From weighted blankets, to magical potions to essential oils, digital editor Alison Izzo tried every sleep aid she could. And the winners might surprise you.
It’s no overstatement to say that we are all obsessed with sleep. From how to get more of it, to discovering what ‘type’ of sleeper you are, to improving the quality of your sleep, to how it improves everything from your mental health to your weight loss efforts – there seems to be no end to the studies and research looking at the overall health benefits of getting a solid eight hours of shut eye.
Recent research revealed that an estimated 15 million Australians aged 20 years and over have sleep disorders, which in turn can lead to serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease. And I’m no exception.
Given I work for body+soul, I was well aware I was doing everything wrong – drinking too much coffee, scrolling Instagram late at night, going to bed too late and all without winding down first – compounded by a rather vocal toddler who wakes like clockwork at 5.50AM. Every. Damn. Day.
I was exhausted, cranky and the bags under my eyes were becoming a permanent fixture on my face. I knew I had to make some serious changes to my Night owl habits.
I should preface this by saying I’ve never suffered from insomnia (that’s a whole other kettle of over-tired fish), but I was sick of dragging myself out of bed, feeling like I’d been hit by a tonne of bricks.
Given the consumer interest in sleep, there’s no shortage of sleep aids on the market promising to give you the best night’s sleep of your life. Some sensible, and some that sounded down-right wacky. I was keen to play guinea pig to find out what really works.
What: The weighted blanket
The results: Body+soul columnist Emma Markezic road-tested the buzzy blanket, and found it worked a treat for her anxiety. I just wanted to wake up feeling less zombie-like. The Neptune Premium Blanket II comes in a variety of weights from two to 11 kilograms, so I went the middle ground with a seven kilo quilt cover.
The clever construction (once I figured it out) means the micro-beads inside are evenly weighted, and the mink-soft fabric felt luxurious to touch. Initially the feeling of pressure was strange – perhaps not for those who suffer from claustrophobia. But after a few nights I started looking forward to the heaviness which signalled to my body it was time to be still. Pulling up the covers made me feel like I was sinking deep into my mattress – that way you do during a firm massage, eventually surrendering to the pressure. And also, to sleep.
The only downside is my husband – a constant wriggler – hated it. So, you either need to be aligned with your bed-partner on this, or buy a single bed quilt to avoid middle-of-the-night skirmishes (or the unfortunate occurrence of being lumped with their half too – making it doubly heavy!) Oh, and making the bed in the morning turned into a serious arm workout!
Pros: Deeply relaxing and great for anxiety.
Cons: It got awkward everyday, I eventually gave up making the bed. Also, the velvet-look didn’t gel with my Scandi bedroom aesthetic.
Shop it: Neptune Premium Blanket II, $319, at Neptune Blanket
What: The weighted eye mask
The results: Have you ever been to a yoga class where they pop a little bean bag on your eyes for Savasana? This is a similar feeling, thanks to 250 grams of non-toxic, micro glass beads stitched into this otherwise ordinary-looking eye mask. The heaviness of the mask helped to relax the tension I unconsciously hold in my face, meaning I could nod off faster.
I was genuinely surprised how it provided total blackout to any lights, and helped to quieten my thoughts pre-sleep. If you find your mind racing before bed, or suffer from tension headaches or migraines, I genuinely can’t recommend this enough.
Pros: Small, compact, very effective for tension and calming the mind.
Cons: To keep it on during the night it’s best to sleep on your back (which I don’t). Most nights I put it on until I felt really sleepy then whipped it off before turning over and nodding off.
Shop it: Neptune Sleep Mask, $79, at Neptune Blanket
What: The sleep powder
The results: Confession: I was skeptical that a ‘wellness powder’ that didn’t contain any pharmaceutical-grade drugs could help me get to sleep. But boy, was I wrong. On the nights that I drank a glass of this cinnamon-y concoction I consistently found that I fell asleep faster, and I would wake feeling refreshed… and dare I say it… almost bounding out of bed.
Containing Lucuma powder, a highly bioavailable form of marine magnesium and Valerian Root powder – each said to improve sleep quality – the Chai-infused mix is also vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and non-GMO.
The flavour is a little…flour-y, but definitely not unpleasant, can be mixed with your milk of choice, and drunk hot or cold. I preferred mine with a dash of boiling water then topped up wth frothed almond milk to make it feel more like a dessert rather than a chore.
Pros: Helps get you get to sleep, and stay asleep. Easy to digest.
Cons: It’s quite a bit of liquid before bed if you worry about peeing during the night. And I wasn’t blown away by the flavour – but I didn’t actively dislike it, either.
Shop it: Vida Glow Beauty Sleep, $59.95 at Adore Beauty
What: The essential oil roll-on
The results: Essential oils have long been used therapeutically to help treat a myriad of emotional and physical issues, so a blend that promised to give a ‘temporary relief of symptoms associated with sleeplessness including mild insomnia, nervous tension, restlessness, stress and mild anxiety’ sounded right up my sleep aid-alley.
The ten millilitre vial was easy to apply before bed and the heavenly blend of Lavender, Mandarin, Roman Chamomile and Valerian pure oils provided an instant cue to exhale and relax before bed. I’m not sure how greatly it effected my quality of sleep, but applying this to my pressure points became a nice ritual to signal it was time to wind down from the day.
Pros: Small, easy to use, beautiful calming scent.
Cons: The jury’s still out on the tangible effects.
Shop it: IE Essential Oil Roll On, $24.95 at In Essence
What: The personalised pillow
The results: Are you sleeping on the wrong kind of pillow for your sleeping position? This was a question I’d never asked myself. Richard Christianson, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, recommends that different kinds of sleepers should choose different kinds of neck support to get the best possible quality of sleep. His tips? Back sleepers should look for lo-profile pillows. Side sleepers need to fill the gap between their neck and their mid-line (which can depend on the density of your mattress). And stomach sleepers need a pillow that will lessen the angle of your head turn while snoozing. Who knew?
I used the online guide to find my ‘perfect pillow’ – which prescribed me a Latex pillow which would support my side-lying sleep habit. The pillow arrived and it was firm, but not hard by any means – and the medium-profile shape sat snuggly under my neck without my head feeling too ‘propped up’. I suddenly realised how unsupportive my 80% duck down pillows were so promptly send them on a permanent holiday to the spare room.
Pros: My neck felt supported at night and pain-free in the morning, and made my bed feel like more of a sanctuary.
Cons: Getting a new pillow made me realise I probably need even more support – than this. I’m now looking for a memory foam upgrade.
Shop it: Dunlopillo Luxurioius Latex Classic Pillow, $149, at Dunlopillo
What: The smart phone reminder
The results: There are a myriad of sleep tracking apps and devices on the market, but in the past I found them a bit depressing – as I realised how little quality sleep I was getting. So in an effort to tackle my sleep habits in a low-tech way, I started using the Bedtime function within the in-built Clock App on my Apple iPhone.
It’s not complicated and isn’t fuelled by detailed data – but is rather a friendly alert that pops up when it’s time to start getting ready for bed, and then a less anxiety-inducing alarm tone that gently chimes when it’s time to rise. It does track your hours in bed – but as the function isn’t connected to a wearable device this is based on your interactions with your phone – which is still telling, if not always 100% accurate.
Since using, my average sleep times have gone from six hours and 40-ish minutes to seven hours and 30-ish minutes. And I feel noticeably better for it.
Pros: Easy to use and ‘polite’ -the tone of the alerts are like gentle suggestions rather than a barking order, which I really came to appreciate.
Cons: The function doesn’t give detailed sleep data some which pair with wearable trackers do.
Shop it: It’s free with an Apple iPhone, using the latest iOS operating system . iPhone 11, from $1,190 at Apple
What: The face cream
The results: I didn’t know if using a face cream formulated for sleep would help me nod off, but I was hoping it might make me look more rested in the morning. And it doesn’t get much more luxe than this Sisley sleep mask. Formulated with thyme honey and Shea butter to soothe, as well as macadamia and cottonseed oils (amongst others) to nourish and moisturise, using this felt like I giving my face a big, luxurious hug before bed.
The thick cream sunk into my skin quickly and on waking my face fine lines looked plumper and skin felt smoother than usual – meaning I looked more rested, even if I didn’t clock a full eight hours. However, it is quite fragrant so if you prefer your skincare un-perfumed it may not be for you.
Pros: Adding this to my night time routine made me feel very boujee, and my skin was noticeably more hydrated/less-corpse-like on the nights I didn’t clock as many Z’s as I’d like.
Cons: The floral scent is quite heady, so not for everyone.
Shop it: Velvet Sleeping Mask, $165, at Sisley
For my money, the Vida Glow Beauty Sleep, the Neptune Weighted Eye Mask and the Bedtime function on my phone were the most effective sleep aids, and all made a tangible difference both to how much sleep I got, but also the quality of that sleep.
I’ll nervously flag here that what works for this over-tired mum may not work for everyone. But I stand behind the fact that if you invest some time, a little bit of energy and varying degrees of money, there are products out there that will have you sleeping like a baby.