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.
We live in stressful times, and one thing that’s been so challenging for many of us is putting worry aside and relaxing into a good night’s sleep. Things like work, stress and your sleep hygiene can impact your quality of sleep, so we talked to experts in sleep and comfort to find helpful tips and tricks so you can rest easier every night.
“The most important thing for a good night’s sleep is to make sure that you set yourself up for success,” says Dr. Michael Grandner, Casper sleep adviser and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona. “That means removing barriers to sleep like caffeine, reducing distractions close to bedtime, giving yourself enough time to wind down and keeping your bedroom cool, quiet, dark and comfortable.”
“Something that I was taught through my years of physical therapy is called a spring test,” explains physical therapist Karen Joubert. “If you take your pillow and you fold it in half and it doesn’t bounce back, it means that the pillow’s lost its integrity. And it’s probably time for a new pillow.”
However, what kind of pillow is right is up to you, says Grandner. “A good pillow is one that is firm enough but soft enough,” he says. “That may differ from one person to another, but the ideal pillow is one that balances comfort with the ability to maintain its level of support throughout the night.”
See our picks for the best pillows for every sleeping position here.
Joubert strongly recommends this tiny pillow, saying, “It’s a tiny little pillow, and it goes in between your legs. When you sleep on your side and your knees are together, your knee is kind of pulling on your hip. You really want to lift that leg so that the knee is in line and level with a hip.”
For side sleepers, this firm foam pillow is ideal for keeping the spine straight, says Grandner.
Writes one reviewer: “For over a month, I’d been waking up with a sore neck and tight shoulders, which I knew had to be caused by my pillow. Since finding a good pillow is even more difficult than finding a good bra or pair of jeans, I asked my chiropractor for a suggestion. She told me about the Casper foam pillow, I went right home and ordered it, Amazon delivered it the next day and I’ve had one full week of great, pain-free, comfortable and uninterrupted sleep.”
Hot sleeper? This bestselling Casper pillow is an Underscored editor favorite, with microfiber fill and cotton that we can vouch helps wick away moisture and keeps you cool all night. We’ve bought four at a time. You can take your pick between a low loft for a flatter pillow (great for back sleepers) or a high loft for a fuller one that’s ideal for side sleepers.
Eye masks are some of the most effective, inexpensive pieces of sleep technology out there, according to our experts. They are very effective at blocking out environmental light, helping to protect the “nighttime” signal in your body. This one is beloved on Amazon for its molded eye cups that relieve pressure on your eyelids.
Our pick for the best sleep mask of the year, this cotton eye mask features a nose wire that blocks out all — and we mean all — of the light. It received top marks in our testing because it’s soft on the eyes and never budged at all throughout the night, no matter our sleep position.
“Many people, especially light sleepers, appreciate the noise-masking effects of noise machines, drowning out and absorbing other sounds from the environment,” says Grandner, who likes this machine.
“So many of us have gone to bed watching the news, or on our phone, and we can’t shut our brain down,” says Joubert, who recommends this machine. “When you use something like white noise, it retrains the brain. You can focus on something else. It also helps to quiet and slow the brain and the mind down. I think they’re highly effective.”
Joyce Azzaline, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Minded, also recommends white noise machines, like this one from Hatch, to encourage better sleep. “The noise allows consistent humming, so that you are not disturbed by any random noises in the environment like a siren or a horn,” she says. “It keeps your brain occupied with a dull sound that is soothing. Something like the Hatch Restore is good because it’s a sound machine that also has a mediation app and an alarm clock built in, so you can leave your phone on the other side of the room.”
Our favorite white noise machine? After months of testing, we chose the Sound+Sleep Mini due to its white-noise-and-then-some capabilities, with 48 different sounds, like rain, brooks, fans, ocean sounds, white noise, and many more. The other devices we tested feature some of these soundscapes, but the Mini is one of the only one that has them all. Our other favorite feature? The fact that it was basically built for travel, so you can take it anywhere.
“Another trick I use is to get white noise from my air purifier or humidifier,” says Azzaline, pointing to this air purifier. “Cleaner, less dry air can help you breathe better, which in turn can lead to better sleep.”
Not an Amazon product but fantastic nonetheless, Azzaline recommends this humidifier and diffuser. “Some humidifiers, like this Canopy, also have a diffuser option for essential oils,” explains Azzaline. “You could use it with a lavender essential oil, which has sedative properties and has been found to promote better sleep.”
“Blackout curtains are another great way to protect your sleep from environmental light that can disrupt it,” says Grandner. “They can help keep you asleep at night, even when the sun comes back up. Just make sure you open them in the morning!” This highly rated set also blocks out the cold.
These equally-beloved blackout curtains with grommets at the top for easy sliding come at a bargain price and promise to block out light, cold and noise from the outside world, leading to a better night’s sleep.
Azzaline talks to patients every day who have trouble sleeping. “In addition to practicing good sleep hygiene (think: going to bed at the same time every night and putting your phone down at least 30 minutes before nodding off), I often recommend a weighted blanket to my patients. It provides a sense of security as it enfolds you, so you feel protected, and it helps to calm any restlessness in your legs that may keep you awake. I use one personally and always say it feels like a soft hug over my body and lulls me to sleep. There are a lot of good ones on the market, but the one I use at home has two removable covers, one for winter and one for summer, and they’re washable.”
One of our favorite weighted blankets on the market, the blanket comes in three different colors and its luxurious-looking stitching ensures that the fine-grade beads get evenly distributed throughout the blanket. Gravity even has its own weighted robe.
“There is something comforting about a weighted blanket,” says Joubert. “I think that’s a really smart product out on the market.” This weighted blanket is unique in that it comes with its own super-plush cover that’s machine-washable, and it even comes in weights up to 30 pounds.
Weighted blankets “work by providing a consistent, enveloping layer of pressure, not only giving you the weighted sensation, but also restricting your movement,” says Grandner. And this editor-approved one, among the most beloved on Amazon, is a real bargain for its quality.
“A lot of people wait too long before replacing an old mattress. Sometimes, this can make a big difference in nighttime comfort,” says Grandner.
Weight and sleep style can also make a difference, explains Joubert. “Someone who’s lighter, or you sleep on your side, you’re going to want to maybe go with a more medium-soft or a medium-firm mattress.” Check out our guide to the top mattress-in-a-box brands here.
You may want to look for a firmer mattress like this one if you’re a bigger person, or sleep on your back, says Joubert. “The heavier you are, let’s say you weigh 200 pounds or more, or you’re a back sleeper, you’re going to tend to maybe fall in the guidelines of the medium-firm to firm mattress,” she says. Layers of breathable foam plus springs add a little lift, support and airflow to this highly rated mattress.
This medium-firm mattress is also one of the most popular on Amazon, not only because of its true bargain price tag but also because its combination memory foam and innerspring construction that helps align the spine and minimize pressure points to offer you your comfiest sleep yet. It’s available in heights from 8 inches to 12 inches.
Known as the most durable mattress on Amazon, the foam in this Zinus 12-inch is infused with active charcoal and even green tea to offer pressure relief and form right to your body. Specifically great for side sleepers, though it really seems to please just every reviewer, it even comes with a 10-year warranty.