A 6-Point Plan for a Better Night’s Sleep
In partnership with our friends at Avocado Green Mattress
In pursuit of a better night’s sleep, we’ve tried damn near everything. Sleep trackers. Foam rolling. Herbs and essential oils. Face massages. All the conventional advice, too, on caffeine and alcohol and electronic devices. There’s no one answer that works for everyone. But when you find the setup that works best for you, your body, and your home, the payoff can be enormous: Consistent, good-quality sleep is associated with many positive markers of long-term health, from lower incidence of chronic diseases to better overall quality of life.
We’ve rounded up some of the best tips for putting occasional sleeplessness to bed, plus the products and methods that have worked best for us.
MAKE YOUR BED
It all starts with your bed. Is it a source of frustration and dread or a sleep sanctuary you can’t wait to settle into? Sometimes, all it takes to swivel from the former to the latter is a little bedding makeover. Because they make up the base look and feel of your bed, a new duvet and insert are a good place to start. Take the new offerings from Avocado: The alpaca duvet insert features an organic cotton percale case with natural alpaca fibers sourced from the Peruvian Andes. It’s hypoallergenic and breathable, and it regulates temperature beautifully. The French-loomed, GOTS-certified organic linen duvet cover is soft and cool, and each color—choose from pretty tones of indigo, olive, white, grey, or beige—looks like an invitation to a good night’s sleep. (It comes with matching pillow shams, too.)
Blue light is not inherently bad. Most of the blue light exposure we get comes from the sun—not screens—and it plays an important role in regulating our circadian rhythms. In a world where screens weren’t a factor, when the sun came up, that blue light exposure would signal our brains to wake up and stay awake. As the sun went down, our blue light exposure would decrease, that signal for wakefulness and alertness would wane, and we would sleep.
That natural rhythm is no longer a perfect reality for most of us. Our phones, televisions, and computers typically emit blue light that, if we’re using them well into the night, can prolong our wakefulness signals and potentially disrupt sleep. Many devices have now been built and programmed with options to limit this exposure. For example, handheld Apple devices allow you to toggle on the Night Shift feature, which warms up the colors on your screen, and you can download add-ons like f.lux to your computer to do the same. A pair of blue-light glasses can also help reduce exposure by filtering out blue light before it gets to your eyes—we like to pop them on sometime in the afternoon, around 2 or 3 p.m.
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If you can, try easing up on electronic device use as you get closer to bedtime. Not only because of the potential negative effects of blue light but because of the potential effects of engagement with your devices and their content. That is, endlessly doomscrolling your Twitter feed will not help you sleep. In the hours leading up to bed, keep the lights low, leave electronic devices outside the bedroom, turn any lighted clocks away from the bed, and opt for analog activities—maybe it’s knitting, reading a novel, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, or swapping foot massages with a partner. (May we recommend a silky, gorgeous-smelling oil?) If ambient light is keeping you from sleep, consider installing blackout blinds or wearing an eye mask to bed.
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CAUSE FOR ALARM
It’s the conversation we have to have: If you’re going to get consistent sleep, you need to go to bed and wake up at consistent times. While an occasional late night certainly won’t kill you, good sleep habits have a positive snowball effect worth pursuing. Consistent sleep patterns help maintain healthy circadian rhythms. And healthy circadian rhythms promote better, more consistent sleep.
Now that you’re leaving the phone outside the bedroom at night (right?), you’ll need an alarm clock. The one from Loftie is pretty clutch. It has a lot of the sleep-friendly features we like about our smartphones—like a media center packed with meditations, soundbaths, breathwork, and bedtime stories—minus the temptation to scroll. It has a warm-toned nightlight for those occasions when you have to navigate your way to the toilet and back in the middle of the night. And of course its simplest and most necessary feature, the alarm. Loftie uses a two-phase alarm, with a soft first sound that gently lulls you out of sleep and an upbeat second one to shake you out of bed.
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It’s not just your bedtime that matters. The timing of other daily activities—especially ones that keep you awake—plays a role, too. Like your last cup of coffee (aim for a 2 p.m. caffeine cutoff) or a cardio workout. Every body is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription. It takes some playing around to tailor your own experience. Some people may sleep fine after an evening cup of coffee, for example. If that’s you, forge ahead.
While older research shows that evening exercise makes it tougher to fall asleep and stay asleep, more-recent studies suggest that vigorous exercise within an hour of bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep but that the sleep quality that follows tends to be better than if a person hadn’t exercised at all. Fit in your cardio well before bed if you can—but if nighttime is your best option, don’t skip it. Consider keeping a log of your caffeine intake, exercise, and bedtime for a week or two, comparing yesterday’s habits to how rested you feel today. You might find a link.
If bumps in the night tend to shake you awake, a simple pair of earplugs can be a temporary solution. Rafael Pelayo, MD, a holistic sleep medicine doctor at Stanford University’s Sleep Medicine Clinic, recommends against them in the long-term: Earplugs block out all noise, so using them regularly can build hypervigilance and even greater sensitivity to sound, which can lead us to depend on them in order to get any sleep at all. (We learned this from Pelayo’s fantastic new book, How to Sleep, which explains the science of sleep and evaluates popular at-home remedies, from supplements to snoring solutions, with established research.)
Instead, Pelayo recommends white noise. White noise is a steady humming that combines all audible frequencies at equal volume, which helps mask disruptive sounds in your environment—like the house settling, a car alarm blaring down the street, or your partner’s occasional snore—so they don’t seem so jarring. House and ceiling fans are an easy source of white noise, so they’re a good option for the warmer months, when you might have one on anyway. The rest of the time, opt for a white noise machine with an internal fan, which drowns out ambient noise without the breeze. This one from Snooz can be adjusted to the tone and volume that work best from you.
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Breathing difficulties often cause poor sleep quality. If you wake up with a dry mouth, this might be you—mouth breathing mostly occurs when we aren’t able to get enough oxygen through our nose.
For those whose allergies are the culprit, some easy modifications can make a significant difference. First, address your triggers: If you’re sensitive to your pets, don’t let them sleep on the bed. If your home has a mold issue, take a look at your options for professional remediation. Wash your bedding regularly and try adding a dust mite cover to your mattress. Second, consider adding a quality air purifier to the bedroom. Look for one that can remove a high level of particulate matter from the air. (This is usually shown as the clean air delivery rate, or CADR—a measure of how much smoke an air purifier can remove from its environment.) The Air Doctor is a top performer. It has both a VOC and an UltraHEPA filter, which you replace every six months and one year, respectively, to catch fine particles, as well as a washable prefilter that captures larger debris. It’s capable of filtering the air of a 900-square-foot room up to three times an hour. It automatically adjusts its filtration speed based on the current air quality. Dust mites, mold spores, pollen, and pet dander don’t stand a chance.
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If you’ve been caught snoring or have just been a little stuffed up lately, it’s incredible what Nasal Aid can do. This little device physically holds open the nasal passages to allow better breathing while you sleep, which may reduce snoring and lead to better overall sleep quality. It’s reusable, adhesive-free, and made of thin spring-tempered steel wire that can be adjusted for your greatest comfort. Just press the free ends up your nose and doze off.
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PEACE MEETS QUIET
At the end of the day, meditation can help wind things down. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You might close your eyes and let your attention settle on the natural rhythm of your breath or visualize clouds drifting across an open sky. Or try a body scan: Starting at your toes and working your way up, bring your focus to one muscle at a time, identifying any tension and allowing it to release. If you prefer something guided, Headspace has an excellent library of sleep meditations. (Founder Andy Puddicombe’s voice is deeply soothing.)
A meditation coloring book is another great option. The ones from The Coloring Method draw on traditional meditation methods and are easy to use: Just fill in a series of simple images, breathe deeply, and recite the given mantra or affirmation in your head.
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Another book to keep at your bedside? A journal. If you’re lying awake and unable to stop yourself from running through tomorrow’s to-do list or devising clever comebacks to a rude remark that’s already passed, turn on a light and write it all down. Once those thoughts are on paper, it’s easier to give yourself permission to drop them; you don’t need to spend mental energy storing them in your mind anymore. It’s one of the simplest and most effective strategies we’ve tried for settling a ruminating mind.
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We hope you enjoy the book recommended here. Our goal is to suggest only things we love and think you might, as well. We also like transparency, so, full disclosure: We may collect a share of sales or other compensation if you purchase through the external links on this page.