6 Ways to Optimize Your Sleep Environment

Imagine 2 scenarios where a person goes to the bedroom and crawls into bed. The first person goes into her bedroom that is dimly lit. She crawls into her bed and turns off the light. There is total darkness. She has a fan on which creates a soft hum, drowning out any ambient noise. Her room is cool, but she has soft, cozy socks on to keep her comfortable. She associates her bedroom and bed with relaxation. She quickly falls asleep.

The second person goes to a room with bright lights and turns the TV on. She has a snack in the bed while watching TV. A bright street light is also shining through the blinds on the window. Her bedroom is warm. She often is anxious while in bed and feels like she can’t calm her mind before sleep without distraction. So, she watches TV and plays games on her smartphone in her bed and tries to go to sleep with the TV on the background. After some time, she finally falls asleep only to be awoken after an hour by her cat, who always jumps into bed with her.

Without question, we know who has the set up for a better night’s sleep. It seems simple – create a place to sleep that dark, cool, quiet, comfortable, and relaxing. So why do so many people neglect their sleep environment? Well, guess what? The second person was me several years ago, and the first person is me now. Little did I know at the time how many things I was doing wrong. Below are 6 ways to optimize your sleep environment.

  1. Make your bedroom dark. As long as you don’t have a true reason to have a light on (such as concern for falls if you have to get up in the middle of the night), turn off the lights, TV, your smartphone, and other electronics. Get blackout curtains if light comes through the windows when you sleep. If you need a light for safety purposes or other reasons, consider getting a night light that casts orange light as opposed to the common “cool white” LED night lights. I use this Amber LED Night Light for my kids. I will post in the future about problems with light exposure (including TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones) before bedtime.
  2. Ensure your bedroom is the right temperature for sleep. When we go to sleep, our body temperatures drop. Having a room that is slightly cool can help facilitate the drop in temperature and, subsequently, help initiate sleep. For most adults, this temperature is around 67 degrees Fahrenheit. However, everyone is different, so experiment with what works best for you and your family. Also, you might find it helpful to get a thermometer for your bedroom as you are experimenting with the temperature. In our last house, our bedroom was commonly about 10 degrees warmer than what the thermostat was set at in the summer. Some people like the room cool but also like having a heavy blanket or warm, cozy socks on. Again, experiment with what works best for you.
  3. Make your bedroom quiet. Don’t leave the TV on. If you have other noises coming from your house, can hear noises from outside, or just hate silence, consider a white noise machine or a fan or air filter that can create a soft hum. If you go with some type of noise maker, you want to ensure that it’s a constant sound. Therefore, sounds of rainfall, a running brook, and other common “relaxing noises” with variations in sound are not often ideal. I use this Sound Machine in my kids’ rooms on the “white noise” setting.
  4. Minimize disturbances. Again, the TV falls in the category – you can tell I’m not a fan of the TV in the bedroom, which was a hard habit for me to break. The variance of sounds and lights from the TV causes disturbances. Also, evaluate if your pets are causing disturbances in your sleep. An  article from Mayo Clinic Proceedings evaluated the effect of dogs on human sleep. The authors found that having dogs in the bedroom didn’t affect sleep. HOWEVER, having the dog in the owner’s bed, did worsen sleep efficiency. This article suggests that while having your pet in your bedroom may not disrupt your sleep, having your pet in your bed may. Most people are very attached to their animals, and I don’t want to upset anyone. Pets often provide a sense of relaxation and security; however, you need to analyze what’s best for you. My 2 cats loved to sleep in bed with my husband and me. However, one always wanted to be as close to my face as he could. If he got up in the middle of the night and then returned, he would take about 5 to 15 minutes to find the “right spot.” (How many times does a cat need to stand up, lay down, get up, lay down, … to get comfortable?!) And then, he always felt the need to lick my nose after he finally felt satisfied with his spot. The other cat always wanted to sleep on my pillow at the top of my head. This cat had frequent sneezing and would sneeze in my hair ALL NIGHT. When my first son was born, we realized that we needed every little bit of sleep that we could get, and the cats were no longer allowed in our bed at night. At first they whined about it, and we really did feel bad for them. But they got over it quickly, and we sleep so much better without them in the room.
  5. Make your bed comfortable. You should have a bed, pillow, and sheets that are comfortable. However, I want to point out that I’ve never had anyone tell me that they went out and bought a super expensive mattress and as a result, that mattress fixed their sleep issues. Think about our ancestors – they had much less comfortable beds and pillows than what’s available to us and they got their sleep. Sometimes, a simple fix like a mattress pad can fix issues with comfort. Most mattress manufacturers recommend replacing your mattress every 8-10 years. If you think it’s time that you need a new mattress, make sure it’s one that you can try out for a while and get your money back if you are not satisfied without questions asked.
  6. Associate your bedroom with relaxation. If you go to bed and feel anxious about getting sleep or have other worries that flood you during bedtime, then your brain is going to associate your bed and bedroom with stress instead of relaxation. Try to remove worry and stress from your bedroom. I will post more about this in the future as well.

We often undervalue the importance of the surroundings where we sleep. With this post, you can evaluate where improvements in your sleep atmosphere may provide you benefit.

What’s your sleeping environment like? What’s helpful, and what’s not?  Please leave a comment.

Remember to never drive or engage in activities requiring a high level of attention when drowsy.

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