Girls need it. Boys need it. Whites, Blacks and Mexicans need it. Even thugs and Republicans need it. No matter who you are, we all need a good night’s sleep. But most of us don’t get it. Whether its hard to go to sleep, or you wake up a million times, or you get up too early, or your sleep isn’t good quality, what the world needs most, aside from love, is more sleep.
While scientists aren’t exactly sure why we need to sleep, its benefits are well-documented. Lack of sleep can impact blood pressure and blood sugar and can lead to the heart attacks and strokes that those disorders bring forth.
While you’re resting, the body restores and repairs itself. But quality of sleep is important, too. REM or rapid-eye-movement sleep, the kind associated with dreams, is important to have fully restorative sleep. Not sleeping can be fatal – it has been reported that the Wal-Mart truck driver in the Tracy Morgan accident that killed one person and injured Morgan had been awake over 24 hours.
In recent years, there have been recommendations about how to get your best sleep. We tried out a few. Here’s what we found out.
One of the most common things that interrupt quality sleep is sleep apnea. If you are older and especially if you are overweight and often feel fatigued, you very likely have it. Apnea is when the airway in your throat closes during sleep and causes you to stop breathing temporarily. For some apnea sufferers, that happens dozens of time every night. If you sleep with a heavy, noisy snorer, particularly one whose snoring includes snorting or gasping, they likely have apnea and can be tested via a home or in-house sleep study that could be covered by insurance. Apnea is not just sleep-threatening, its life threatening. The late Philadelphia Eagles football star Reggie Smith had sleep apnea and died at age 43. Apnea can be treated by using a CPAP machine, but dentists also offer a less-intrusive option.
For many people and for me personally, exercise is a way to get better, more high-quality sleep. It’s also helps weight loss, which can help sleep apnea. Walking is the easiest and most accessible exercise and it’s the best way for inactive people to ease into a regular routine. Yoga is another way to learn how to relax enough to be able to go to sleep more quickly. For many, though, exercise is best done in the morning hours, as vigorous exercise in the evening hours may have the opposite effect. One note: Fitbit and other fitness trackers may document steps, but they don’t document how hard you worked to take those steps. Exercise that gets your heart rate up, and that lasts at least a half an hour is what we’re going for here.
Sleep hygiene is basically any routine that sets up a regular sleep ritual – going to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends, reading before you go to bed, taking a relaxing bath, etc. Sleep thrives in a cool, uncluttered bedroom that is only used for sex and sleep. If your bedroom or bedding is too hot, change the temperature and the sheets. If you are, or sleep with, a snorer, you both should get tested for apnea. If that’s not the problem, you should invest in white noise machines that can often block out street and partner noise to ensure a good night’s sleep.
MATTRESSES, BEDDING AND YOUR BEDROOM
You say you can’t sleep, but you haven’t changed mattresses since your college-age kid was born and your bedroom looks like an episode of Hoarders? Well, that could be the reason. First, clear the clutter. Then, invest in some curtains with blackout lining if the morning sun shines brightly into your bedroom. If all else fails, your mattress is the foundation of your sleep. So let’s start there. Memory foam or memory foam hybrid mattresses are now the industry leader. You should approach mattress buying like you approach car buying, because it’s just as important.
A few years ago, I settled on a Sleep Innovations memory foam mattress, mostly because it was one with a lower price point. It was fine but got harder on one side as time went on. Memory foam mattresses start from about $350 to well over $1000. The good folks at Tuft and Needle let me try out their memory foam mattress, which got good reviews on Amazon and over at SleepLikeTheDead.com, a great resource for mattress buyers. Here’s the #1 great thing about buying memory foam mattresses online: They let you keep them for up to 90 days. Tuft and Needle, if you buy via their website, lets you keep the mattress for 100 days!
Here’s why that’s great. When I first got the Tuft and Needle mattress, I had it in the box for two months, while work was being done on my house, so any off-gassing odors (a memory-foam given) must have dissipated cause I didn’t smell anything out of the box. And the mattress popped right up like Jiffy Pop popcorn when I took it out of the box and laid it on the frame.Then I finally started sleeping on it.
At first, I doubted that I’d like it. It was winter and it was too hot. I wanted a firm mattress, and Tuft and Needle is among the firmest, but I kept waking up in the middle of the night. Then it just seemed like I couldn’t get used to it. But after about 2 months, it’s now my favorite mattress ever. It’s firm, but soft, it’s plush and comfy and it greets me like a long-lost lover after a hard workday. Despite my cat jumping on it every morning to wake me up, its in good shape (although I’d put a mattress pad on it if you have pets).
For those for whom its just too hard, you can ask the company for a free mattress topper, which reviewers say have worked to get it to the right softness. I’d recommend the firm mattress for taller, older and heavier sleepers, but of course it’s up to you and your sleeping partner. Tuft and Needle is among the least pricey for the boxed memory foam mattresses – $600 for a queen mattress – and with their return policy, it makes sense to try them out before heading up the cost scale. Note, if you buy via Amazon, they will make you return the mattress for a refund; if you buy via Tuft and Needle’s site, they will help you donate it to charity and you won’t have to pay to ship it. Once you expand a memory foam, re-boxing it will be impossible, so trying to ship it back will be expensive.
I also tried out Casper, another memory foam mattress brand, but not their mattress. They make sheets and pillows as well, and they’ve thought about it way more than I ever did. I figured thread count was the main indicator of a quality sheet, but turns out that its fiber quality and the sheets’ weave and ply. I tried their sheets and their pillows, which are made of 100% cotton covers with silky fibers inside. My take on the sheets: the quality is great, which it should be, as the sheets are premium priced at $140 for a queen sheet set (fitted, cover and two pillowcases.)
As someone who has tons of older, cheaper sheets that pilled and got thinner as time went on, I can say that the Casper sheet quality is likely to last you, and they promise to be softer after multiple uses. But I can’t lie – I found some cheap microfiber sheets online that I sleep on the most because they are super, super, soft. Casper’s own research shows those are likely coated with various, possibly toxic, chemicals (and they are Made In China, so if supporting American business is important to you, I’d avoid them) and they’re an off-brand that cost less than $30 for a Queen set.
I know Casper’s the best quality sheet, but softness wins and it’s probably going to take longer to get to that point with the Casper sheets. However, they are perfect for a kid or teen that might need greater durability and safety and for “active” couples who want them to last. I did LOVE the pillows. They are the right combination of soft and firm and they snap back every night to their former firmness. I’ve been looking for a great pillow and I think I’ve found them. Memory foam pillows stay firm longer than regular ones, but can emit a headache-inducing odor at first and over time, they can get hard and bumpy. Casper might have made the perfect pillow.
As you know by now, electronics in the bedroom are a no-no. If you’re on your phone or laptop before you go to bed, you’re likely killing your sleep. The app F.Lux can help with that, by dimming the blue light that screens emit that is most disturbing to sleep. Or, if you’re a Mac user, a recent update means you no longer need the F.Lux app on iPad, iPhone or iMac. Night Shift, available in your System Preferences/Display area, does the same thing and can be customized to come on and go off when you want it too. But if your bedroom has a 50″ flat screen, well, you just might be compromising your sleep to binge watch “Power,” so keep that in mind.
Hope at least one of these tips helps you catch some more ZZZZZZ’s.
PHOTOS: Tuft and Needle, Tonya Pendleton