“Sleep is the best meditation.”
Sleep is one of the most natural human functions, but it’s also one of the most controversial. Childhood naps teach us that it’s important to our health and for basic mood management, but we feel unproductive if we need daily naps as adults. The “sleep when you die” mentality rules for many young adults with big goals and dreams, but there are also some successful people who insist on the importance of getting eight solid hours each night.
Some people are too busy to sleep and consider even a one-hour nap a luxury that they cannot afford. Others dream of sleep but toss and turn half the night, living off coffee and struggling to maintain focus during the day due to insomnia-induced exhaustion. If you’re confused about how you should handle your sleeping habits or how to end insomnia, you’re not alone.
In fact, I struggled with this very issue for several years as the quality of my sleep eroded, and I wasn’t sure why. I tried a myriad of products in my quest for the ultimate sleep and, quite frankly, wasted a ton of money. Eventually, I was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea a couple years ago but had diet issues, and simply behaviors, that were contributing as well (that’s another article). So, I will impart to you the sleep products I still own and use that actually work — or at least has made a difference for me. But first, let’s dig deeper into why sleep is so important for our health.
The Truth About How Much Sleep We Need
According to an overview of sleep research by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep is important for everyone but the amount of sleep needed is unique to each person. Healthy sleep patterns start out at more 15 hours per day for children, shift to less than 10 hours per night for school-aged children, and then settle somewhere between seven and nine hours for most adults. After the age of 60, sleep patterns can become shorter and more frequent.
The catch is that most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Many people believe that the cumulative amount of sleep over the course of a week or month is what matters, but research is showing that trying to catch up on the weekend is ineffective and the “sleep when you die” mentality can have some serious consequences for your health.
Not prioritizing sleep is risky behavior due to the proven connection between sleep deprivation and health problems, including:
- Increased risk of accidents
- Imbalance between hunger and appetite-control hormones
- Enhanced risk of obesity
- Increased risk of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes
- Greater susceptibility to colds, flu and other viruses
- Higher blood pressure
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Enhanced risk of depression, mood swings and irritability
- Greater risk of developing dementia later in life
Sleep Aid Products That Work
If sleep doesn’t come as easily to you as it does for others, like me, or you’re trying to break that “sleep when you die” mentality, here are sleep products that I own and use and may help you get up to that seven-hour minimum on a consistent basis. I’ve succeeded in doing that, on most nights, and these products contribute:
This clever invention from Philips can help you sleep and wake up faster and easier. It lulls you to sleep with light and sound therapy that allows you to sync your breathing pattern to the alarm until you drift off naturally and…it’s just super cool. The circular smart alarm also changes color throughout the night, simulating the light that comes naturally first from sunset and then from sunrise. The light naturally tells your body when it’s time to wind down and when it’s time to wake up. We know that our bodies are designed to sync with the sun, and this alarm allows you to bring the sun into your bedroom so that it’s customized to your personal sleep schedule. I have mine set to the sound of birds and it sets a positive tone to the start of my day.
This is a highly programmable alarm with a built-in night reading light and the ability to play your favorite music or quite a few natural sounds like the aforementioned birds that I have set. It even has a unique snooze feature designed to help you break the habit of snoozing in the morning. The UI takes some getting used to but no big deal for me. Love this thing.
I’ve purchased many sleep masks over the years, as has my wife. We both agree this is the one. The goal of a sleep mask is to block out light for those of us who are sensitive to light when trying to sleep (many of us are). This does the job while being extremely comfortable – aided by the fact it’s made out of breathable satin. In addition, it comfortably covers your ears too so blocks noise. In fact, this has become an essential sleep tool for me as I travel a lot. I use it on the airplane and at my destination when the random hotel room doesn’t get dark enough for me.
Natural Calm is key component of my better sleep toolbox. This stuff works magnificently to do just want the name of the product suggests. There is research that supports magnesium supplementation in aiding sleep and insomnia too. A study was conducted where half of the subjects were given 500mg of magnesium and the other half a placebo. The group that received the magnesium reported better quality of sleep. Magnesium is generally thought to work by decreasing cortisol ie the “stress hormone” as well as helping muscles relax. In fact, I find magnesium relieves muscle aches after a strenuous day.
My wife swears by this stuff too. She had suffered for years with restless leg syndrome. She was prescribed all kinds of high power meds, some she refused to take due to side effects. Once she started taking this, they literally went away which of course helps her sleep!
I take a spoonful of Calm in a glass of water about an hour before bedtime and use it to wash down my Dream Ease tablet. Note that Dream Ease also contains some magnesium too so if you are taking them together, like me, keep that in mind and adjust your dosage accordingly.
Sometimes the answer to better sleep and falling asleep faster can be very simple. Warm feet! The bottom line is if your feet are cold you will have a much harder time falling asleep. This study proves the point: Physiology: Warm feet promote the rapid onset of sleep. So if you don’t have a pair of comfy socks to wear to bed, get some! I find these type of “fuzzy socks” suite me really well and my feet are never cold when I get into bed.
Your sleep environment directly impacts your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, and the temperature between the sheets is critical. This is an affordable system that pipes warm or cool air into your bed instantly. Whether your goal is to keep your feet warm or to take the heat out of hot flashes, you can do it effectively with this system. Memory foam mattresses that tend to get warmer by the hour are no problem with this system.
You can even add essential oils to freshen your sheets or to calm your mind so that you fall asleep faster. Sleep-inducing essential oils are easy to find and are quite affordable. Just a drop or two is enough.
I recently purchased this system and, to be honest, haven’t been using it very long. My early report is that I’m really enjoying it and does what it purports. For people who have hot flashes or simply a lot of temperature modulation at night, this could be your thing. So far it’s been quite successful in regulating to a comfy temperature for me without my having to go get another blanket or toss one off. Sleep system of the future?
This is a simple band that brings the natural benefits of deep breathing therapy into your bedroom…or hotel room. You see, I use this when I’m traveling because I often have a hard time getting to sleep when away regardless of the comfort of the hotel bed.
This is like a sleep coach and has definitely helped. How? It syncs with your smartphone and allows you to focus your breathing into patterns that calm your mind and ease your body into sleep. There are no advanced features or tracking charts to analyze, so it’s really easy to use. There’s also potential to use this sleep aid to calm anxiety.
If you have any back pain, hip pain and are not sleeping with a firm bolster under your knees…do it. If you’ve ever been to a Chiropractor, or Osteopathic doc, you’ve surely been given this advice too. Why? This simple measure takes the pressure off your lower spine while also putting your spine in alignment during the night. Even if you are not experiencing pain, this position put your body in a more ergonomically correct position, your spine at least, and just plain feels good. This is the one I use but I’m sure there are other good ones too.
Although the above bolster can be used when sleeping on your side, this one is better for that position. Yes, I use them both. Your spinal alignment can be even more challenging when on your side. If one leg drops down it twists your spine, and can diminish circulation too. This knee pillow keeps that from happening and you’ll be surprised at the improvement in your comfort! I have a hard time sleeping without it now.
One last pillow! A wedge pillow is really crucial for those of us who snore and/or have sleep apnea. In fact, my wife reported that my snoring nearly stopped once I slept elevated with this pillow. This is because when elevated you have less flesh in your throat/mouth that collapses to close your airway. Sleeping elevated is also great, of course, when you are congested or have some annoying post nasal drip tickling your throat. Being slightly elevated like this makes a big difference.
I’ve become rather conditioned by my sound machine. I turn the sound on, and I start feeling sleepy. No kidding! It may sound illogical that sound can actually help you sleep. But this is white noise – consistent sound that is steady and nonrepetitive. It serves to drown out other noise and also gently satisfies the brain attentiveness to sound while we sleep but doesn’t require it to process anything.
This one by Homedics is the one I own. Its not expensive and there are far fancier ones to check out. But this one does the trick and I travel with it too. It has 6 sounds…and that’s all I need. I’m partial to the ocean sound so that in the morning when my Somneo gently nudges me awake with glorious early light of the day and the sound of birds, I also still hear a bit of the ocean.
When I first started complaining to my friends about my difficulty sleeping, a good friend (thanks Joanne!) bought me this blanket. I am still so grateful to be introduced to the wonders of a weighted blanket – so comfy. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the effectiveness when you think back to when you were a kid with a ton of cozy blankets piled high in the dead of winter. I remember sleeping like a bear in hibernation. There truly was something about the weight on your body.
In fact, there is research to back it up. A study of weighted blankets was conducted on people with chronic insomnia. After 4 weeks of use, participants were found to have improved night’s sleep, measured objectively and subjectively, with a decrease in movement. They found the blanket increased the comfort of their sleep, had better quality sleep, and felt more secure.
Do you prefer to just pop a pill? You have more options than you see at the local drug store or supermarket. Many sleep aids are potentially addictive and some simply don’t work, but Dream Ease is all-natural alternative that is safe and effective. It includes melatonin (2 capsules contain 2mg) which is well-established as helping people get to sleep and stay asleep longer…plus is a healthy antioxidant. It also contains 6 other ingredients that promote relaxation: Magnesium, L-Theanine, GABA, Pheliodendron Root Powder, Mucuna pririens, and 5-HTP. Their marketing materials say it blocks “brain signals that cause anxiety” and increase serotonin levels.
While these sleep aids can help you get the sleep that your body so desperately needs, it’s also important to set a sleep schedule and stick to it consistently. This comes down to making sleep a priority in your busy schedule. Think of your sleep as important as your diet and you’ll be ahead of most people, and certainly healthier.