Getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t come easy for some, but there are several tips that go a long way to helping you get some shuteye. Good sleep habits and a comfortable environment are essential, so the first place to start in the pursuit of better sleep is the bedroom.
- Avoid Bright Light In The Bedroom
Your circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle that governs waking and sleeping. It’s controlled by a region in the brain that responds to light and darkness. The first light of the day signals to the brain to wake up, whereas darkness signals it to get ready for sleep.
When night descends and darkness is perceived, your brain sets into motion several actions to help you get off to sleep – the release of melatonin (aka the ‘sleep hormone’), a cooling down of your core body temperature, and the slowing of metabolic functions.
Melatonin levels stay elevated throughout the night and fall before sunrise. At the same time, cortisol levels are low at night (in a healthy person) and begin to climb when the body is exposed to the first light of the day, preparing you for awakening.
But bright light in the evening disrupts this whole process.
A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to ordinary room light between dusk and bedtime suppressed the production of melatonin by about 90 minutes (that means a delay in sleep for 90 minutes) when compared to exposure to dim light (reduced lighting). That’s 90 minutes you could be laying awake at night, tossing and turning.
What you can do:
- Dim the lights two hours before bedtime. Use a dimmer switch to control brightness, or install low-wattage bulbs in side lamps and use these instead of your main lights. You might also consider installing a flexi bulb, like Philips’ Scene Switch bulb, which can be switched from 100 percent brightness to 10 percent brightness. No special equipment or switches are needed. You simply insert the bulb into your existing light fitting.
- Eliminate all sources of light (alarm clock/lights from electronics, etc) and use blackout curtains. Even the smallest hint of light can signal the brain that it’s time to wake up.
- Install a red nightlight if you frequently get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Red light has the least effect on circadian rhythms and melatonin suppression.
2. Keep It Quiet
A noisy room – from outside traffic, neighbors partying, or bumps in the night – is not conducive to sleep. Even if you manage to get to sleep, your brain still registers and processes sounds and may prevent you from moving from lighter sleep into deeper sleep, affecting sleep quality.
What you can do:
- Pad your room with materials that muffle sounds, like sound-blocking curtains or a soundproof window plug.
- Thin walls? Place a large bookcase against the wall to act as a buffer. For serious noise control, consider adding an extra layer of drywall with mass-loaded vinyl in between. The vinyl acts as a reflective barrier, keeping noises outside or inside a space.
- Install a solid door. Most interior doors are hollow, which makes them ineffective at keeping out noises. Replace with a solid door, and weather-strip the base of the door – any gaps will allow noise to filter through.
- Use earplugs or white noise to either block out or mask noises.
- Get The Right Temperature
The National Sleep Foundation suggests bedroom temperatures should be between 60 and 67°F (15 and 19°C) (babies and the elderly typically need slightly warmer temperatures). When your body becomes too hot or too cold, your brain alerts you to awaken.
Everyone is different, but for most people, cooler is better, as your body temperature must decrease in order to initiate sleep. Sleep onset (the time it takes to get to sleep), sleep maintenance (staying asleep), and early-morning awakening insomnia may be associated with elevation of core body temperature.
What you can do:
- Some people naturally sleep hot, while others sleep cold. Experiment with different temperatures (use air conditioning, a fan, or simply open a window) to find out what temperature suits you best.
- Evaluate your mattress. Different mattresses have different thermal properties. A mattress made of memory foam retains more body heat than other types of mattresses, causing some people to become overly hot. Mattresses with coils and springs have better airflow and thus tend to be cooler.
- Cooling mattress pads – like topper pads – are available for those who do not wish to change their existing mattresses. Cooling pillows are also an option for those who always overheat at night.
- Ventilate Your Room
Is CO2 keeping you up at night? The typical CO2 concentration for outdoors is around 400 parts per million (ppm). However, the air we exhale is 100 times more concentrated in CO2. A 2016 Danish study found that dorm rooms reached CO2 levels of 2395 ppm without ventilation (levels below 1000ppm are considered acceptable) and 835 ppm with ventilation.
Those in the ventilated room, with better air quality, had significant improvement in sleep latency, had better sleep quality and performed better on logical thinking tests the following day.
Even small increases in CO2 ppm are detrimental to performance. A study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal in 2015 found that a 400 ppm increase in CO2 concentration is associated with a 21 percent decrease in cognitive function.
What you can do:
- Open your window at night, or at least keep your bedroom door open, to ventilate your room.
- Protect Your Mattress
It goes without saying that your mattress should be comfortable. But you might also want to ensure it suits just YOUR needs – and not millions of other bed buddies, also known as house dust mites (HDM). Mattresses – and pillows – can be dust-mite central, and the older they are the worse it gets.
HDM allergy is very common and is known to cause significant disruption to sleep. If you find your allergies are worse in the bedroom (sneezing, runny nose, coughing, headaches), it’s time to do something about it.
What you can do:
- Use HDM-proof covers for mattresses and pillows and wash your bed linens once a week in hot water (140°F+/60°C+).
- Wash children’s stuffed toys as well – or place them in the freezer for 24 hours to kill HDM. A pillow in a zipped plastic bag can be placed in the freezer too.
- Keep humidity levels below 50 percent to reduce HDM populations. HDM like warm, moist environments. A well ventilated home reduces humidity.
- Use a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter. Vacuum furniture and curtains as well. A HEPA air purifier is ideal too.
- Wipe surfaces with a damp cloth rather than dusting them, which simply shifts the dust and mites around.
Sleep hygiene is a combination of habits and changes that can lead to better sleep and a better over-all life. Making your bedroom a sanctuary is the first step. Your acting one of our board-certified sleep specialists at Alaska Sleep Clinic.
About the Author: Jane Wrigglesworth is a writer, editor, speaker, and experienced and credentialed sleep educator. She provides life-changing information and guidance to a wide array of audiences – both individuals and corporate groups – via her sleep clinic, How To Sleep Well. She conducts ongoing workshops around sleep and sleep disorders and has written numerous articles on the subject.