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Rest Smarter, Perform Better: Sleep Gear Essentials

This dog knows the best sleep gear for a good night's rest.
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The average person spends nearly one-third of their life sleeping. That’s around 25 years asleep. Or more than 9,000 days snoozing. It’s time you got the gear for better sleep.

Essential Sleep Gear for a Good Night's Rest

We nerd out on the lightest tent and brightest flashlight, but when was the last time you upgraded your at-home sleep system? Better sleep allows your body to recover more easily after a big trail run or hefty hike. It also increases brain cognition and keeps you healthier overall.

According to the CDC adults who consistently sleep less than 7 hours are at a higher risk of illness including heart attack, stroke, and cancer. And it’s a widespread problem, with tired Americans from coast to coast regularly reporting low sleep duration.

CDC USA Sleep Map
Age-Adjusted Prevalence of Short Sleep Duration (<7 hours) Among Adults Aged ≥18 Years, by State, United States, 2014

Concerned about the growing sleep epidemic, I spent the last six months researching, testing gear, and sleeping—all in the name of good journalism. And while this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of sleep gear possibilities, a lot of care went into curating these recommendations.

I travel often and sleep on all manner of beds. I compiled this information with data collected in discussions with friends (plus extensive internet research) and personal testing. Presented below are my favorites; the gear I regularly rave about to friends, family, and complete strangers.

A good night’s sleep is possible. And with these tips and gear essentials, you’ll be sleeping like a pro in no time.

Better Sleep: The Gear

Bear Mattress for Athletes


Gone are the days of wandering the mattress showroom. Now with the click of a mouse, you can order a mattress and have it shipped straight to your door in less than a week. And since it comes in a compressed package, you won’t have to waste the afternoon wrestling a mattress into place. Simply unpack the box, carefully cut away the plastic wrap, and watch your mattress expand.

A Bargain Foam Mattress

And surprisingly, they don’t need to cost a fortune. For $100 you can get a pretty decent mattress. I spent more than a year sleeping on a full-size Spa Senstations 6′ Memory Foam Comfort Mattress ($100 via Walmart or $137 via Amazon). I found the combination of high-density base layer and memory foam upper provided a good amount of support and give for an average-size woman.

My biggest complaint was that it didn’t breathe well and was very hot. It’s a common problem with foam mattresses and something I experienced with the Spa Sensations.

Towards the end of the year, the foam was starting to show signs of molding to my body and the place I normally slept. For a bargain, though, it’s a solid choice. It won’t last a lifetime, but could be the perfect option for a rarely-used guest room or quickly-growing child’s bed.

Mail-Order Mattresses

If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you know mail-order mattresses are all the rage. Purple ($999), Leesa ($865 Amazon special), Tuft & Needle ($575), Casper ($950), the list goes on. I’ve spent nights sleeping on a few of these mattresses while staying with friends, it wasn’t enough time testing to give an in-depth review. While I found them comfortable for the short-term, I wanted to find a forever mattress that was suitably firm and cool.

While on the topic of mail order mattresses, I should point out that the Casper dog bed ($225), is one of my pooches’ favorite sleep spots. And shoppers looking to see a mattress before ordering should note that Casper mattresses can now be found in select Target stores.

A Mattress for Athletes

In the end, I decided to go with the queen-sized Bear Mattress ($850) and it is by far my new favorite. Designed specifically for active folks, it’s made with Celliant fiber, a material that purportedly reflects infrared light back to the body for improved blood flow and muscle recovery. I have no way to measure that, but I do wake feeling great after a hard training session.

Unlike many of its squishy-foam mail-order brethren, the Bear Mattress is firm and supportive due to layered construction, and it stays cool with the addition of graphite gel. To top it off, this mattress is made in the USA, comes with a 100-night  trial, and is made from eco-friendly materials so you don’t have to worry about harmful off-gassing while you sleep.

A Mattress for Moms

For all the new mothers out there spending hours sitting up in bed breastfeeding, GearJunkie contributor and active mama Chelsey Magness recommends The Nectar Mattress ($795). The edges are more supportive than many mail-order options, so you can easily sit up to read or feed, without feeling like you’re sinking into the mattress.

It’s a great mattress to ease lower back pain or anyone looking for support. She reports the mattress, “does sometimes get a little warm, but is so comfortable.” Nectar also offers one of the best return policies out there, giving you an entire year – 365 days – where you can test and return hassle-free if it’s not to your liking.

And once you’ve found the perfect mattress protect it and lengthen its life, with the Bedgear Mattress Protector ($150). An extra layer that cools while it protects.

Cooling pillows help you sleep better


The most important thing to consider when choosing a pillow is alignment. Whether a stomach, back, or side sleeper, you want your neck to align with your spine. This will help prevent waking up with a sore, stiff neck and improve overall sleep.

The Malouf Carbon Cool Pillow ($200) is a high-tech option that provides both sturdy support and cooling thanks to its proprietary application of ventilated foam and special cooling materials. I personally find it a bit too dense, but my partner raves about it and refuses to sleep on anything else.

For a pillow that offers lighter weight, and more give and fluffiness, I love the Slumber Cloud Cirrus Pillow ($94). Made with the same Outlast technology found in performance clothing, it manages heat while proving comfortable with an organic duck down interior. There’s also a down-alternative pillow ($51).

Or, if you already have a beloved pillow but don’t want to spend the night searching for a cool spot, check out the Pileus Pillow Cover ($50). This high-tech, hypoallergenic pillowcase is designed to keep you cool all night long.

Sheex are wicking sheets for athletes


It’s no secret, I’m a big fan of made-in-the-USA gear. So when I found Authenticity 50 Sheets ($169), I was elated. From growing the cotton to cutting and sewing, it’s all done in America. These sheets also happen to be super comfy and come with a 100-night sleep trial.

On the hunt for sheets that perform like athletic clothing, I had to test a set of Sheex ($179). The microfiber polyester provides impressive temperature regulation (wicking sweat and keeping cool) paired with comfortable, silky softness.

The only thing I’m not a fan of with Sheex is the stretch. It felt weird in the middle of the night to pull up on an elastic sheet. It’s perfect for the bottom, fitted sheet, but not my favorite for the top sheet.

Down and Synthetic Comforters are great sleep gear


I love that feeling of snuggling under the covers, but as a hot sleeper, I’m torn between coziness and temperature control. Luckily, the Parachute Lightweight Down Alternative Duvet ($209) offers just the right balance. Plus, it is a hypoallergenic, “green” choice with the incorporation of regenerated polyester from recycled post-consumer materials.

For folks looking for a warmer option, the Brooklinen All-Season Down Comforter ($299) is a winner. Handmade in Canada, it has a 700-fill and is covered in wonderfully soft 400-thread count sateen.

And for people wanting to bring the essence of camping into the bedroom, you can’t go wrong with a Rumpl High-Performance Down Blanket ($199).

A buff and marpac sound machine are great sleep accessories

Light and Noise Blocking

Light and noise are sleep’s enemies, and creating a soothing oasis is key to a restful night. If you live in a bright city or on a well-lit street, install blackout shades or invest in an eye mask. I like to use an old Buff ($20), but there are countless sleep-specific options out there (Tim Ferriss loves this one).

If it’s really noisy outside, I use a pair of earplugs I received on a small flight to the San Juan Islands. But for the most part, I prefer white noise. The Marpac Dohm Sound Machine ($50) is great, but for portability, I rely on a sleep-inducing playlist.

The Chilipad regulates temperature in bed

The Ultimate Sleep Accessory

Research shows lowering your core body temperature is an important first step to falling asleep. This is where The Chilipad ($599) comes into play.

Remember that old heating pad your Grandma had? Well, the Chilipad is like that, only huge, and it can get both cold and hot. Water pumps through the coils at whatever temperature you choose and provides unmatched cooling.

I can honestly say this piece of sleep gear changed my life. Prior to getting one of these, I was waking every night hot and restless. But now even on sweltering southern nights, I’m happy with The Chilipad Cube pumping away to keep me cool and sound asleep. Best of all, you and your partner control each side individually, so thermostat wars will become a thing of the past.

Sleep Smarter, So You Can Play Longer

To recap: Sleep matters; it’s key to both overall good health and optimal athletic performance. Getting an entirely new sleep system isn’t cheap, but considering you literally spend a third of your life in bed, I think it’s worth it. Invest in what you can afford now and consider making upgrades as it becomes possible.

If nothing else, optimize the setup you already have. Stream some soothing ocean sounds, cover your eyes with a t-shirt, and turn the thermostat down a notch or two.

Count sheep if you must, just make sure to take sleep as seriously as you train.

Do you have a favorite piece of sleep gear I missed? Let me know in the comments for future updates to the article. Thanks!

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