It turns out that March is National Bed Month, and so I thought I would talk about how to get your sleep environment right. We spend a third of our lives in bed and yet all too often we overlook the importance of the role your bedroom plays in terms of getting great sleep. And as we all know, getting a good night’s sleep is vital to maintaining our health and wellbeing. In fact, according to Dr Rangan Chatterjee in his 4 Pillar Plan, the potential benefits of a good night’s sleep include:
- Increased energy
- Improved concentration
- Better memory
- Improved immune system function
- Reduced risk of developing chronic diseases
- Increased life expectancy
- Reduced stress levels
So let’s look at some of the factors that will influence your sleep, and how having a well designed space can make the world of difference.
Your bed is by far the most significant element of a good night’s rest, and so it’s worth buying the best mattress that you can afford. As everyone of us is made differently, choosing the right mattress for you and your partner is a very personal thing, and I always advise clients to choose their own mattress.
When choosing your mattress, it should not be too soft so that it causes you to slouch whilst you’re asleep, but also not too firm that it applies pressure to your hips and shoulders. The most important element is that your spine must be straight when you lie on your side. When you lie on your back you should be able to slide a hand between the small of your back and the mattress.
If you share a bed, make sure it’s big enough for two people, so you can sleep without disturbing each other. Another good point to note is that pocket sprung mattresses allow one person to toss and turn without the other really noticing as each spring is individual, so you only affect what you touch.
The National Bed Federation recommend replacing your mattress every 7-8 years. During this time a mattress has been subjected to over 20,000 hours of wear and tear, in addition to which we lose 300ml of fluid each night and shed almost half a kilogram of dead skin cells a year!
Mattresses lacking the right comfort, space and support are likely to leave you waking tired and achy.
What colour, or combination of colours, we chose to use in each room directly affects how we feel, think and behave, and the bedroom is no exception to this. There is nowhere that colour doesn’t exist. We are constantly influenced by it, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to bed at night. Although we see colour with our eyes, each different wavelength of coloured light stimulates a distinct part of our physical being, evoking a specific physiological response, which in turn produces a psychological reaction.
When choosing colours to create a calming sanctuary for your bedroom, think about using pinks, soft peach or apricot, greens, light blues, or even purple. Red stimulates a physical response, so it is great for invoking feelings of passion, but not so good for relaxation. And definitely avoid using yellow which, over time, is likely to have you waking up feeling irritable.
It’s important to specify the right amount of heating for the size of your bedroom, as well as being able to thermostatically control the temperature. An ideal bedroom temperature is around 16-18°C. Hot, cold or draughty rooms can seriously impact on your sleep, in particular REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. A bedroom that’s too warm is likely to cause restlessness, whilst a cold room can make it difficult to drop off.
It’s also worth having a range of bedding, depending on the season. An extra quilt or a hot water bottle for when it is cold, and a lower tog duvet for when the weather is hotter. Linen bedding is around 30% heavier than cotton yet allows better breathability. Organic cotton is another excellent choice and will keep you warm throughout the winter whilst also wicking away sweat in the summer.
Having the ability to open your bedroom windows allows you to maximise air circulation.
Lighting plays a hugely important part in our sleep patterns. Our circadian rhythms are controlled by the 24-hour cycle of the earth’s rotation. When we see light, our bodies assume it’s time to be awake and alert, but as it starts to get dark, we release melatonin (the sleepy hormone), which relaxes the body and helps us to drift off. Introducing artificial light in the evenings disrupts our circadian rhythms – making us feel less sleepy. Even small amounts of light from an alarm clock or TV standby button can have an impact on your sleep. And when you’re sleeping, light can still be detected through your eyelids, so we need complete darkness to stay fast asleep.
It’s important to chose window treatments that keep out street lights or the early morning light. I do then find it very difficult to wake up whilst it’s still dark, and so I have a Lumi light, which slowly gets bright over the course of half an hour, waking me gently with the feeling of daylight.
When designing a lighting scheme for a bedroom, it’s important to have your lighting on different circuits, and on dimmer switches, to give you complete control on your lighting. And if a nightlight is required to help navigate trips to the loo or a child’s bedroom, opt for red bulbs rather than white ones as they don’t interrupt melatonin secretion.
Unwanted noise is another factor that can disrupt our sleep. So when furnishing your bedroom, it’s important to choose enough sound absorbing materials – a large rug or carpet on the floor, and curtains rather than shutters at the windows.
While certain noises cause interrupted sleep, soft, steady sounds can be soothing. I have recently downloaded the White Noise app, and find that the sound of crashing waves can be helpful for drifting off.
A messy, cluttered bedroom can affect you more than you might think, especially when it comes to bedtime. You may not be able to see the clutter once your eyes are closed, but as it’s the last thing you look at before you close your eyes, it may lead to worrying thoughts. In fact, a study, conducted by New York’s St. Lawrence University, revealed that a messy bedroom can lead to a poor night’s sleep and increased anxiety.
It is important that your bedroom is a space where you can rest and relax, so ensure that you have enough storage to enable you to keep it tidy.
And, if you’re still having trouble sleeping after all of this, then I can highly recommend Dr Chatterjee’s book, which looks at how your lifestyle can affect your sleep too.
“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers