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We all know how critical sleep is to our wellness, but still, one in three Americans struggle to get enough restorative shut-eye every single night, according to the CDC. Figuring out the reason is a crucial first step, and thankfully one you can make on your own with a little know-how.
Experts recommend keeping a sleep journal to get to the root of any sleeping issues. "Most people will say 'I had another bad sleep last night,' and that's it, they don't ask themselves 'why did I have a bad night of sleep last night?,'" explains Dr. Pietro Luca Ratti, MD, Ph.D., a sleep expert and Neurologist for WhatAsleep.
Put pen to paper. Eventually, you'll discover what disrupts you — and then you can go about fixing it, he adds. Here are the common culprits keeping you awake, and the most innovative products that will have you sleeping easy again in no time.
The Culprit: Light
Not only can light distract you from sleep, but devices emitting high intensities of blue wavelengths can be detrimental to you body’s natural sleep cycle. “Blue light is generally considered a cold light and relatively ‘bad’ for skin and sleep since it excites and activates the brain, disrupting melatonin and circadian rhythms,” explains Rahul S. Mehendale, Managing Director, Future of Health at Deloitte. Gentler and warmer wavelengths of yellow and orange are better for sleep, he adds, and if a device’s blue light wavelength is under 1 lux (compared to a screen which is over 70 lux), you should be in the clear — so always double-check when purchasing a product.
That said, one smart way to use the right type of light to your advantage is a smart bulb! This C-sleep bulb by GE ($20 for two) features three distinct settings — for morning, midday, and evening light — to help the body maintain its natural sleep/wake cycle and prepare for sleep. The bedroom light is warm and calm, then transitions to a vibrant and crisp hue in the morning. You just sync your bulbs with the app and the transition happens automatically, like magic, supporting your circadian rhythm for a well-rested and productive day.
Lights from electronics can definitely throw off your sleep game. "Even the light from your alarm clock can affect your sleep," says Thanuja Hamilton MD, of Advocare Sleep Physicians of South Jersey. Thankfully there’s now a solution beyond tossing that clock in the bin. Dim It Dimming Sheets will dim that light while still allowing you to see the time in the dark.
These are super easy to use. Just cut to size and apply to any dry surface you want dimmed — your clock, “on” switches of fans, TVs and cable boxes, even baby monitors — the static cling is easily removable and it’s great for travel, too, since those hotel room clocks can be blinding!
I’ve been using a light mask like this for years, and it’s been a lifesaver for those nights my husband reads late into the night, or days where I can’t seem to unwind.
The Glo to Sleep Therapy Mask by Sound Oasis lulls you to sleep with a light show that slows your brain’s electrical activity, much like meditation or self-hypnosis, helping you stop those repetitive and worrying thoughts. You just gaze into a focal point of pulsing lights and it ramps down in your choice of 10, 20 or 30 minutes. The mask blocks out external light that can keep you awake, or wake you up too early.
I’m not a fan of meditation, so I love that I can get the benefits without a dedicated class, any previous training — or any effort whatsoever! And I love that I’m out like a light in no time!
The Culprit: Sound
It’s not so much the noise itself, but the changes in frequency that can keep startling you awake — like a dog barking, a car door closing, a truck whizzing by … or a snoring partner, explains Dr. Hamilton. Experts recommend a sound machine to help mask any extraneous noise, but there's an important rule of thumb.
"Opt for a fan or white noise machine over jungle or forest sounds that might disrupt your sleep with sounds of birds," adds Hamilton. One fan favorite with over 12,000 positive reviews on Amazon is the Dohm Classic, a fan-based natural white noise machine that features the soothing sound of rushing air, but without the disturbance of an actual moving fan. It’s non-digital, non-looping, all-natural, and offers two speeds so you can adjust tone and volume. During the day many are also enjoying it in their home offices to drown out their kids’ chatter!
The Culprit: Environment
If your bedroom isn’t a comforting space, you’re going to have a tough time relaxing. "Create an environment you enjoy and can't wait to be in," says Dr. Ratti.
It's easier than you think to make your space an oasis. For one, spring for blackout curtains which experts agree can help minimize distractions like light, drafts and even sound. Nicetown Thermal Insulated Blackout Curtains have over 50,000 positive reviews on Amazon!
Are you waking up just to flip your pillow over? Well, science does show that cooling your head is the best way to achieve a good night’s sleep.
I love the newest categories of pillow hybrids that offer a two-in-one experience. This Comfort Revolution pillow — with over 10 million sold! — features premium memory foam that adapts to your head and neck, while the blue bubble gel layer keeps you cool-headed in comfort the entire night.
The Culprit: Anxiety / Restless Mind
"Oftentimes, those struggling to sleep start to worry about what might happen if they do not fall asleep, for instance, 'if I do not fall asleep right now, I’ll only get five hours then I’ll be exhausted,' or 'if I’m tired tomorrow, I will have a terrible work day,' and once these fears of failing with sleep begin, people then do what most people do when they get nervous about performing — they try harder, explains Dr. Lisa Medalie, a board-certified Insomnia Specialist and creator of DrLullaby.
While this can work in other areas of life (if you fear failing a test, you study more, then improve your grade) it's unfortunately the opposite for sleep — the harder you try, the less likely you are to sleep! So how can you quiet both your body and your mind when you’re knee deep in the rabbit hole of anxiety?
Dodow is a metronome with a light system that teaches you how to fall asleep naturally. Simply tap the touchpad for a 8- or 20-minute session. A blue light projects onto your ceiling and you then begin synchronizing your breath. Breathe in as it expands, and exhale when it retracts. The exhale is longer and intentional, helping to create the feeling of fatigue that leads to sleep. Studies have found that taking you from 11 to 6 breaths per minute can bring you to a state of rest quickly. That, coupled with this distracting, yet soothing, activity takes a weight off your mind too.
Scents can trigger feelings of happiness, alertness, help you recall your to do list – and it can help you fall asleep too. Aromatherapy is scientifically backed — adding essential oils to your bedtime routine might help you drift off faster.
One cult favorite option with over 11,000 positive reviews on Amazon is thisworks’ Deep Sleep Pillow Spray – the signature blend of essential oils (including lavender, chamomile and Vetivert) is proven to help you fall asleep. This rich leather and earthy scented oil, which in a study increased the quality of exhalation and decreased inhalation when sleeping study participants detected it, may help ensure a more restful snooze.
If you struggle with anxiety, you may want to consider a therapeutic blanket and here’s why. Weighted blankets offer gentle pressure across your body that feels like a warm hug, releasing feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin right into your body!
This weighted blanket from Layla checks all the boxes with 300 thread-count cotton, custom weights based off of your own weight, and glass beads sewn between two layers of batting to keep it quiet as a mouse while you’re sleeping. It’s designed just right — slightly smaller than the size of your mattress to prevent it from falling off overnight.
And for those of us missing a warm ‘big spoon’ snuggle, a cozy sleep robot might be able to temporarily fill in. The fresh-to-the-market Somnox Sleep Robot guides your breathing to help you relax and wind down for a productive night of sleep. While holding the robot, you feel the rhythm that it produces and you’ll begin to unconsciously adapt your own breathing to it! This can reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, shown to be optimal for hibernation.
Slow-paced music encourages a meditative state — this technology also detects your breathing and motion to optimize your sleep should you become restless overnight. How’s that for a sleep companion that doesn’t snore or have morning breath?
Experts also recommend avoiding stimulants like coffee, alcohol and sweets in the evening. Eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion, and even some healthy foods like broccoli and cauliflower can disrupt sleep by causing gas, explains Dr. Hamilton. Set yourself up for success by keeping electronics out of the bedroom and making sure to log off an hour or so before bed. You’ll also want to keep a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends!
A sleep journal will really help you narrow down your perfect routine. Dr. Medalie recommends 'hypothesis testing,' and making changes one at a time so you can be sure you’ve found the right solution.
Finally, it’s critical to get to the root of the problem instead of patching together temporary solutions that will just snowball you into deeper sleep deprivation issues. "Typically when faced with trouble sleeping, people start to try different strategies to compensate for the sleep loss, or deal with insomnia and these choices are not always conducive for sleep," adds Medalie. For example: using devices when “bored” during the night, taking naps to make up for the sleep loss, sleeping in the next day, increasing caffeine use and not exercising because you feel too tired from the sleep loss. “These choices can be problematic as they are often 'Band-Aid' solutions to get you through the moment, but end up worsening your sleep and can be tough habits to break in the long run,” he adds.
For these and other issues like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, you may want to consider seeing a certified sleep therapist.
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