10 Sleep Aids You’ve Never Heard of—That Really Work
You don't have to turn to sleeping pills to get the Z's you need. These are the devices, programs, apps, and tech that can lull you to sleep and keep you there. Here's to getting the rest you need tonight.
A sunrise alarm clock
‘Waking up right is one of the most important things you can do to snag better shut-eye tonight. Rather than being blasted out of bed via a blaring alarm clock, you can opt for this alarm clock that brews you a cup of coffee. Or, go for a sunlight simulator “alarm,” which will gradually infuse light into your bedroom sans noise. “It gets brighter and brighter, like a sunrise,” explains W. Christopher Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution. He prefers it to waking up with an alarm because the slow rise in light causes less of a cortisol (or stress) response upon awakening—and it’s always good to wake up on the right side of the bed.
A mattress that adjusts to you while you snooze
Problems tossing and turning throughout the night? Sleep expert and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, of TheSleepDoctor.com calls the Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed (starting at $2,799) “pretty impressive.” “Thanks to sensors in the bed, it tracks your sleep and raises or lowers the air compartments inside the mattress to enhance your support and comfort,” he explains. Snoring? It’ll even raise the head of the bed for you or a partner, he says.
A better white noise machine
When it comes to sleep aids, there are several soothing sounds that help you beat insomnia. Filtered white noise may also help you stay in dreamland. That’s the premise behind Nightingale ($149), a device that increases the background noise in a room, drowning out sounds that can disrupt your sleep, like voices, toilet flushes, and distant traffic. “The device creates a smart blanket of sound that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Dr. Winter. The company points to a clinical trial with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital published in SLEEP in 2017 that found the system was able to help people fall asleep 38 percent faster compared to control nights when they were simply exposed to normal noise in the environment. (Here are some more sleep sound machines that come expert-recommended.)
A device that wakes you up during sleep
Wait, what? It seems as if sleep aids shouldn’t aim to wake you up—but this one does. Thim ($199) is a sleep-tracking ring that you wear on your finger. “This device creates little vibrations that gently awaken you from sleep, training you to fall asleep more efficiently during the night,” says Dr. Winter. The science behind this sleep aid is that by awakening you after three-minute naps (usually during the first hour you’re asleep), the repeated falling asleep and waking up will condition you to sleep deeply throughout the night. A published trail in 2007 in SLEEP found that the strategy helped people sleep 65 minutes longer and fall asleep 28 minutes faster. (They say that in the morning, you won’t remember these mini wake-ups.)
A bedside device that tracks you
Though you’ve long known about wearable trackers, now there are devices that can monitor your sleep without needing to be in contact with you physically. The system, which just launched in fall of 2017, called SleepScore Max ($150), measures your breathing, heart rate, movement and environment to come up with a SleepScore and suggest improvements for a better night’s rest the next day (like these sleep hygiene tips), explains Dr. Breus. (He sits on their advisory board of the company.) According to company data on 1,000 users, over half increased the amount they slept by 48 minutes.
An app that helps ease tension
Slow breathing is a good way to relax—here’s how to practice healthy breathing. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the secret to sleep is all in your breathing: 2breathe ($180) is a “sleep inducer.” The sensor wraps around your torso and detects your breathing pattern, while the app guides your breathing to a sleep-friendly pace. “Taking deep breaths doesn’t require your heart to pump as much, so your heart rate begins to slow. Once your heart rate lowers, you can enter into a state of sleep,” says Dr. Breus. Not only does it help you fall asleep, but it can also help prevent those pesky middle-of-the-night wake ups (consider it your midnight sleep aid) or awakening far too early.
A program that lets you use your computer before bed
Typing away on a computer or phone has long been a no-no before bed, since these the screens emit a blue light that suppresses the release of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone. And while it’s better if you avoid these devices altogether—it’s one of the many ways you may be sabotaging your sleep—sometimes it’s unavoidable. For those instances, download the free f.lux program, says Robert S Rosenberg, DO, board-certified sleep medicine physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety. The software aligns with the time of day, staying bright like sunlight during daytime and dimming like warm indoor lights at night to make computer use less of a sleep disrupter.
A session of hypnosis
You’re getting sleepy…very sleepy. Hypnosis may be effective in boosting your ability to get slow wave sleep—the restorative type of sleep—and that’s just one of 12 ways hypnosis can change your life for the better. “There are studies demonstrating that in people susceptible to hypnosis, hypnotic tapes for deep sleep may work,” says Dr. Rosenberg. One study in 2014 by Swiss and German researchers looked at 70 healthy young women. After listening to audio prompting them to “sleep deeper” before a nap, 81 percent saw their slow wave sleep increase and fell asleep 67 percent faster. The hypnosis may help calm your mind, so you can drift off.
The right tempo music
Sure, relaxing music may be a before-bed standby, but if the songs don’t have the right tempo, they could keep you up. “Stick to slower tempo numbers with a 60-80 beat per minute range to match your resting heart rate,” says Ellen Wermter, NP, sleep specialist at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. “Music can increase your dream sleep stages and boost oxytocin, a hormone responsible for sending you into a blissed out zen,” she adds.
An adult story time
If your partner isn’t into sitting by your bed for story time, pop in earbuds and listen to a podcast. They’re a great alternative to reading something off an electronic device, says Wermter. Just make sure to keep the content lighthearted—no political commentary that will get you angry and your heart racing, for instance. You also want to shut it off before you fall asleep. “Your brain doesn’t turn off when you go to sleep and will attempt to process the stories,” she adds. A sleep timer app can be used to automatically shut off your phone. If you have an iPhone, the timer within the built-in clock app will allow you to set “stop playing” after a specified number of minutes. Need a guide to the world of podcasts? Check out these recommendations.