- Use low light. “Limiting your light exposure in the evening tends to transition you into sleep,” says Helene Emsellem, M.D., an associate clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University and the director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. And keeping yourself in darkness all night helps you stay asleep. If you read in bed before sleeping, use a low-power book light rather than a bright bedside lamp to encourage your brain's shift to sleep. “I recommend the kind that clips onto books,” Emsellem says.
Try: The “Itty Bitty” Book Light, which plugs into a wall and attaches to your book (see sleep aids that diminish light). It also comes with a battery pack.
- Block LED glow. Light is often a bigger issue than many people realize. Even the dim red or green LED light from a digital alarm clock can be annoying when you’re asleep or trying to fall asleep. “If you have a clock with an LED dial, you should turn it around so that the light, however dim, doesn’t get through your eyelids and interrupt sleep,” says Maas. Turning the clock will also keep you from checking the time whenever you wake up―thereby raising your anxiety about the sleep you’re losing.
- Seal off windows. If your bedroom gets early-morning sun or there’s a streetlight right outside, Maas says, “the best thing you can do is get darkening drapes or blackout shades.”
Try: Shades made of nonwoven polyester, which can keep out virtually all outdoor light if they’re well fitted to the windows. Levolor offers a collection of blackout shades called Evening Star, available in 12 colors (prices vary depending on size, levolor.com for store locations).
- Cover your eyes. Eye masks work, especially if they’re big enough to cover the eyes completely. But people who toss and turn a lot may have trouble keeping them in place, and very light sleepers may be disturbed by having something tied to their heads, says Robert D. Ballard, M.D., director of the sleep center at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, in Denver. Soft cloth (terry or fleece) on the side that touches your face will make the mask comfortable and stable, and extra material around the nose bridge will close the pathways where ambient light might sneak through. Wash your mask once a week and it can last for year.
Try: The fleecy Dreamaway Fold-Up Mask from Dream Essentials (see sleep aids that diminish light), which is comfortable and blocks out light better than any of the other masks we tested. But if you hate the idea of fleece right next to your face (it can be hot in the summer), choose the 40 Blinks Sleep Mask ($13, bucky.com).