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It's a new year and new you — but chances are high you face some challenges when it comes to getting to sleep, and staying that way. A 2018 survey from Consumer Reports found that of the nearly 1,800 U.S. adults surveyed, 80 percent "report problems with sleep at least once a week," and 50 percent reported "trouble staying asleep."
But we aren’t just sitting idly by letting the sleepless nights add up. Americans are actively searching for secrets for how to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. In 2015, Americans spent an estimated $41 billion on sleep aids and remedies, and that’s expected to grow to $52 billion by 2020, Natana Raj, an analyst with BCC Research in Wellesley, Massachusetts, told Consumer Reports.
164 million Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week.
While popping a pill may sound promising to us sleep-deprived, walking zombies, there is little evidence to show that sleeping pills actually add very much shut eye to your daily count, not to mention the dangerous side effects that can occur from misuse.
That being said, there are some sleep trackers, sleep apps and natural sleep aids that can make dozing off — and staying asleep — a little bit easier. Here are some of our top picks:
"In order to create a conducive sleep environment we want it as dark as possible and the blackout curtains will block out warming light for people who are sleeping when the sun is shining, or in the summer when it starts to get light earlier. Street lights and city lights can also interfere with sleep," says Dianne Augelli, MD, a sleep physician at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. "We generally want our rooms to be dark, quiet and cool. The idea is to use the blackout curtains so that your sleep isn’t disturbed prior to your wake time. So if you’re someone who is getting up at 7:30 a.m., but it’s already light at six, that extra light may cause awakening that can fragment your sleep."
If you live in an urban location, or have some loud neighbors, that's even more incentive to consider a new set of curtains. The Eclipse curtains aren’t only a decorative accent in the bedroom, they block over 99 percent of intrusive light and reduce unwanted noise — making your sleep more restful.
It’s not just the light coming from our devices, but other lights in the room, that can keep you awake.
“I advise turning down the lights in your home towards the end of the day," says Dr. Apostolos Lekkos, found of Bios Functional Medicine. "Lower light levels can help promote your natural melatonin production — your sleep hormone.”
C-Sleep is a blue tooth enabled light bulb that supports your body's natural sleep cycle by emitting a calm light at night and vibrant light in the morning. You can instantly dim or brighten the bulb, without even having to get out of bed, thanks to a handy app. Plus, you can create schedules and groups to control multiple bulbs at the same time.
We've all been there: We're awakened from our sleep by the heat, and rustle around kicking off our socks and tossing the comforter to the floor. You curse your partner who insists on keeping the air off because they're always cold. What if we told you there is a sheet for that?
The Temperature Regulating Sheet Set is the ultimate solution for “thermally incompatible” couples. It uses the Outlast fabric technology, which was developed for NASA to deal with temperature fluctuations in space. The "phase change" fabric absorbs and stores excess heat from your body. When you cool off, it releases the heat back to your body to maintain a consistent temperature all night long.
"We definitely want you to be cool when you're sleeping. If you're too hot and you feel that the particular sheets that you have are making you too hot, then you can consider a different type of sheet," says Dr. Augelli. "Some people will swear by [temperature regulating sheets], others will notice no change. But people need a more breathable sheet. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 200-400 thread count sheets, which allow some air movement."
This set from Sharper Image clocks in at 300 thread count — so if you find yourself waking up sweating at night, they are worth a try.
Philips SmartSleep, which connects to your home Wi-Fi, helps improve your sleep quality and helps you learn how the environment of your bedroom affects your rest. You'll be interacting with its proprietary app SleepMapper to document and receive feedback on some of your behaviors.
“The best cure for being unable to fall asleep is utilizing a sleep tracker which is available through many apps," says Lindsey Huttner, LCSW, psychotherapist, located in Queens, NY. "In the app you will document when you get into bed, approximate the time you fall asleep, how long you sleep, and how many times you woke and for how long. The app will then 'prescribe' how much sleep you should aim to get."
In addition to tracking your sleep patterns, SmartSleep works with its companion app to track and monitor your bedroom's temperature, noise, light and humidity levels. The light it emits is designed to ease you out of sleep in a healthy and productive way.
While Augelli is hesitant to recommend trackers that record sleep time (and unrest) due to a lack of evidence and accuracy, she does say that tracking your sleep patterns can be helpful for some.
"They will give you some idea of your sleep, but they aren’t really able to tell the difference between [REM sleep and deep sleep] with the technology that’s available on them," she says. "It can be helpful if you’re tracking your number of hours of sleep and making sure you get adequate sleep and that you’re going to sleep around the same time. That can be a problem with a lot of people, just not sleeping enough hours. If you’re not getting your seven hours of sleep then this can help track for that."
The Versa 2 is optimized with a sleep mode to mute troublesome notifications. It also provides you with a Sleep Score, a simple way to see how you slept the night prior based on the metrics it's detecting, from sleep time to wakefulness and duration of sleep. Essentially, you'll gamify your sleeping habits to improve them.
Your sky-high stress levels may be to blame for all the tossing and turning, but that lumpy pillow sure isn't helping the cause. Before you run to Bed Bath and Beyond and grab a new one, consider investing in a pillow that works double duty. The Eden Pillow is designed to provide you with better quality sleep. And the gel-infused memory foam and microfiber fill are blended to offer cooling properties.
If you just can't seem to part with your nightly Netflix ritual, “you should wear blue light blocking sunglasses while watching television,” advises Dr. Lekkos.
"There are some small studies that show that the time it takes to fall asleep has been reduced for people who wore the light blocking glasses for several hours before bedtime," adds Augelli. "What you want to do ideally, is put away all your work and phone an hour before bed, in the process of your wind down routine. But if you have to work, you want to employ whatever you can to reduce the amount of impact it will have. Blue light blocking glasses reduce exposure to blue light that suppresses melatonin, which is our natural hormone that helps with sleep; the decrease in melatonin can prevent you from falling asleep."
The glasses filter out the high energy visible (HEV) blue-violet light from backlit screens, helping to ease the disruption is has on your sleep cycle. Keep a pair next to your bed, ready to grab and slip on when you get sucked into that late-night "Friends" marathon.
"For some people sound is soothing and relaxing and helps deactivate them for sleep," says Augelli. "Some of them will act to cover up other environmental noise, so in those cases it can be helpful, you just want to make sure there is no big change in frequency of that sound. (For example, on the TV when there’s a commercial that’s much louder.) We generally recommend white noise machines because they are pretty stable, but it is helpful for some people to deactivate if they hear something very soothing and that’s part of their wind down routine and they feel comfortable with that."
The Marpac Dohm's natural white noise is emitted by its built-in fan, rather than relying on digital recordings. You can choose between two speed options and adjust its tone and volume to reach the perfect level of white noise for you.
According to Michael Gelb, DDS, MS, co-author of the new book "GASP!: Airway Health - The Hidden Path to Wellness," more than half of us struggle with breathing through our noses. This struggle often results in snoring. And even if you're part of the lucky half who has no problem breathing at night, there's a good chance your partner's issues are affecting your quality of sleep. Time to trade in the shaking and kicking for tossing a Mute Snoring device their way.
By holding open the nasal airways like a stent, Mute helps noisy snorers and poor nasal breathers by increasing airflow in the nose. You can individually adjust the device for each nostril, so it's comfortable while you sleep. And user trials are promising: 75 percent of people reported less or much less snoring while using Mute.
If you’re prone to checking email, or watching Netflix, on your laptop in bed at night, you may want to have your computer screen follow suit with reducing blue light. “You can run apps like f.lux on your laptop or computer that will automatically change the screen color as the day goes on,” says Lekkos.
Like Night Shift, f.lux uses your location to synchronize your computer with the rising and setting of the sun. At night, f.lux slowly adjusts the colors on your computer screen to a warmer hue that's supposed to be less abrasive on the eyes (especially if you're in an otherwise dark room) and helps reduce your exposure to that blue light that keeps you awake.
"Any platform that will reduce the amount of blue light that is emitted from your electronic devices will be helpful," says Augelli. "I definitely recommend employing them."
11. CBT-i Coach App
“Smartphone apps aren't adequate substitutes for assistance from a professional but they can be helpful adjuncts to treatment for those who wish to track sleep time and quality or for promoting greater physical relaxation before bed,” says Joel Minden, Ph.D,, clinical psychologist at the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. "CBT-i Coach is nice because it includes a sleep diary. One of the most effective treatments for insomnia is sleep restriction therapy, and tracking sleep data is an important part of the process.”
The app was designed for those who have experienced symptoms of insomnia and are looking to improve their sleep habits. It guides users through the process of learning about sleep, developing a better sleep routine and improving sleep environments. Plus, it has a structured program that teaches strategies proven to help alleviate symptoms of insomnia.
In fact, one study found that 60 percent of doctors who used the app in conjunction with treatment for insomnia found it favorable in encouraging people to adhere to instructed techniques.
While you're staring at the ceiling at 1 a.m., ever think back to those wonderful days when your mom would read you a story and you'd be out cold two pages in? Well, maybe a little bedtime story is in order. Enter: Calm, a top-rated meditation app that recently launched a new feature to the platform called "Sleep Stories," which are essentially bedtime tales for adults.
You may recognize some of your storytellers: Matthew McConaughey narrates one about the mysteries of the universe, childhood favorite LeVar Burton take us on a journey across the solar system, and Steven Fry (the narrator of all 7 "Harry Potter" books) takes us through the lavender fields of France.
13. Night Shift, iPhone Feature
“Way too many people are on their smartphone, tablet, reading device or watch TV just before going to bed. What people do not realize is that there is a blue light that is emitted from these devices that (when it hits the back of the eye) will stimulate brain waves that promote our 'awake' state of mind, thus making it very difficult to fall and stay asleep,” says Lekkos. “Many smartphones now have the 'Night Shift' feature that you can turn on to block this blue light.”
To enable the feature on your iPhone, go to Settings, Display & Brightness, and then schedule Night Shift for the hours you will be winding down for bed (and sleeping). By doing this, you're telling your phone to move the color spectrum from cooler (blue) towards warmer (yellow) to limit your exposure to sleep-disrupting blue light at night. It will then readjust the tones in the morning when the sun rises.
More sleep and wellness guide from BETTER
- Best 9 pillows for every type of sleeper 2020
- How to fall asleep faster, according to sleep doctors
- Why Lack of Sleep Is Costing Us Billions of Dollars
- 8 Sleep Mistakes You Can Fix Tonight