BY LISSA COFFEY
Try these latest sleep aids and apps to catch up on your zzz’s at home, work or anywhere.
Editor’s note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
You’d think we would have heard it all by now. I mean, really, human beings have been sleeping since the beginning of, well, human beings. But just like there is innovation in virtually every aspect of our lives, there also is innovation—even some novelty—when it comes to sleep. This year, there are three major sleep trends that have emerged. Take a look and see which you might like to try.
1. ‘Sleep wherever’
The first trend is one I like to call “sleep wherever.” People are getting the message that sleep is important and that’s a good thing. But for some people, crazy schedules or frequent travels make a regular sleep routine a challenge. So, for road warriors and other sleep-challenged people who want to catch some winks wherever they are, manufacturers have come up with some interesting solutions.
Sleep tent: The sleep tent is a fabric contraption that fits around a twin-size bed to form a tentlike enclosure. This is great for times when you need privacy as you sleep. It also helps to block out daytime light. The sleep tent is useful in a dorm room, where multiple people share the room and are on different sleep schedules. And I can imagine that physicians working long hours in a hospital would like to use a sleep tent when they need to nap on their breaks. It also might be good for siblings who share a room, giving them the feel of their own personal space. These tents come in a variety of colors and patterns, so you can match your décor if you want to leave them up. They fold into a small packet you can take along to use while traveling.
Travel pillows: We’ve all seen those horseshoe-shaped travel pillows and now there are more options. There are travel pillows that look like a collar and support your neck when you need to sleep upright, say, in an airplane seat. Some attach to the back of the seat to prevent your head from dropping to one side. There also are pillows that allow you to sleep forward, resting your head down into the pillow. One model has you put your arms through holes in the base of the tall pillow, while the pillow rests on your lap or the airplane tray table in front of you. Then you rest your head in the hole on the top of the pillow. This way you’re supported and can breathe freely. Plus, no one can see your drool-covered sleep face so you have a bit more privacy.
Sleep masks: Basic masks are available, but you’ll have to hunt for plainer versions among all the luxury models. Many sleep masks now have “eye cups” because research has shown some people don’t like to feel something directly on their eyes when they sleep. This design also makes sense for those of us who want to nap on a plane or train and not wake up with mascara smeared on our faces! Some new sleep masks incorporate ear muffs into their design. Instead of having to wear separate ear plugs, you can wrap the sleep mask around your eyes and ears. This doesn’t block out all the noise, but it muffles the sound enough to help you get some sleep.
2. There’s an app for that
As much as we advocate for keeping technology out of the bedroom, people are reluctant to be too far from their cellphones. Landlines are fast becoming a thing of the past, and we rely on cellphones in case of emergencies and such. Because the phone is in the room anyway, you can take advantage of some of the many apps companies have developed to help us sleep. These come pre-installed on phones or are free to download.
The iPhone has a new function in its Clock app called “Bedtime.” You set the time when you want to go to bed and the app sends you a notification beforehand so you can get ready. The app also will wake you with gentle music when you set the alarm.
Several apps use the sleep-cycle theory to wake you at the end of a sleep cycle so you get optimal rest. They call this a “smart” alarm, and you need to set a range of time when you want to wake up. Many apps can record your sleep habits to track the quality of sleep you get over time and even prepare a sleep-debt log.
There are apps to help you get to sleep, too. You can choose from white noise, ambient nature sounds or soft music, all set on a timer so it’s not playing all night. You also will find hypnosis apps for sleep, and some that help you keep track of and analyze your dreams.
3. The art of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is an ancient art. While our ancestors may have gone the old-fashioned route with simple sachets, we can enjoy the benefits of these scents in many ways. In addition to candles and room sprays, you’ll find diffusers that plug into electrical outlets or sit atop lightbulbs. Many manufacturers of sleep products incorporate scents into pillows and other items. Here are a handful of my favorite fragrances for sleep:
Lavender: Grandmother knew best. One whiff of this age-old remedy and you can’t help but relax. Lavender is in the mint family, and it’s easy to grow in your own garden if you want to have it on hand. Use lavender bath salts for a calming experience before bed. It’s also nice to slip a little sachet under your pillow or make a spray with lavender essential oil and distilled water that you can spritz on your pajamas or pillowcase.
Orange: Orange is great for relieving anxiety, so if you can’t sleep because you’re worried about something, this citrus scent can help. One easy way to use it is to put a few drops of orange essential oil in a carrier oil and rub it on your stomach. Never put essential oils directly on your skin: They are too potent and can cause irritation. Always mix them with a carrier oil—a plant-based oil like sesame or coconut works well.
Cedar: Cedar (also called cedarwood) works on the pineal gland, helping to stimulate the release of melatonin, which regulates sleep. Blend a few drops of cedar essential oil with sesame oil and rub on your forehead and the insides of your wrists. Wonderfully relaxing!
Chamomile: We know chamomile tea helps us to relax, so it makes sense that the fragrance of this little flower does the same. Try adding a few drops of chamomile essential oil to your shampoo, conditioner or body lotion to get an overall soothing preparation for sleep.
Valerian: Valerian is a root, so it is grounding. If you’ve got an active mind and can’t seem to turn it off enough to relax into sleep, then this is the fragrance for you. Mix a few drops with a carrier oil and massage the soles of your feet.
These sleep-aiding trends may be hot right now, but nothing beats having a quality mattress. Always remember that your mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep. When you have a supportive, comfortable mattress, sleep comes more easily, and you may not need to follow any trends at all!
Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, WhatsYourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.