A 2001 German study found that a medium-firm pillow significantly improved sleep (the firmest was of no advantage). Bottom line: A pillow should support your head, not bury it.
Pillows also frequently contribute to allergies that impair breathing. The source of allergens can be the filling (down allergies are common) or dust mites. I highly recommend getting a nonallergenic foam pillow and a dust-mite-blocking protector. You should toss your pillow into the dryer every few months to kill dust mites and replace it every couple of years.
If you're in the market for a mattress, Consumer Reports found that people who spent 15 minutes testing a bed in the store—spending at least five minutes on each side, especially in their preferred sleeping position—were as satisfied as those who were allowed to take the beds home for a test sleep.
By exposing sleep-deprived people to specially designed full-spectrum lights (10,000 lux fluorescent bulbs) for 30 minutes in the early morning, scientists have helped them get to sleep earlier and stay asleep longer. One theory is that regular exposure to such light in the morning triggers a more advantageous nighttime release of melatonin, the hormone that keeps your body clock on a regular schedule, ensuring that you feel sleepy in the evening and stay asleep through the night.
Light therapy can work wonders for people who find it difficult to fall asleep before midnight and are sluggish in the morning. For serious insomnia, it's best to work with a sleep specialist to devise a treatment program, which usually requires that you commit to waking up earlier each morning. But if you're suffering, it's worth a try.
Scientists studying the light-melatonin connection have discovered that the blue spectrum of light can disrupt circadian rhythms and keep you awake. Exposure to blue light late at night—it's emitted by computers, televisions, even digital clocks—can wreak havoc with your body clock. Keep your room pitch-dark at night, and cover all digital clock or DVD player readouts.
More techniques to help you sleep