Good sleep really matters, but even if you have what it takes to get a good night's rest you still have to combat the world around you. You can't control the sun or the noise outside, but you can do a few things to make your bedroom dark and quiet when you need it so nothing stands between you and a good night's rest.
The sun rises right into my face every morning at 7:00 AM, and I don't need or want to get up quite so early. (Sorry, 7:00 AM is not early -- Lifehacker Australia editor.) On top of that, the leaf blowers and music in my neighbourhood get their start at about the same time. Since I'm not Helen Keller, this sort of thing wakes me up in the morning before I'm ready to go. Going to bed early can help, but not all nights were created equal and I wanted a way to survive the distractions. A few DIY tips and tricks made all the difference without much sacrifice.
Dim Your Windows
You may have noticed, but most blinds only keep out the sun so much. If you've got a lot of natural light in your bedroom as I do, you've probably considered expensive blackout shades but didn't want to pay the price. Additionally, if you actually like the light in your room at other times of the day, blackout shades only give you two options: really dark or really bright. I've found a good solution to each problem, and you can even combine them if you want.
First, you can dim your windows with cut-to-size removable decals. I purchased this Gila Privacy Film, which costs about $17 per window (not much for just a bedroom), but pretty much any generic removable dimming film should do the trick. You just cut it to size, wash your window, and roll it on.
You have to take time to press it so it stays, and if you have multiple window panes you'll need to cut it into multiple pieces. I have 24 separate panes on one window and cutting took about an hour. I caught up with some podcasts. You'll probably have an easier time than I did, however, so I wouldn't worry too much about the commitment. Speaking of commitment, you can also take the film off at any time if you like. I taped mine in some places where it wouldn't stick, but it should stay on the window just fine if you leave it alone.
Second, you can make your own blackout shades. I prefer just the decals because I want some light to come in. With less coming through, I wake up closer to 8:00 AM -- my desired time -- so I don't employ other techniques unless I need to. If you want to make your own shades, you don't really need a lot of know-how. You just need blackout fabric, a curtain rod, a staple gun, and a string. From there you just cut the fabric to the size of your window, staple the top around the curtain rod, mount the curtain rod above your window, and tie the fabric up into a roll with a string until you need to pull your blackout curtains down. Of course, these won't look beautiful by any means. It'll look like you stapled a sheet of fabric to a rod. If you have a sewing machine, however, you can sew them onto the rod and seal the corners without much effort. For some good instructions, check out DIY Network's post on making your own blackout shades.
You can use whichever techniques suit you best, or both. You can also just buy an eye mask if you don't mind them. Either way, you'll reduce the amount of light in your bedroom on the cheap and worry less about an early wake-up call from the sun.
Plug Your Ears
You can block out the sun, but you can't black out the noise. If your home lets in a lot of outdoor sound, you can't really do anything simple to stop it. You can, however, plug up your ears.
You've probably thought of this. Ear plugs make for an obvious solution, but you want to get the right kind. Small foam inserts work best. You wouldn't want them for a loud, damaging concert; you don't need to block out a crazy amount of sound or maintain any level of quality. You just need to block out enough sound to stay asleep without causing much discomfort. You can order foam earplugs in bulk on the cheap. The simple cylindrical type tend to work best for sleep because very little protrudes. Shove in your ears at night and you'll sleep well. A vibrating alarm will supplant your noisy clock if you need a wake-up call.
Although ear plugs can solve the noise problem, they can create issues of their own if used over longer periods of time. You need to safely clean your ears so you don't get compacted wax issues. Also, if you toss and turn a lot at night you might want to avoid ear plugs because a quick change in pressure due to movement of the plug can cause damage to the ear drum. If you think it risky, consult your doctor or sleep specialist prior to using. Custom-moulded ear plugs usually solve problems for people with issues (and work better in general), but you'll obviously pay quite a bit more for these. If you really don't want to plug your ears, you can always try a little DIY soundproofing but we've found this barely helps with outside noise.