This article is a part of CNN Underscored’s Guide to Sleep, a week-long focus on everything you need to sleep better. We’ll be featuring new products and exclusive deals all week, so check in every morning to see what’s new.
Sleep isn’t for the weak — in fact, it’s for the physically and emotionally strong. Unfortunately, sleep is pretty tough to come by when you consider the myriad environmental and lifestyle factors that prevent us from winding down at night. “Sometimes they have to do with poor ‘sleep hygiene’ like napping too much during the day, drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime or scrolling our phones while attempting to sleep,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind.
In case you needed more of a reason to tuck yourself in earlier or aim for better quality of sleep, Dr. Babak Larian, clinical chief of the division of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and co-founder of MDbio, says, “At night, your body effectively starts to turn off its sensors to give itself a chance to organize and store all the stimuli from the day itself. This powering down allows you to reorganize information and give it a rest from all that information. That’s why you need to sleep well in order to form solid memories, learn well and feel your best.”
He adds that sleep also provides an opportunity for your organs to rest so they can continue to work efficiently while you’re awake. Without ongoing proper sleep, he says you’re also more prone to developing mental health issues like depression, with an increased risk of contracting heart disease, kidney diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes or stroke.
This isn’t to scare you (we’ll save that job for the boogeyman or bed bugs) — it’s to empower you to take control of your health. Here are 21 expert-approved items help you wind down at night and drift off to sleep.
For an adult-friendly lullaby, look to the ever-popular Calm app that Hafeez recommends for its guided meditations, stretching sessions, relaxing music playlists and sleep stories for adults from celebrities like Matthew McConaughey. Based on findings from the brand, over three-quarters of Calm subscribers who use the app more than five times a week saw improvements in mental health, stress reduction and sleep quality.
Headspace, an Underscored-editor favorite app, is an excellent meditation tool for beginners. With guided meditations that can aid with sleep, anxiety, depression and more, it guides you through each session with verbal cues and beautiful visualizations. You can read more about meditating here.
Fitness trackers are about tracking so much more than your steps; they can also track your hours slept. Hafeez appreciates how Fitbit’s newest incarnation, the Sense 2, helps users understand their sleep patterns so they can make decisions during the day that positively influence their sleep. “It shows how long a person sleeps during the night and how much time was spent in light, deep and REM sleep,” she says, adding that it consolidates this information into a sleep score. “It also has a Smart Wake Alarm whose purpose is to wake users up at the ideal stage of sleep.”
Your mind might be in the right place, but if you’re overheated, all bets are off. “Your body temperature affects how well you sleep. Sweating during the night is not conducive for a good night’s sleep,” Hafeez says. “For those who tend to get hot, cooling bedding is a good option. These sheets are designed for their temperature control abilities and are moisture-wicking.” That’s why she recommends the fan-favorite PeachSkinSheets set that comes in eight sizes and 23 calming colors like Lavender Mist and Butter Cream.
Even a glimpse of your neighbor’s living room lights or the sound of noisy conversation can leave you tossing and turning. “Many people say how well they sleep in hotel rooms and one factor is that virtually every hotel has blackout curtains,” Hafeez says. “For people who live in a big city facing the street, there can still be a considerable amount of light that shines through at night and even in the early morning hours. In order to have an optimal sleep situation, you want it as dark as possible.”
For this reason, Hafeez recommends Amazon Basics’ blackout curtains, which are made of 100% polyester and a triple-weave fabric designed to block out light and diminish any intrusive noise from outside.
Ever notice how a rapid heart rate keeps you feeling amped and alert? Wind down with Dodow, a wireless device that encourages slow breathing to help you unwind. Read our review of it here.
“It projects a gentle beam of blue light that contracts and expands for eight minutes,” Hafeez explains. “The idea is that you breathe in rhythm with the light, inhaling on the expansion and exhaling during the contraction. This gradually slows your breathing to six breaths per minute, therefore putting you in a relaxed state, all while fixating on the blue light to help calm any mental chatter.”
Instead of layering on several blankets, stay cool with the Honeywell DreamWeaver fan. “We sleep more soundly in the cold, as our ancestors did in the winter when the nights were longer,” says Larian. Along with a constant stream of oscillating or pivoting air and four light settings, the Honeywell DreamWeaver dispels “pink noise,” which blends soft and high frequencies evocative of natural noise to lull you to sleep.
If you’re hopped up on caffeine the entire day, it’s best to switch gears come nighttime — especially if you experience any gastrointestinal discomfort, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of betterthandieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table.” “If you regularly lose sleep to an upset stomach, you might want to consider adding a relaxing mug of chamomile tea to your bedtime routine,” she says. “Not only is it hydrating, but its soothing warmth could relax you and ease any gastrointestinal disturbances before bed.” Celestial Seasonings’ chamomile tea bags boast a pleasant, herbal aroma you’ll love making part of your nighttime routine.
Circadian rhythms might sound like something you’d hear in an orchestra, but as your body’s “internal clock,” they’re actually worth regulating when you’re looking to simmer down. “Evolutionarily speaking, our sleep exists to coincide with the day and night cycle and the cycle of day and night as the seasons change,” Larian says. The Hatch Restore allows you to program your own sleep routine complete with white noise, nature sounds and meditations to help you relax, and an alarm that mimics sunrise to gently ease you into the day ahead. It also offers sleep stories so you never have to look at a bright screen before bed again.
“Stress and anxiety are the No. 1 killers of sleep and can create a vicious cycle that creates more stress and anxiety,” says Larian. If you’re going to be snacking throughout the day anyway, nosh on something that’s designed specifically to help alleviate stress and therefore help you sleep, such as this scientist-designed MyAir cocoa truffle bar made with sleep-inducing ingredients like cranberries, hazelnuts, hops, oats and lavender. To prevent any acid reflux, be sure to consume the bar no later than a couple hours before bedtime.
Parking yourself in front of the TV with a big bowl of popcorn at night might sound like a dream scenario, but it’s not exactly a dream for, well, your dreams. “You might be eating too much before bedtime and that could keep you from getting enough shut-eye,” says Taub-Dix. “Eating right before bed or close to it could act as a stimulant, especially if you have foods that provide lots of sugar, fat or caffeine. Those who have reflux are particularly impacted by big bedtime snacks.”
Instead, keep your hands busy with this anxiety-eliminating coloring book featuring whimsical landscapes. As a form of art therapy and active meditation, you might find the coloring book primes you for drifting off.
If you’re nuts about nuts, they may be worth introducing into your routine for a better night’s sleep, according to Taub-Dix. “Almonds contain tryptophan, the amino acid that produces two neurotransmitters: melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin works to keep your body clock regulated, and serotonin helps smooth your mood. They also contain calcium, magnesium and protein, all of which you should be looking for when seeking slumber.” This Kirkland Signature mixed nut selection contains almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios that taste as great mixed into salads or cereal as they do by the handful.
Cheese? As an expert-backed sleep solution? We’ll take it. Taub-Dix explains cheese is loaded with calcium, magnesium and tryptophan, all of which are necessary for a good night’s sleep. She recommends selecting a cheese with a lower fat content since too much fat can keep you awake at night.
It’s time to retire the ragged PJs you’ve been wearing since college and slip into something more comfortable, such as Richer Poorer’s Fleece Crew Set. Both the crew and sweatpants come in sizes XS to XL in several cool and calming hues like Blue Night, Sage and Cornbread. While the fleece lining will indeed keep you feeling cozy throughout the night, you won’t overheat, thanks to its loose-fitting recycled polyester fabric. Bonus: Throw an oversized blazer over the set the following day and no one will have a clue you’re wearing the same outfit you slept in.
If you often rely on a night cap to get you primed for bed, Larian makes a case for skipping it or finding an alternative: “Alcohol may put you to sleep but will often keep you from getting good, deep sleep,” he says. “This is similar to how many sleeping medications work — they put you to sleep but may not help you stay asleep.” With Surely Wines’ top-rated sauvignon blanc sourced from Sonoma Valley and infused with pear and guava, you get to enjoy your same nightly wine ritual without the sleepless night and potential hangover.
If your first instinct is to jog those nighttime jitters away, Larian says that might not be your best solution: “Working out late at night releases hormones and triggers certain biological responses that can make it very difficult to fall asleep,” he says. To both get you moving while inducing a sense of calm, grab the Manduka ProLite yoga mat made with a dense yet cushiony PVC material that protects the joints from impact. It measures 71 inches long and 4.7 millimeters thick, and it’s available in 12 cool colors like Dark Deep Sea and Paisley Purple. Before you know it, you’ll be eight hours deep into shavasana.
Hafeez cites “a room that has poor lighting or blue lights emanating from cell phones or computers” as one of the biggest deterrents of sleep. While turning off our phones just before bed isn’t realistic for some of us (*insert obligatory timeline scroll*), you can mitigate some of the harm with blue-light-blocking reading glasses. Ray-Ban’s universally flattering nonprescription glasses block blue light that negatively impacts our circadian rhythms, provides complete UV protection and blocks uncomfortable glare that keeps you up at night. With a versatile tortoiseshell frame, they’ll flatter every outfit — even your PJs.
‘Let That Sh*t Go: A Journal for Leaving Your Bullsh*t Behind and Creating a Happy Life’ by Monica Sweeney
We often go to bed with unfinished business, planning to take care of it the morning after. “There are also psychological issues that come into play before bedtime,” says Hafeez. “If you had an unresolved altercation with your partner, that is going to rev up your adrenaline and make it difficult to sleep. If you have a long to-do list for the next day swimming around in your head, it’s best to put that on paper well before bedtime so that your mind is clutter-free.” Grab this positivity journal with a snarky spin on it that’s (spiral)bound to help you parse through complicated emotions through exercises, lessons and coloring activities. While it won’t replace guidance from a mental health care professional, it’s a productive (and glare-free!) activity worth introducing into your bedtime routine.
Lavender is so much more than a pretty face (er, flower): It’s actually proven to help you wind down too. Research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine found that lavender possesses compounds like inalool and linalyl that calm the nervous system. For an instant rush of Zen, spritz this popular Thisworks spray infused with lavender, vetiver and chamomile onto your pillow before bed.
You’ve heard of weighted blankets — but weighted robes? Looks like the year 3022 is calling, and we are here for it. Built with a removable 3-pound collar weight, the Gravity Weighted Robe provides deep touch pressure at the neck, chest and upper back areas to soothe sore muscles that may be contributing to sleep-robbing stress. It comes in three colors, including navy and gray; it comes in sizes small to extra large; and it’s made of a soft fleece material you’ll never want to take off.
Your professional life might be getting in the way of your sleep in more ways than you might realize. “Especially with more people working from home, folks are using their bed for more than just sleep and using it as an extended home office,” says Hafeez. “The bed should be confined for sleeping and romance.”
To create a better work-life balance, carve out a small, dedicated nook in your home for work duties with the Elephant in a Box Working Sofa. The two-seat sofa measuring 83.5 inches includes a 38-inch-wide pullout desk in your choice of the right or left (or both) sides. The sofa, available in gray or navy blue, is built on a honeycomb-structured foundation that’s said to be incredibly durable and long-lasting. While the sofa provides a great opportunity to separate sleep from work, there’s nowhere in the manual that says you can’t use the couch for a cat nap once in a while.