The link between sleep and a healthy lifestyle is well documented. From being a secret weight loss weapon to other surprising health benefits, catching your ZZZs is just as important to your overall health as diet and exercise. Here are my three essentials for a good night’s rest.
1. A great pillow
As small as it seems, what revolutionized sleeping for me was my pillow. I suffered for years from insomnia and migraines. I tried everything from buying a new mattress to investing in high-end sheets, wearing an eye mask, playing ambient sound, spritzing my sheets with lavender, not watching TV in bed, reading a book, going to bed early, going to bed late, and everything in between. Nothing seemed to work. Then my chiropractor introduced me to the Tri-Core Cervical Pillow and it changed everything.
It took some adjusting to sleeping on the pillow, which has a big triangle divot in the middle, but keeps me in total alignment all night sleeping on my back or side. After several years of sleeping with this pillow, I’m not only migraine-free, but can sleep soundly almost anywhere (including low-budget motels, pull-out sofas, and Ragnar vans to name a few).
The Tri-Core Pillow might not be for everyone, but most people I’ve introduced it to have become converts. It’s a bit of an investment at $50, but a product that lasts (I’m going on three years with mine). The only downside I’ve found is that it’s not the best for snuggling.
2. A good mattress or mattress topper
When I was just out of college and completely broke, I was sleeping on an air mattress for many more years than I’d like to admit. I kept putting off buying a real bed because of the sticker shock. Eventually the backaches and waking up tired every morning got to me. I know budgets can be tight, but you don’t need to invest thousands of dollars to get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes just adding a little extra comfort to your current mattress with a memory foam topper can make a world of difference (unless it’s an air mattress). If you do have the budget for a new mattress, buy one. There’s a great LifeHacker blog post by Alan Henry on how to choose the right mattress.
3. A sleep cycle alarm clock
Life happens, and despite our best intentions we can’t always get the sleep we need. When I’m in this situation, I use the sleepyti.me bedtime calculator to figure out the most optimal time to go to bed based on when I need to get up. We rest in four to five cycles a night ranging from light sleep to deep sleep and back to light sleep. To feel rested in the morning, it’s best to wake up at the top of a sleep cycle and have a few long cycles versus a lot of short ones.
The sleepyti.me calculator, while great, is only an estimate based on average sleep cycle patterns. For a more accurate tool tailored to my sleep needs, I downloaded a free sleep cycle alarm clock app. I lay my phone next to my pillow at night and it records my sleep cycles based on sound and movement, gently waking me up at the top of a sleep cycle. It also provides ambient sound when going to sleep, and a graph of how how long each sleep cycle was with a recording of sounds during the night. This app helped me figure out which sounds, like my dogs shaking their collars right by my ears, were jarring me out of a deep sleep and into a lighter sleep (darn my dogs’ irresistible snuggly awesomeness).
On a sad note, it seems the specific app I downloaded a year ago is no longer available. On a happy note, I did a short search for “sleep cycle alarms” or “smart alarms” and there are several apps available for both iPhones and Androids. For me, the most significant benefit was being able to see my sleep cycle and connect the graph to the sounds around me like in the picture above.
Are there any essentials you have for a good night’s sleep? Share them with me in a reply below!