4 Simple Room Changes To Make For A Great Night's Sleep: A Doctor Explains
How you set up your room can make or break a good night's sleep. In short, if you want your bedroom to promote good sleep, it needs to be pitch-black dark, cooler than you think, quiet, and it should feel minimal.
Here's a crash course on how to create the perfect bedroom for deep sleep:
Step 1: Make it pitch-black.
Light cues us to feel awake, and darkness helps us feel sleepy. This is the backbone of our circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. We evolved seeing bright sunlight during the day, and only moon and fire at night.
But in our modern world, we spend the day in windowless cubicle mazes, and we spend the night surrounded by screens, LED lights, and ambient light pollution. And what do you know? We drag ourselves through the day and can't seem to fall asleep at night. Our circadian rhythms have gotten mixed up.
To get your circadian rhythm back on track, you need to sleep in absolute, pitch-black darkness. Have you ever stopped to notice if your room is actually dark when you go to sleep? If you live in the country, or in a basement, you might actually have a shot at having a dark bedroom. But if you live in a city, or have a streetlamp out your window, or if you have a digital alarm clock, chances are your room is not all that dark when you sleep. My bedroom gets enough ambient New York City light pollution at night that I could run a successful grow house (NSA, if you're reading this, don't worry. I don't do this—just trying to make a point).
So what can you do?
First, look around your room at night with the lights turned off. If you see anything glowing—a digital clock, a computer, an air conditioner—remove the item from the bedroom or cover the light with duct tape or orange tape. I also encourage you to replace your digital alarm clock with a $10 analog clock, or at least get a digital clock with orange numbers, rather than blue or green (orange light is the least disruptive to the circadian rhythm).
Next, strongly consider installing blackout shades. Before you dismiss this idea outright, just know that it ends up being less intimidating than it sounds. I put this off for years. When I finally dragged myself to Home Depot, it was quick and affordable, and I wished I had done it years ago. If blackout shades are not happening, get a good eye mask. My favorite is the Bucky 40 Blinks eye mask.
Finally, I'm asking you to do something drastic: Make the bedroom a no-phone zone. I guarantee you, your phone is screwing up your sleep. When we keep our phone in the bedroom, it's the last thing we look at before we go to bed (sending a shock of blue light into our brains, cuing us to feel wide awake), and the first thing we look at when we wake up (starting off the day with a tone of stress and obligation). The buzzes and dings wake us imperceptibly throughout the night, making our sleep more superficial and less restorative.
If you use your phone as your alarm clock, no big deal. Go buy an old-fashioned alarm clock. Make this change today.
Step 2: Keep it cooler than you think.
Optimal temperature for sleep is well-researched. It turns out we sleep most deeply when our sleeping environment is in the range of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, this harks back to our evolution. The natural environment is cooler at night than during the day, and that shift in temperature was probably one of the cues that made us feel sleepy at night.
If you're controlling the temperature with a thermostat, try programming it to 65 degrees. Even better, sleep with the windows open. This way you decrease your energy expenditure and get fresh air, which is almost always better than indoor air. I also recommend sleeping naked. This has several benefits (skin-to-skin bonding with your partner, improved relationships, airing things out), and it allows your body to regulate temperature most effectively.
Step 3: Eliminate any noise.
This one is not rocket science, but don't underestimate its importance. If your room is not quiet at night, consider a white noise machine or earplugs.
Step 4: Create a zen oasis.
Our surroundings affect our internal state. If your bedroom looks like the aftermath of a hurricane, then your mind will probably be scattered and stressed.
Your bedroom is for sleep, sex, reading, and getting dressed. Nothing else. If there are any objects in your bedroom that don't pertain to these activities, get them out. If you live in a studio apartment, use a barrier to physically and psychologically separate the bed from the rest of the room.
In addition to a comfortable room, you also need a comfortable and nontoxic bed. To learn more, check out my class, The Doctor's Guide to Falling Asleep Naturally, in which we discuss what to look for when buying a mattress and bedding.
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