Sleep Smarts

I Dreaded Bedtime—Until I Met My Favorite Sleep BFFs

Guaranteed to send you straight to dreamland (or make the journey more enjoyable).

February  4, 2022

Sleep Smarts is your guide to shut-eye—with trusty tips, product recs, and new routines for a better night’s rest.

The worst thing about my sleep is that it’s unpredictable. The best thing about it is that it is predictably unpredictable. Some nights I struggle with falling asleep; other nights I’m a super light sleeper, woken up by the sound of my own breath; still others I wake up at the crack of dawn for no apparent reason other than to mutter curses at my sleeping husband.🙏

There’s no one thing I can pinpoint to blame: my mattress, while not luxurious, is comfortable; my sheets are clean (I wash them each week, if you were tempted to ask); and my pajamas, cozy. Sure, there are things I could actively avoid doing like eating too late, doomscrolling past 9 p.m., and my late-night intake of blood-spilling crime shows.

We know that a good night’s rest plays a big role in how alert, productive, and generally happy and hopeful you are during waking hours. So over the last few months, I have begun practicing a more active pre-sleep routine. It starts as soon as I’m done with work: I make a habit of putting my laptop out of sight; I take a hot shower to signal evening shifting into night; and I drink a calming herbal tea about an hour before I sleep.

The other half of my formula is surrounding myself with a bunch of sleepy-making accoutrements. It might seem odd that something as passive as sleep requires making so many active choices, but if that’s what it takes, I’m doing it. So here they are, my new, warm, snuggly-buggly, sleep-inducing BFFs.

Disclaimer: These may or may not reduce the number of stress dreams in which you’re running late to catch a train.

1. Cloud Cotton Bathrobe, Parachute ($109)

It all begins with a hot shower and snuggly bathrobe. This loungy, cloud-soft bathrobe is made of 100 percent long-staple Turkish cotton, hits at the perfect length, and is just the right amount of cozy (heavy towel robes are not for me—I have thick sweaters for that). It also does one thing really well, which is stay tied (IYKYK)! In fact it’s so secure and comfortable that I often forget to transition into my pajamas.

Photo by Parachute

2. TAZO Calm Chamomile, Tazo ($28.58)

Robe firmly in place, I proceed to make myself a hot cuppa (some evenings, this is replaced by a martini, to adverse effect). On nights when I don’t make my homemade brew of basil, jaggery, and ginger (i.e., often, because I’m lazy), I love me some TAZO Calm Chamomile, which incidentally emerged among the favorites when my indefatigable colleague Kelly tested no fewer than 54 sleep teas!! “Its aroma is fragrant without clearing out your sinuses, which is to say it smells like a warm spring day,” was her verdict.

3. Hawkins New York Stonewashed Linen Bedding, Food52 ($78+)

I’ve realized—after trial and error and depleted finances—how important it is to pick the right bed linen, because, in fact, no two sleepers are alike. It all comes down to how your body reacts to different fabrics, textures, and weights of sheets. For me, that sweet spot is occupied by linen. (If you haven’t arrived at your best sheets yet, fret not: We’ve done the work for you.) I love the weight of Hawkins’ linen, and that despite its weight, it’s so breathable. Which means it stays cool and dry no matter how long it’s in use. Plus, in contrast to standard neutral-colored linen, Hawkins’ saturated colors are so much fun.

Photo by Rocky Luten

4. Marlow Pillow, Brooklinen ($39+)

The perfect pillow: another tricky beast! Too flat, too firm, too bouncy, not supportive enough…it’s never quite right, is it? Until I heard Market Editor Jada Wong sing the praises of her new Marlow pillow, which according to her “is the reason she’s sleeping so much better.” The best feature of this pillow cancels out the biggest gripe I’ve had with others: its adjustability! All you have to do for a higher or lower loft (based on your preferences and sleeping position) is unzip or zip the two lengths of the pillow. I am a side sleeper, so I sleep with the zippers open, and what a difference that has made!

Photo by Brooklinen

5. Lake & Skye Lavender & Sandalwood Pillow Mist, Nordstrom ($24)

Here’s a little luxury I’ve added to my sleep routine: a relaxing pillow spray by Lake & Skye, a Hudson Valley–based maker of 100 percent natural aroma blends and fragrances. All it takes is a couple spritzes on your pillow, and the deep, woody scent of sandalwood combined with herby-floral lavender will send you straight to dreamland. Or at least make the journey there more enjoyable.

Photo by Nordstrom

6. Headspace App ($69.99 per year)

After toggling between various meditation apps—and viral hacks like this military breathing method—I’ve come to rest on Headspace, a mindfulness app with what I find is the easiest to use (read: non-intimidating) interface. While there’s some free content on there, its real value is unlocked with a subscription plan, which includes guided sleep sessions ranging from short breathing exercises to longer audio visualizations. There’s also a nightlong run of soothing sounds to pick from that are designed to help you doze off—and stay asleep.

7. Sunday Citizen Bamboo Elastic Sleep Mask, Food52 ($42)

Speaking of staying asleep, here’s something I’ve come to use every single night: a sleep mask. This one by Sunday Citizen is made in a washable, silky fabric (100 percent bamboo viscose) and comes with an elastic band filled with tiny, soothing crystal beads that sit along your forehead. I’m super sensitive to light, and this is designed to block it all out—much like a blackout curtain would. An added feature? Extra-wide ear covers designed for much-needed noise reduction, meaning it’s also great for daytime naps.

Photo by MJ Kroeger

8. Happy Ears Ear Plugs, Happy Ears ($31.50)

Or there’s…earplugs—another wormhole I had to go down before finding the right one. These Swedish-made earplugs are an interesting option for me because they are not intended to entirely cancel noise; they’re designed to turn down the volume. And that works for me, because noise-canceling headphones have always unsettled me. These are soft, reusable, and the discovery pack comes with three sizes for you to test out. I don’t actually wear these through the night; instead, because I often wake up too early, I pop them in and fall back asleep.

9. Lund London Water Bottle, Pharmaca ($34.99)

Here’s something you may not see on a standard sleep-friendly list, but hear me out. Having a water bottle or carafe by your bedside is perfect for when you wake up thirsty in the middle of the night. This way you don’t have to pull yourself out of bed to go to the kitchen—a surefire way to wake yourself up.

I never go to bed without my Lund Skittle bottle that I bought a few months ago while killing (a lot of) time at Reykjavík airport. With a design that’s inspired by retro bowling skittles and that comes in delightful color combos, plus an insulated stainless-steel interior that keeps water chilly, this bottle was made to be adored. I have the smallest size (300 milliliters), which is perfect for nighttime sips, but they go all the way up to 750 milliliters, and you can customize yours with a range of lids (mine has a heart-eyes emoji).

If you prefer a more traditional glass carafe and cup set, I’ve had my eye on this best-seller on Etsy for my guest room, which is both a great size and practically pretty enough to be decor.

Photo by Lund London

10. Casper Glow Light, Bed Bath & Beyond ($129)

OK, disclaimer: My friend just lent me this to try on for size, but I’m already considering not returning it. After having sampled a few smart lamps, here’s what I love about this one: its clean design; its simple premise: an on-off switch, plus a twist to dim or increase brightness; and the best part for light sleepers like me: a quick wiggle turns it into a gentle "flashlight" that you can carry to the bathroom or kitchen (hello, sneaky snack) in the palm of your hand—a less frustrating experience than hunting for your phone and sending half your nightstand crashing to the floor, or stumbling your way through the dark. To take things to the next level, get the app and set a timer for your wind-down and wake-up routines… very useful for dark and disorienting winter mornings! I could get used to this.

Photo by Casper

What items are you unable to sleep without? A white noise machine? A weighted blanket? Tell us your tricks below!

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.