tried all the usual sleep-hygiene tips—sticking to a consistent schedule, getting enough activity during the day, and unplugging and dimming the lights before bed—but still struggle to sleep or feel drained rather than rested once you wake, then yes, you'd likely benefit from a sleep study. Also called polysomnography, this procedure will collect data via painless electrodes and can monitor a number of physiological parameters including eye movements, brain waves, and limb movement, says Vivek Cherian, MD, a University of Maryland internal medicine doctor specializing in integrative wellness and behavioral health. The noninvasive study will take place overnight at a sleep center (or, in some cases, at home using sensors you stick on yourself) and may reveal that you have one of 90 distinct sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless limb syndrome. You can talk to your primary care doctor about getting a referral or prescription.

Emerging Tech

These are the latest innovations that have sleep experts excited.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Health Magazine.

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