I don’t have to tell you how important sleep is to your health. You probably already know. But in this crazy, hectic world in which we live, it can be hard to get enough sleep, much less good sleep. The great news is that you have a LOT of control over this, and it goes far beyond your ability to pop a pill. So what can you do?
1) Create an environment that reduces your stress (instead of adding stress to it)!
2) Design an space that gives you the best shot at actually sleeping through the night.
3) Make some lifestyle changes that support, instead of sabotage, your efforts at getting some good zzz’s.
1) reduce stress
Stress doesn’t just keep you up at night because your mind is racing. It actually triggers a hormonal and chemical effect that is designed to keep you awake. Remember, your body doesn’t distinguish between the stress of being chased by a predator and the stress of chasing a deadline. If you’re running from a hangry hyena you *don’t* want to fall asleep. In fact, you want to be hyper aware and alert! So in a stress situation your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, both designed to keep you sharp and awake. Meanwhile, your body suppresses melatonin and serotonin, chemicals that calm you down, make you feel agreeable (remember, you’re not trying to make friends with that predator), and help you sleep. So yep, stress literally keeps you up at night.
Meanwhile, Stress is a lead contributor to heart disease and other illnesses, a key factor in obesity, and a common cause of insomnia. And while we can’t always eliminate or avoid the stress that comes from demanding bosses, demanding clients, or demanding kids, we *do* have control over the space where we sleep. Does your master bedroom *add* to your stress instead of reducing it? Then it’s taking a toll on your health! Your bedroom is the one area of your home that, no matter what, should help reduce your blood pressure, calm your nerves, and set the stage for rest and relaxation. It should be an antidote to stress, not a contributor. But if you’re living with wall colors you hate, a dripping faucet, and piles of unfolded laundry, it’s just making the problem worse.
The design of your home, especially the room where you close your eyes each night and open them each morning, should restore you. the elements in your room DON’t need to be expensive, or trendy. you don’t need a big space or grand master suite. But every item in your bedroom should make you feel good, and each item in it should support you. Nothing in there should hurt you physically (like a bad mattress) or emotionally (like memories from an old relationship).
People seem to think that all that
crap (sorry) *stuff* they have in their space is somehow out of their control. It’s not. I don’t care how large or how small a space you live in, and I don’t care how many kids or pets you have. You *do* have a say in what (and who) comes into your bedroom. Kids’ toys, laundry, junk mail? Until you can create a longer term solution, it can all be scooped up into plastic tubs and shoved out into the hallway.
No, of course it’s not ideal. Yes, it’s a short-term answer. But at least it means that the last thing you’ll see as you switch off the light is an oasis of calm, and the first thing you’ll open your eyes to in the morning *won’t* be a to-do list. You’ll have a minute to yourself, to breath deep and prepare yourself for the world waiting for you outside that door.
2) Improve sleep quality
So, the design of your space should make you feel good, but it should also help you sleep better. Here are the four key ingredients to a sleep-supportive room:
- go dark: You want to be able to control the light in your room. This is especially important for people living in an urban environment where city and neighbor’s lights may shine into your room, disrupting your circadian rhythm. So choose room-darkening blinds or drapes to block out extra light. At the same time, remember that our bodies wake up naturally to light, so consider a low-wattage lamp on a timer that will turn on about 10 minutes before your alarm goes off to help your body wake up naturally. This is especially important if your draperies block out morning light, or it’s the time of year when it’s still dark when you get up for work. Finally, eliminate the electronics. The blue light that comes from phones, tablets, laptops and TVs is akin to bright morning light, and can further disrupt your circadian rhythm (not to mention your sex life if you are lying in bed together but ignoring each other).
- quiet Down: Just like controlling light helps you get uninterrupted sleep, controlling sound can make a big difference to the quality of your sleep. Unlike the science behind light and your circadian rhythm, sound is a more personal element. While some people may love the soundless calm of a deep quiet, others may feel uncomfortable in silence, or sleep lightly and wake to any small noise in the house. Bear in mind that you and your sleeping partner may have very different needs. My Jersey-born hubby finds the sounds of the city soothing, but I sleep best in near-silence and can ignore the sounds of my crazy cat climbing the walls all night as long as the house alarm is set. Our compromise? He has a fan going for white noise, and I often choose to sleep with earplugs. It works for us. Experiment with different audio environments and see what works best for you, and remember that those room darkening curtains can also help muffle the sounds of a neighbor’s late-night party.
- Stay cool: Your body naturally cools down as part of the sleep cycle, and rests most comfortably in a room that is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 65% humidity. If you are too cool or too warm, your body may have trouble sleeping deeply. The more you can get the room in that mid-zone, the better you can sleep. Another trick to better sleep is to take a warm bath or shower sometime close to bedtime. This can not only help you calm down and literally wash off the stress of the day, but it raises your core temperature, enhancing the natural drop in your body’s temperature that happens as part of the go-to-sleep process.
- Get comfy: Having worked with thousands of clients in the past decade, I can tell you that the master bedroom is usually the last room to get a makeover. Everyone focuses on creating fun bedrooms for the kids and fancy spaces for watching tv and entertaining guests. And while those rooms do contribute to your quality of life, if you’re cranky, tired and stressed, no one is going to care how well-designed the kitchen is. Give yourself (and your loved ones) the gift of a well-rested “you”. Do what you need to in order to make your bedroom a place of rest. Banish the clutter, eliminate stuff left over from old relationships, and invest in the best* mattress and pillow you can afford.
- *Best” is relative. Some people like a firm mattress, some soft. Some like memory foam, others think that is a torture device. If you and your partner have really different sleep needs, you can always consider one of those “sleep-number” beds, or do like the Europeans and put two twin beds together. (Go even further and have matching twin duvet covers, and *presto* – no more arguing over the blankets!) The key is to do what you need to get a good night of sleep.
3) improve your Life(style)
Finally, it’s important to understand that good sleep starts long before you get into the bedroom.
- Drinking caffeine later in the day means you have a stimulant in your system while you are trying to go to sleep. Increased stimulants in your body equals a tougher time falling, and staying, asleep. Cut it out. If you are sleepy during the day, try a glass of cold water, a brisk walk, a good stretch, or a brief jog up a couple flights of stairs.
- Drinking alcohol in the evening may help you fall asleep, but it may also wake you up halfway through the night. This is not only because you’ll have to pee, but because your body may wake up “naturally” in response to the alcohol wearing off during the second part of the night, disturbing your sleep right when you should be getting your deepest, most restorative REM sleep. Does that mean you have to forego that glass of heart-healthy red wine with dinner? Nope. In fact a small amount of alcohol can help you sleep better during the first part of the night, spurring an increase in slow-wave sleep, which the body needs in order to repair tissues and strengthen the immune system, while leaving your precious REM sleep untouched. Just limit your intake.
- Watching TV before bed may help you shut your brain off, but that blue light stimulates the circadian rhythm in the wrong way. Try a warm bath, listening to music at the end of the day with the lights dimmed, or even getting intimate (gasp!) with your honey.
Did you come up with a long list of excuses why you “can’t” do the things listed here? Well, if you are serious about getting a better night of sleep, be brave and try just one of the above changes. Do something that excites you, something small and achievable, like clearing the junk off the top of your night stand. Little successes build momentum and can lead to bigger changes. Just remember, a little investment in your sleep will pay off in every single part of your life!
Make rest and recovery an essential ingredient for your life. Don’t think of it as self-care, think of it as world-care. I promise you’ll think clearer, act nicer, and drive better if you’re well rested.
May your home always be happy, and your brain well-rested!