I Turned to High-Tech Sleep Gear to Help Get More Z’s
Snake oil or legitimate science?
It’s undeniable that more sleep is a good thing. Getting your Z’s each night can improve your mood, lower stress levels and the risk of disease, and recharge your batteries so you can get after it the following day. But, as the father of a 15-month-old, I rarely get enough of it. So I’ve been researching the science behind, and testing the efficacy of, the best sleep gear to help me get a good night’s rest. I had mixed results.
To help me decide what to test, I pored over sleep-gear reviews online and polled coworkers and athletes to see what has worked for them. Then I replaced my old sleep getup (generic cotton sheets, an inexpensive synthetic comforter, and three-year-old Costco pillows) with various new products and spent two weeks sleeping. I tested everything on a Posturepedic king-size mattress that my wife and I received as a housewarming gift five years ago. We slept three nights with each of these products save the pillow, which arrived so late we only got one night on it. I tested each product one at a time, keeping everything else the same on our bed, so I could accurately gauge whether they individually helped me snooze. I took notes each morning about how I felt. I also wore my Suunto 9 watch to track my sleep time and heart rate for one night with each product, as well as while sleeping on my usual system.
My baseline sleep time came out to seven hours and 33 minutes, and my heart rate was 50 beats per minute. Each night, I turned off my computer at 7:30 and did some reading before lights out at nine. I also kept coffee intake to one eight-ounce cup in the morning and didn’t drink alcohol on testing nights.
Bedgear Dri-Tec Performance Sheet Set ($95) and Ver-Tex Climacore Blanket ($300)
Sleep time: 9 hours 53 minutes
Heart rate: 51 beats per minute
Without exaggeration, the first night we used these sheets and blanket was the best sleep I’ve had since my daughter was born. And it wasn’t a mere fluke. Both my wife and I slept considerably better all three nights. After I swapped the Bedgear out for our old sheets, my wife asked, “When do we put those fancy sheets back on?” The Dri-Tec sheets were a supple, lightweight, stretchy synthetic that felt like silk next to the skin. The sheets felt cool to the touch while still insulating me, which isn’t exactly revolutionary technology—any premium silk-weight synthetic layer would. The blanket has about two inches of loft in the form of an extremely breathable batting called Vertex, which has a high CFM (cubic feet per minute, the same scale many technical outerwear brands use to rate breathability). Just like a ski jacket, this system managed to regulate temperatures in such a way that it kept us both warm without overheating. This is particularly impressive considering my wife sleeps pretty cool while I run hot as a furnace. The whole system didn’t bind up when I rolled around either, and I tend to toss and turn.
Slumber Cloud Nacreous Mattress Pad ($149)
Sleep time: 8 hours 55 minutes
Heart rate: 50 beats per minute
This pad was—pardon the pun—the sleeper hit of this test. I was surprised at how much it cooled me down and therefore helped me sleep. Slumber Cloud uses a patented technology called Outlast, which it claims absorbs excess heat, pulling it away from your body with thousands of tiny beads. My skeptical Spidey sense tingles whenever I hear of so-called space-age tech, but the Nacreous was amazing. We keep our house a full seven degrees hotter during the winter months, which often leads to me waking up uncomfortably hot and sweaty amid the inexpensive cotton and synthetic bedding. Even with the jacked-up thermostat, the Nacreous helped me stay cool enough to clock nearly nine hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Nest Bedding Easy Breather Pillow ($149)
Sleep time: 7 hours 34 minutes
Heart rate: 54 beats per minute
This might not sound like much of an endorsement coming from someone who just admitted to sleeping on Costco pillows, but the Easy Breather is the most supportive of any I’ve slept on. It felt amazing on my neck, thanks to the cooling but sturdy half-inch-thick Tencel fabric surrounding eight inches of memory foam. It kept my head at just the right angle all night without feeling hard or uncomfortably firm. Despite my seemingly unimpressive seven and a half hours of sleep time and a relatively high heart rate, I was able to fall back asleep quickly each time my daughter woke me up, and I felt rested in the morning.
Now Ultrasonic Real Bamboo Essential Oil Diffuser ($39)
Sleep time: 7 hours 45 minutes
Heart rate: 51 beats per minute
Over the years, I’ve waffled between thinking that essential-oil diffusers are pure snake oil to feeling that they have to help in some way (right?). After a few nights of pretty average sleep with the Ultrasonic, I’m still not totally convinced that the lavender being diffused into my bedroom relaxed me enough to aid my sleep. But it’s less than $50, and it did make everything smell lovely without being overwhelming.
Baloo Weighted Blanket ($189)
Sleep time: 6 hours 32 minutes
Heart rate: 50 beats per minute
This cool-to-the-touch weighted blanket presented me with a testing conundrum. My wife had her best night’s sleep in years with it. One morning she came stumbling out of our room at 8 A.M. (it’s rare for her to sleep past 6:30), saying, “I feel like I was drugged. That thing really works.” I personally found it claustrophobic and either threw it off in my sleep or woke up with anxiety all three nights at about 1:30 A.M. We both found that it inhibits tossing and turning. My wife loved the fact that she woke up in exactly the same position many hours later, while I felt like someone was holding me down. The Baloo is loaded with beads for weight and big enough for only one user at a time. I apparently wouldn’t like any weighted blanket, but the Baloo is well crafted with its beautiful baffling and comfortable cotton exterior.
Overall, my heart rate didn’t fluctuate much with any of the sleep gear, but I did log more sleep and feel more rested, except when using the Baloo. So what’s the takeaway? Each item here is worth a try to see if it improves your shut-eye.