Sleep—we crave it and we need it, but we never seem to get enough of it. A new Consumer Reports survey of 4023 adults found that 27% of Americans suffer from insomnia while 68%—the equivalent of 164 million people—struggle with sleep at least once a week. These are sobering statistics, which is why we’re dedicating the next few days to this ever-elusive, never-can-have-enough part of our lives. Welcome to Byrdie’s first-ever Sleep Week, wherein you can expect detailed accounts of our own editors’ sleep trials and tribulations, the latest products to help you nod off, and all the new relevant research. Suffice to say, we’re obsessed with getting more shut-eye (the quality kind, too), and hopefully our obsession will ensure you wake up more mornings feeling well rested and less like you want to hurl your alarm clock across the room. Read (and rest) up!
It seems like the older I get, the harder it is for me to get quality sleep (but the more I need it). While youthful restlessness was followed by bright-eyed mornings, now when I don't get my full night's sleep I wake up with an almost debilitating exhaustion that hardly fades as the day wears on.
Sleep became especially difficult for me after moving to L.A. four months ago, when a combination of factors came between me and my much-needed shut-eye. For one, the walls of my otherwise perfect little studio are not sound-proofed. I can hear every word spoken, sneeze sneezed, and loogie hocked by my upstairs and next door neighbors (and the former has a habit of lifting weights at odd hours and dropping them on the floor—my ceiling). Furthermore, as a weekend editor, I typically call it quits relatively early on Friday and Saturday nights—prime time for everyone else's merrymaking and high heels to stomp down my hallway.
Alas, sleep has become ever more elusive, and over the past few months I've tried everything I feel comfortable with to fall asleep faster.
Keep scrolling to see all the ways I tried to fall asleep faster and which strategies finally helped me catch some z's.
Long, Hot Shower
I relied on this sleep aid long before I ever realized I was doing it. Enjoying a long hot shower shortly before heading to bed would warm up my body temp to slow things down and signal to my mind that I was ready for sleep. I admit that in today's digital age my bedtime routine was usually followed not by shutting my eyes for sleep but by finding myself falling into a social media black hole in the middle of using my phone to set my morning alarm, or even whipping out my laptop to check something real quick but ultimately aimlessly browsing for hours.
The Verdict: If you're going to rely on a steamy shower to signal it's time for bed, you better make sure that sleep is the only thing on the agenda once you step out of the bathroom.
Silk Eye Mask
My studio is situated with its windows facing the building next door, so the light from neighboring apartments sometimes shines into my room. Even with blinds and curtains in place, the changes in the light were keeping me up, so after too many sleepless nights I saw a silk eye mask on sale and impulsively ordered it. The last of its kind on Shopbop, the pale pink and artfully decorated piece I purchased was likely constructed to serve the purposes of someone's "I woke up like this" selfie rather than some serious shut-eye.
Its light pink colorway does little to shield out harsh light and its delicate (read: flimsy) construction mean every night I wear it it ends up somewhere lost between my sheets come morning.
The Verdict: If you're going to go the silk eye mask route, invest in one that actually serves its purpose (such as the one above—still in the perfect shade of pink).
While I still love to tell myself a glass or two of wine before bed will help me get to sleep, I have too many examples of when this hasn't been true. Yes, a good old pour of cabernet sauvignon puts me in a happy, drowsy state and ready to curl up under covers, but the subsequent dehydration and headache the next morning negate the strategy's purpose.
The Verdict: By no means should you refrain from a glass of wine before bed, but be sure to follow it with plenty of water—and don't drink up just to fall asleep.
When I started getting really serious about improving my sleep I took a cue from my old boss who swore by essential oils. She would always carry them when we'd travel internationally and though I never understood their purpose at the time, I never minded the scent or the idea of something so seemingly mystical. I went ahead and bought a set (though I really only had eyes for the lavender) and, without a diffuser, started rubbing a drop or two on my chest before heading to bed. A couple oil-stained pajama tops later, I realized that while this strategy certainly helped calm me at bedtime, the scent quickly wore off.
The Verdict: Buy a diffuser.
Essential Oil Diffuser
When I went home for the holidays I stumbled upon this beauty at my neighborhood's local natural market. My dad, who had likely been listening to me go on about my lack of sleep, bought it for me as my Christmas gift and nearly every night since I've had it on. I was shocked by how dramatically the diffuser could transform the energy of the room—using my go-to lavender to lull me to sleep at night and a mood-lifting one called "Cheer Up, Buttercup" to get me up and going in the morning. This specific device lasts for approximately seven hours before shutting off, ideal for carrying you through the night.
The Verdict: It works, and I use it almost daily.
Another purchase was made that day at the natural market: melatonin. I had tried it twice before, last summer when I was working crazy hours as a freelancer, waking up at 3:30 a.m. PST to begin pitching by 7 a.m. EST. When I was visiting my sister, we had a late night and she gave me some melatonin. I passed out almost immediately and woke up refreshed and ready to seize the day the next morning, as if I were 21 again. A while later that summer, I mentioned the phenomenon (in my eyes) to my dad and he gave me a bottle of his to try.
Before my next 3:30 a.m. wake up I popped one of the pills. Three solid hours past my alarm the next morning, I woke up late for my shift and feeling rather loopy. I've since steered clear of melatonin but over the winter break decided to give it a go. I consistently fell asleep in under 10 minutes, but I noticed an increase in nightmares (or at least my odds of remembering them) every time I was on the melatonin. While I still keep the bottle next to my bed, I'm wary of relying on it as a sleep aid for fear of bad dreams and oversleeping.
I've more or less reserved the pills for when my mind's in a good place and I know I can sleep in the next morning.
The Verdict: Use with caution, and try a few practice runs when you don't have to be up early the next day to see how it affects you.
Yoga & Meditation
A few weeks ago, I joined a yoga and meditation studio as part of a one-month trial. After only a few yoga classes, I felt my body entering into a resting state faster when I'd tuck myself in and my sore muscles had a soothing effect that seemed to slow my body down. We hear all the time that exercise helps us sleep, yet I often forget to turn to it as a method for falling asleep faster. When I signed up for classes I mostly expected the meditation and restoration classes to help me calm my mind and relax my body.
The restoration session—using deep stretching and essential oils applied to hairline by the instructor—put me to sleep during the class. As for meditation it's still too early to tell—so far my legs are the only ones falling asleep as a result of the practice.
The Verdict: Physical exercise, however you choose, will help you better the quality of your sleep. If you enjoy yoga, it can be beneficial to begin a routine of mixed classes that balance cardio with calming techniques. As for meditation, I still need to practice.
Share your own tricks for better sleep in the comments.