White-noise generators -- which typically produce "sea wave" or "waterfall" sounds -- are aimed at stimulus control, says Lorenzo. "They produce a constant level of low noise that masks other little noises that come onto your radar at night," she explains. "They don't allow the brain to pick up on little noises that can arouse you at night."
Science has investigated how smells and sounds are connected with brain circuitry, says Twery. "But how they control sleep and wakefulness is less understood," he tells WebMD. "That doesn't mean these products don't have merit. They've probably been tested to find if there's value. These products may actually help someone sleep. It's mostly about personal comfort."
As for mattresses, comfort certainly rules. "For people with chronic pain, a good mattress is important," Lorenzo notes. "But for an ordinary insomniac, an expensive mattress won't make that much difference."
Traveling in Comfort
When it comes to sleep, "we're creatures of habit," says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, director of the Northside Hospital Sleep Medicine Institute in Atlanta. "When you're traveling, you want a sense of familiarity... sounds, smells, bedclothing. Some people travel with a modified version of the pillow they use at home."
He suggests packing a few amenities for your hotel room:
- An eye mask to block out light. If you travel overseas, this is a must.
- A sound-generator to mask ambient noise. "Sharper Image stores carry one that reproduces wave and babbling brook sounds," he notes. "For hard-core city dwellers, there's one with honking cars and city noises."
- A tiny battery-operated fan. It gives you the feeling of a breeze blowing over your body -- and creates a bit of white noise.
- A neck pillow. It supports your neck on plane flights, so you snooze without straining it.
- A scented plug-in candle. "It doesn't have to be any particular scent ... whatever makes you comfortable," says Rosenberg.
"These days, it's hard to travel with all sorts of gadgets, but one or two might help," he tells WebMD.
Also, if you're a sensitive sleeper, ask for a room away from the main corridor and vending machines, Rosenberg advises. "Ask which side of the building faces a major road - and whether your room can be back where the garden is."