For many of us, a good night's sleep is difficult to come by in the best of circumstances. But against the backdrop of a long, cold winter and the ongoing pandemic, it can feel almost impossible. While there will always be new devices claiming to use advanced technology to solve your sleep problems – yes, there are things like sleep robots and sleep tracking rings – newer doesn't always mean better. Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews and recommends products, has tested countless items to find real, proven solutions, from blackout drapes and sleep masks to better pillows and white noise machines.
In addition to the products they test out at work, Wirecutter writers and editors have found their own sleep solutions for those overworked, congested times. These aren't necessarily products that we've rigorously tested (unless we're talking about meditation apps), but they are the things Wirecutter employees find useful at home to help you fall and fall asleep.
It is very difficult to fall asleep when you are cold. Heated blankets are nice, but I often wake up sweating later in the evening. The Soulage Body Wrap heating pads (about $ 52) are the perfect solution. After a few minutes in the microwave, they hold the heat for about 30 minutes and gradually and safely cool off as you nod off. They are well made and smell delicious – filled with natural ingredients like rice, cloves and orange peel. The filling gives the pads some strength, giving you the calming feeling of a weighted blanket. These wraps are great for warming sheets, relieving muscle pain, and even relieving menstrual cramps.
I just replaced my old packaging with a new one because after 18 years it was finally too worn out. Putting the cushion over my stomach or on my back feels like a cozy hug – and anything but guaranteed that I'll drift off in no time. – Lauren Dragan, senior writer
Some people are bothered by light that interrupts their sleep, but at night I am sensitive to noise. The sudden creaking of the wooden frame as the house cools down or a squirrel running across the roof can bring me out of a deep sleep. While any white noise machine can do the trick, I've found that a smart display like the Google Nest Hub (about $ 90) packs several useful bedside devices into one box: an alarm clock, a digital picture frame, and most importantly for me – a machine with white noise. The constant background noise puts me to sleep and keeps me asleep without interruptions. The Nest Hub can also play relaxing sounds like a babbling brook or steady rain, as well as an extensive playlist of YouTube videos or Spotify songs. It's also the only smart display without a camera that preserves this aspect of my privacy. – Joel Santo Domingo, executive officer
I am convinced that this lovely blend of herbs – containing valerian, passion flower and other soothing botanicals – will help me relax before bed. It might just be the ritual aspect: if I take it with a bath or before a yin yoga, I'm much more likely to go to bed than to continue Doom scrolling late into the night. The tincture is packaged in a frosted bottle with a pastel colored, steam-wave-like label, and the mixture is also sweetened to be tastier (unlike some other medicinal drops I've tried). Coat My Nerves ($ 22 for an ounce) tastes like earthy honey and instantly dissolves on the tongue without leaving a bitter aftertaste. New York-based 69 Herbs offers tiered payments to customers who need it. (As with any herbal formula, if you have any medical problems or concerns, check with your doctor before taking this mixture.) – Anna Perling, Associate
Like many children, my son always ate his bedtime diet, including dimmed lights and soothing music. But as he got older, he wanted more than just the traditional night light. While showing him a photo on Instagram one day, we came across an ad for a projector that could light up a room like a galaxy, and it was all he could talk about for weeks. After much research (there were several fly-by-night companies in this category that didn't seem trustworthy; some were even labeled as scams) I landed on the EncaLife projector (around $ 80). I loved that the company had taken the time to get the device Google and Alexa enabled, and it had obviously spent some time developing the app.
Now I say “Alexa, Goodnight Galaxy” every night and the room transforms. The master bedroom smart lightbulb goes dark and turns purple (we have the Wyze lightbulb, one of Wirecutter's old budget picks). Then the galaxy projector turns on (you can adjust the nebula colors and the speed of the stars in the app) and our Echo Dot plays a selection from Max Richter's 2015 album "Sleep" (free with Amazon Prime or $ 10 for MP3) specially composed to facilitate sleep. It may be a lot for bedtime, but when your child says their night light is helping them "have good dreams about building Mars rovers for NASA," it's hard not to feel like the investment is worth it . – Lauren Dragan, senior writer
Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or anything that lowers your heart rate and induces relaxation is generally a great way to improve sleep. Wirecutter has a full guide to the best meditation apps, but Senior Editor Kalee Thompson relies on a body scan meditation recording she received from a class she attended years ago. "When I'm really excited and can't sleep, this type of beginner meditation either helps me relax or helps me fall asleep after I'm already in bed," she said.
You can find other similar exercises online, like this headspace exercise ($ 70 per year). Once you get the hang of it, you may not even need a shot.
Senior writer Melanie Pinola uses the sleep stories in Calm ($ 70 a year) at the end of the day when she's struggling to slow her mind. "Many of the stories are read by celebrities with reassuring voices, most of which are so booming that they don't keep me awake and calm me at the same time," she said. "For some of them, I sleep before they even get to the second paragraph of the story."
Actors Benedict Cumberbatch and the late Christopher Lee were both known on television and film as Sherlock Holmes. It is therefore not surprising that their calming English baritones are so satisfying when telling the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary audio recording detective. For me, the stories were just the ticket: "Interesting enough to distract me from other things, but not too stimulating to keep me busy until the end." There's always the rewind button for tomorrow night. – Tim Heffernan, senior executive
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