🛏️Can’t Sleep? Here’s what might help

Poor sleep can be exasperating, and people aren’t taking it lying down

Sleep seems so simple—heck, you can do it with your eyes closed! But clearly, it takes effort. In October 2022, a nationally representative Consumer Reports survey (PDF) asked more than 2,000 U.S. adults about how they slept in the previous 12 months and what they bought or did to improve their slumbers. Nine out of 10 Americans said they experienced at least one sleep challenge within that time frame. Eight out of 10 said they attempted a solution—for example, switching up their bedtime routine or buying bed linens. But not all their efforts paid off equally well. Sleep is a deeply personal matter, and the things that work for one person’s insomnia may not help someone else. Still, we noticed trends. Here are a few nuggets that surprised us—and a few recommendations to up your chances of finding that elusive good night’s rest.

More than 60 percent of people bought something for their bedroom to help them sleep. From small purchases (masks, ear plugs) to larger investments (air conditioners, mattresses), our survey found that many people didn’t just try to change their habits to sleep better—they plunked down some money.

Bedding topped the shopping list, with more than a quarter of people purchasing pillows, sheets, blankets, or comforters within the past 12 months. That’s about the same percentage of people who said they tried to improve their sleep by sticking to a sleep schedule. As it turns out, both can be pretty helpful for improving sleep for many people (more on that later).

If you’re in the market for a pillow, our comprehensive pillow ratings might help narrow your options; the top-rated Coop Home Goods Original pillow, below, is adjustable according to your size, sleep position, and preferences.

Air conditioners and fans topped the list of “very effective” ways to improve sleep. The best temperature for sleep is cooler than most people might think—around 65 degrees, though you can tweak that. (“I mostly recommend to keep it below 72 degrees Fahrenheit, whatever is comfortable to you,” says Roy Raymann, PhD, a San Diego–based sleep consultant). An AC, of course, can efficiently take the mercury down to that springtime-like temperature, and a fan can whip up cool air, too, as long as the ambient temperature stays below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, a whopping 95 percent of those surveyed felt that the purchase of a cooling device was worthwhile (47 percent described it as “very effective”; 48 percent said it was “somewhat” so at helping them sleep). That’s slightly more positive feedback than that of people who popped prescription sleep medications (90 percent said these were at least “somewhat effective”). Thinking about an AC for your bedroom? This LG won’t make a racket. (For more ideas, see our complete ratings of more than 60 in-window models.)

Black-out shades or curtains may be worth the splurge. Or try a sleep mask. Light signals the brain that it’s time to wake up; so, if you’re tired but can’t fall asleep, products that block ambient light can help, as many Americans who purchased them for better sleep discovered. Black-out shades or curtains emerged near the top in our survey for sleep purchases that are likeliest to be most effective, with an impressive 88 percent rated these window coverings as “very” or “somewhat effective”—slightly behind ACs and fans, and also alongside white-noise machines. Don’t want the hassle of installing new hardware? Try a sleep mask—over three-quarters of people who bought one found it to be at least “somewhat effective” (40 percent even described it as “very.”) Our top-scoring pick based on staff evaluations, the Mzoo, costs well under $20.

The trendiest tools purchased were often the most disappointing. Using a sleep tracking app proved to be a big fail among almost half of the people who tried it (48 percent said that it was “not too effective” or “not effective at all” for improving sleep). Weighted blankets performed only a little better among those who bought them in an attempt to improve sleep—38 percent described them as “not too” or “not at all effective.” The truth is, items labeled or marketed as sleep tools may not affect your sleep directly, or at all. A sleep tracker can be helpful for gauging trends to help change behavior—for instance, you notice that you don’t get a lot of deep sleep on the days you work late—but there’s nothing magically sleep-enhancing about them per se. Likewise, research suggests weighted blankets may be helpful for anxiety, so if your insomnia stems from something else, the blanket acts as just another covering. But if worry is what keeps you up at night, then it may be worth a try.

A new mattress can be helpful for better sleep, but a new mattress pad? Less so. Truth: You can’t expect miracles with a mattress pad or topper. If your mattress is beat up and lumpy, or it was shoddy to begin with, these layers of fluff or foam won’t necessarily comfy up your bed—they can only make a firm but already-upstanding mattress feel plusher, says Chris Regan, CR’s senior project leader for mattresses. We don’t know why, exactly, certain respondents bought a mattress pad (beyond that they hoped it would improve their sleep), but the item turned out to be one of the more disappointing household purchases in our survey (28 percent said it was “not too” or “not at all” helpful at improving sleep), after weighted blankets. Those who bought mattresses—which was among the top four items people bought in an attempt to improve sleep—were quite a bit happier. More than a third said it was “very effective” and about half said it was “somewhat effective” for a combined total of 84 percent. If you’re due for a new mattress, consider trying our mattress selector tool to see what might be right for your budget and needs. You can also peruse our comprehensive mattress ratings, with more than 200 models, including our longtime favorite for firm-mattress lovers, the Avocado Green.

Exercise or yoga was among the most likely behavioral changes to improve sleep. Working out is not necessarily top-of-mind when people are thinking up ways to sleep better, but it can, in fact, be pretty effective. In our survey, almost a third of people (31 percent) who added some kind of physical activity to their routine (including laying down a mat for some yoga) said it was “very effective” for improving sleep—that’s more than those who tried over-the-counter medications (25 percent said it was “very effective” at improving sleep) or dietary sleep supplements (19 percent). Research says that exercise and yoga may help you feel less anxious in general, too, and that can be a plus at bedtime. Recent studies, though small, suggest that exercising even as late as early evening can, in fact, help improve sleep.

Other behavioral changes aren’t a bad idea either. While working up a sweat garnered a solid 83 percent of people describing it as at least “somewhat effective,” other modifications in the sleep routine weren’t far behind. Similar percentages of people trying each of the following also found improvements in sleep: watching their diet, like eating lighter meals or avoiding caffeine before bed (83 percent); taking a warm bath or shower before bed (81 percent); sticking to a regular sleep schedule (81 percent); and limiting screen time (80 percent). It can be overwhelming to tackle all of these things at once, so start with going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning, says Maren Hyde-Nolan, PhD, a sleep psychologist at Henry Ford Health, in Detroit. Then pick up as many good habits as you can, even if you try only one or two strategies at a time. The beauty of a behavioral tactic is that it’s free—and chances are, as our survey found, it just might work, at least “somewhat.”