7 tips to make your bedroom a better place to sleep

2 November, 2011

“Life is too short to sleep on low thread count sheets.” Leah Stussy

If you are having trouble with insomnia, you may wish to check that your bedroom is somewhere that is sleep-friendly. It is one of the most important factors in sleep hygiene, and can make a material difference to the way you sleep.

Is your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary? Or do the TV, computer and iPod docking station all compete for attention?

Is the room clear and ordered? Or is the floor still covered with those clothes you tried on before going out on Saturday night?

Your bedroom should be for sleep (and sex) only. It should be a calm, quiet place where you feel safe and comfortable.

In an ideal world, it should be on the quiet side of the house. It should be free of computers, games machines and televisions. And it should be uncluttered and decorated in a neutral and calming colour.

Does this sound like your room? If you are a teenager or young adult, probably not. But don’t worry if it isn’t perfect: there are plenty of things that you can do to bring your bedroom closer to the ideal sleep environment. Let’s just take one step at a time.

1. Get a comfortable bed

Make sure you have a comfortable mattress. A ground-breaking study by sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski found that swapping an uncomfortable old bed for a comfortable new one could account for an average of 42 minutes’ extra sleep – four times that achieved by over the counter sleep aids.

And yet 80% of people spend less than two minutes choosing their bed. You may have struck gold and found a really comfortable mattress, but the odds are not in your favour. If you aren’t sure whether you have the bed of your dreams, do the Sleep Council’s excellent Bed MOT test and follow their advice for replacing it if necessary. It will be a worthwhile investment.

2. Get rid of the tech stuff

Get the computer, phone, iPhone, Blackberry, Nintendo DS, Play Station, Wii and television out of the bedroom. Not only do they distract you from sleep, but they may also emit an irritating hum as well as light from their glowing LEDs.

Those little green and red lights flashing away on your laptop may disturb sleep, even when the computer is on standby.

If your bedroom is the only place in the house where you can be alone to work, and if moving the computer is not an option, switch it off completely (at the wall if necessary) at least an hour before going to bed.

If that doesn’t work for you, then at the very least cover up the LEDs so the glow won’t disturb you.

If you get up in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep, do not be tempted to switch the computer back on. Checking in on your social networking site, opening emails or switching on the TV will only get your brain fired up again and prevent you getting back to sleep.

All these electrical appliances also emit Electro Magnetic Fields (EMFs). Even clock radios, mobile phone chargers and bedside lights radiate electromagnetism and there is growing evidence they may disturb the delicate patterns of our brainwaves causing disruptions to sleep.

If you’d like additional information on the possible effects of EMFs and microwave transmissions, check out the UK-based information service, Powerwatch. They also sell a range of screening products which can help you protect yourself from the EMFs and microwaves that bombard us in this hi tech world.

Remember, our goal is a good night’s sleep, so even if the evidence does not convince you, it is worth suspending your doubts to give it a try. Switching off all electronic gadgets in your bedroom before getting into bed will quickly become part of the sleep ritual and will help to create an atmosphere of calm in preparation for bed.

3. Reduce noise and light pollution

How often do you lie awake, unable to drift off because of the light from the streetlamp outside the bedroom window; or the noise of the television in the flat next door; or the relentless rumblings of your partner snoring next to you in bed?

The truth is you will probably be more sensitive to sound or light pollution in times of sleeplessness. And the more you become aware of these intrusions, the more disturbing they become.

Unless you live way out in the country, or on top of a remote mountain, you are unlikely to be able to enjoy (or create) a truly dark and noise-free sleep environment. Most people living in the modern world live in light and noise-polluted areas. But sleep researchers say our bodies and brains need as little artificial light and sound as possible in our bedrooms.

Light signals the brain’s biological clock that it’s time to wake up. Our sleep becomes more fragmented when we’re exposed to light in our sleep. Even small amounts of light during sleep suppress the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that sets our body’s internal clock and helps us sleep long enough to replenish physical and mental stores. Noise can have similar effects.

There are several things you can do to reduce the effects of noise and light pollution in the bedroom. Once again, do as much as you can to shield yourself. Most of these fixes are inexpensive and simple to use.

For noise pollution:

Earplugs: Go and buy some good quality earplugs at your local chemist. If you prefer to shop online, check out the UK web site snorestore.

Of course, there are downsides to using earplugs. You may not be able to hear things you need to hear such as the baby crying or an intruder in the house. But if you feel secure, and you don’t have small children, then this can be an inexpensive and effective way to cut out the noise.

Sleepphones: These are specially designed headphones to be worn while sleeping. They are comfortable and soft and can be plugged into your CD or MP3 player to listen to relaxing music, sleep relaxation programs or guided meditation. See SleepPhones.

Try a white noise machine. Whilst a little more expensive, these machines produce a sound which masks disturbing noise pollution and can also often produce sleep enhancing effects such as the sound of waves lapping against the shore, heavy rain with rumbles of thunder, crickets and frogs, surf, or a babbling brook. There are many versions available online, but popular versions are available at White Noise Machine.

For those on the move, there are also excellent apps for smartphones. Try the White Noise app from TMsoft which features 40 ambient sounds and pictures. Or the Brainwave Power Nap which features “Advanced Brainwave Entrainment that puts you to sleep at the start of your nap and then brings you to an awake and alert state at the end using powerful binaural tones”.

If you prefer an option which won’t cost you anything, try fighting noise with noise. Tune a radio between stations so that you just hear the static. It should drown out all the other noise, but will be so random that you will still be able to get some sleep. A fan will achieve the same purpose.

Ensure your bedroom is as well insulated as possible. Install double-glazing if not already fitted, and consider acoustic sound absorbing panels or tiles to beef up the barrier between you and the noisy neighbours. Even an extra layer of plasterboard on the party wall will help reduce noise.

For light pollution:

“For sleep, one needs endless depths of blackness to sink into; daylight is too shallow, it will not cover one.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Even a little light from a TV, computer, mobile phone or alarm clock can stimulate us and make us more likely to stay awake. Unplug them or at least cover them before you go to bed. Turn your alarm clock towards the wall (it will also help prevent clock-watching) or use a clock that doesn’t emit light.

Make sure all the lights in the house are switched off so that none leaks into the bedroom. If light filters in through the window, consider replacing your curtains with new ones made with blackout material. They can be particularly effective during the summer when dawn comes early and darkness falls much later. And they work well for shift workers, too.

Buy a sleep mask or eye pillow. There is a fantastic range available in all colours, sizes and degrees of luxury. Make sure they are completely lightproof, have adjustable straps and are comfortable. It is important to ensure there is no pressure on your eyes, as this may cause blurred vision for a while when you remove them.

If possible, use natural fabrics, especially if you have sensitive skin. Some makes come filled with natural sleep enhancers such as hops, lavender, camomile or passionflower. You can even make your own, but I particularly like Bucky eye masks, which are washable, breathable, and are fitted with a handy pocket to keep your earplugs safe and clean. See Sleepstar in the UK and Bucky in the USA.

4. Get the temperature right

The temperature of your bedroom, and how comfortable you feel in it, will affect the depth and consistency of your sleep. A mild drop in temperature is required for optimum sleep. But if you are too cold, sleep may elude you.

Research suggests setting the temperature between 65 and 72º Fahrenheit (18.5 and 22º Celsius), although it is hard to be specific as we are all different. Start by trying a comfortable temperature within this range, and tweak it until you find your optimum temperature for sleep.

A drop in body temperature near bedtime triggers the subjective sense that it’s time to go to sleep. So making a special effort to cool down before bedtime may help. Even though a bath before bed may help you to relax and get into the mood for sleep, don’t get into bed before you have had a chance to cool down.

On the other side of the equation, in the colder months you may also want to try wearing socks in bed as cold feet can contribute to sleep difficulties.

Use a room thermometer and make some notes (see section on keeping a sleep diary) to find and regulate your ideal sleeping temperature.

5. Get rid of all the clutter

A cluttered environment causes a cluttered mind and this can lead to increased stress and even anxiety. Remember how we talked about your room as a sanctuary? Well, a cluttered bedroom could be robbing you of the sleep and relaxation you need.

Your bedroom should be a haven of comfort and calm. If every surface is covered with stuff, you may not be able to relax enough to get a good night’s sleep.

Follow these tips, and you will find yourself in a whole new world: one in which you will have more space, where your mind will feel calmer, and where you won’t spend your time looking for that one item of clothing you really wanted to wear today.

• Go through your wardrobe and chests of drawers (including all items that have found their way onto the floor) and save only what you really need or wear on a regular basis.

Distinguish between “need” and “want”. Ask yourself, “can I live without it?” Try using the one-year rule, where anything that you haven’t worn or used for over a year gets given to a charity shop or thrown out. If chucking things away causes you anguish, recycle or sell them through Craigs List, eBay, Freecycle or the local newspaper.

• Store excess shoes and seasonal items in clear plastic boxes in the attic or under the bed. That way, you can easily see what is inside, which makes it more likely you will use the contents or consign them to the “edit” pile if no longer useful.

• Clear all the rubbish off the surfaces in your bedroom. Put the books away in bookshelves, throw away all those receipts (unless they are needed for your tax return), scribbled notes and food wrappers that always seem to pile up.

• If there are any magazines you haven’t opened for three months, throw them away. Wash up the water glasses, mugs and plates that have somehow never made it back to the kitchen, and put them away.

• Go through your handbag or briefcase and do the same. Toss all empty or unneeded cosmetics, perfumes and lipsticks.

• Get into the habit of tossing your dirty clothes into a clothes basket at the end of the day.

• Clean the room thoroughly and resolve to keep it that way.

If you do this exercise, and keep a clutter-free bedroom, the rewards can be exponential. Once you start, it will become contagious and you will be able to tackle other areas of your life that need de-cluttering.

If you can’t do it all at once, just make a start and do it one item at a time. Start small and work up to the difficult items you aren’t sure of. Enjoy your newfound freedom!

6. Replace the clutter with serenity. Space matters

“May sleep envelop you as a bed sheet floating gently down, tickling your skin and removing every worry. Reminding you to consider only this moment.” Jeb Dickerson

The way you decorate and organize your bedroom will influence how you feel and how you think about yourself. Every space we enter has its own energy: some environments make us feel good; some make us feel anxious and uncomfortable.

How we fill the space, what lighting and colour we use, what furnishings we have and how we arrange them, will all have a significant effect on how we feel and how we sleep.

The following tips will help harness that energy and can be followed easily and at low or reasonable cost. You don’t need to hire an award-winning architect or interior designer! A lick of paint and some new and inexpensive artwork can work wonders. The key is to generate a feeling of cohesion and tranquility – an oasis for sleep.

• Make your bedroom a place that you love to be. Decorate it according to your taste, in a way that promotes a sense of wellbeing. You are in charge. This is a private space, and should reflect your personal style. Don’t forget your partner, though! His/her feelings should also be taken into account.

• A bedroom needs a soft and sensual energy, so choose tranquil colors to suggest smoothness, softness and comfort. Use light, calming colours for the walls. Earth colours are often best including ochre, green, tan and taupe. Blues, lilacs and purple can also produce a relaxing and calming effect. Aim for more muted shades as brighter colours tend to be over-stimulating. Avoid using more than two principal colours in the room.

• Bring some nature into the room. It may be a potted plant, a bunch of willow twigs in a vase, a bowl of pebbles collected on the seashore or an artwork depicting a mountain scene. It’s up to you. These objects will have a calming effect on the mind and reconnect you with the beauty of the natural world, even if you live in a basement flat with little natural light and no views. They will turn your mind away from the stresses of everyday life and help create more balance and tranquility as well as put everything into perspective. They will change your focus and encourage relaxation.

• Keep the furnishings and decoration minimal. Remember; clutter is sleep’s enemy. Keep furnishings ordered: there should be nothing random in the design of your sleeping area: randomness leads to superficiality; superficiality sows the seeds of clutter. Physical clutter leads to mental clutter and mental clutter leads to stress. Avoid randomness and you can create calm.

• Choose artwork for the walls carefully. Remember we are trying to create a Zen-like atmosphere conducive to rest and relaxation. Bright, garish pictures of racing cars and rock bands are unlikely to serve this purpose. Tranquil scenes and symbolic abstract images are more likely to create a contemplative and serene setting for sleep.

• Use natural and organic products where possible. Pure cotton or silk sheets and pyjamas are less likely to produce an allergic reaction, are naturally comfortable and warm, and free from harmful chemicals.

• Where possible, use environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals (including laundry soaps).

• Use sustainable and “green” materials in your bedroom and throughout your house: volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in the manufacture of many man-made products including paint, furniture, carpets etc., can be hazardous to our health in general and may affect our sleep in particular.

Look for low- or no-VOC paints, water-based glues, adhesives and finishes, mattresses and pillows manufactured with natural instead of synthetic components, recycled materials where natural are not available, and bed linens that can be washed rather than dry-cleaned.

• Don’t place a mirror in a position where you can see yourself from your bed. It will increase stress and prevent sleep.

• Place a display of meaningful objects, a “zone of tranquility” in the northeast corner of the room (if you live in the northern hemisphere). This is the corner from which the morning sun will come to refresh us. The objects could be family photographs or anything that inspires positive thoughts and feelings.

If you would like to get into this subject in detail, it is worth reading up on the Hindu system of design called Vastu Shastra and its Chinese equivalent, Feng Shui, both of which are gaining in acceptance by designers, architects and lifestyle gurus.

7. Let there be light

Lighting in the bedroom is as important as decorating and furnishing. It needs to provide both ambient and task lighting to:

1. Create a restful mood in the evening before sleep and
2. Provide practical light to read and get dressed by and, in the morning, to prepare for the day.

Ideally, follow these tips for a practical lighting design that is flexible enough to work for everybody:

• Where possible install dimmer switches to control the mood of the room.

• Lights should be able to be controlled from a switch by the bed as well as by the main door, so you don’t have to get out of bed to switch them off when you are ready for sleep. As an alternative, consider a voice-activated light switch.

• Fit separate bedside lights to each side of the bed, so that one partner can read while the other sleeps. The lights should also be dimmable, if practical, to allow you to control the mood of the whole room.

• If you have a dressing table, ensure that there is adequate lighting for you to see yourself in the mirror. Lighting from both sides is best so as not to cast long shadows on your face.

• Fit wardrobes with strip lights that come on when you open the door so you can clearly see what is in there.

• If you do use candles (which can create a wonderfully relaxing mood), do be careful to ensure that they won’t catch fire to surrounding furnishings or bedding if you nod off while they are still alight.

• You may like to try one of the specialist lights that are now available as sleep aids. Lightsleeper projects a circular light which moves slowly in a circle on the ceiling. The theory is that you follow the light with your eyes until you drift off. You can adjust the brightness and whether it is constant or pulsing. Whilst expensive, it does seem to work.

• Another alternative is the light clock, which gradually lights up from up to an hour before you’ve set your alarm, simulating a natural sunrise. With some models, you can also use it to simulate dusk and an MP3 player or a USB feed can be attached for soothing sound effects. There are several models on the market, but the Philips Wake-Up Light Plus is worth a try.

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