Experts and high achievers have pointed out good sleep habits as a driver of success. To reap the benefits of good quality of sleep, you must optimise the environment where you enjoy your shut-eye.
As studies continue to highlight the effects of poor sleep — such as impaired brain function, weight gain, psychological disorders, and increased risk of accidents — there has been growing awareness and advocacy of sleeping well. More people are starting to recognise the benefits of good sleep hygiene, and how it positively impacts daily living.
However, after years of undesirable sleep habits, some may have difficulty finding the restorative rest that their bodies need. With one-third of our lives spent sleeping, we statistically spend more time in the bedroom than anywhere else. Hence, in the pursuit of better slumber, improving your sleep environment should be at the top of your priority list.
Many of us use the bedroom for activities not associated with sleep, such as watching TV, playing video games, or even working on the computer. This takes away the expectation of good sleep in that space.
A good sleep environment can bring lasting benefits to your health, mental focus, and performance, among others. Simply knowing the importance of quality sleep isn’t enough to make it happen. To wake up feeling recharged every morning, you need to look at how your bedroom affects your sleep and how you can enhance it.
We have compiled the following tips from leading experts around the world, including the National Sleep Foundation in the US, to help you create an ideal sleep environment.
#1 JOIN THE DARK SIDE
The pineal gland in our brain produces melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). Melatonin production is affected by the body’s biological clock and exposure to light. While blue light — emitted by LEDs — stimulates alertness and reduces fatigue in the day, it is disruptive at night. Even small amounts of artificial light can disrupt our circadian rhythm and inhibit melatonin secretion.
The proliferation of digital devices has significantly increased our exposure to blue light and contributed to widespread sleep deprivation, says Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Research also links poor sleep caused by blue light exposure at night to increased risk of diabetes, obesity, cancer, depression, anxiety, premature ageing, and heart disease.
What you can do:
Eliminate unwanted light
- Use blackout curtains or shades to keep out external light sources (such as street lamps)
- Use amber or blue light-filtering bulbs for night lights
- Dim the lights about an hour before bed to prepare your body and brain for sleep
- Turn off all lights before sleep
Ditch the electronics
- Refrain from using devices (smartphone, tablet, e-reader, laptop, portable game console etc) in the bedroom. They emit blue light, and may rob you of sleep due to the engaging content
- Avoid light-emitting screens at least 90 minutes before bed. If you must, wear blue light-blocking glasses or install an app that filters blue wavelengths at night
- Switch your phone to silent mode and flip it over (screen facing down) before bedtime. Your phone lights up when there is an incoming call, message or push notification, which may wake you
Adjust the alarm clock
- Set the alarm and place the clock away from the bed as light from digital displays can be distracting. Some people may find themselves constantly looking at the time, which can cause anxiety and prevent sleep
- Switch to a ‘sunrise alarm clock’ that increases its brightness gradually prior to your alarm time so it feels as if you are waking up naturally to the rising sun
#2 STAY COOL
Our body temperature starts to drop as bedtime approaches, to help us fall and stay asleep. A room that is too hot or too cold can impinge on sleep quality.
What you can do:
Set a temperature that is comfortable for you
- Lower the room temperature before sleep. The ideal range for a good night’s rest is between 20 and 22°C, but this may differ in individuals
Choose appropriate bedding and pyjamas
- Dress suitably to avoid feeling too warm or catching a cold
Do not perform vigorous exercise just before bedtime
- Engaging in stimulating activities at night increases your body temperature and cortisol (called the “stress hormone”) levels, which makes it difficult for you to wind down
- Avoid working out at least three hours before sleep
Use a thermostat
- A thermostat that lowers room temperature at bedtime can assist you in going to and maintaining sleep
- Set the thermostat to begin raising room temperature 30 minutes prior to wake-up time for a more pleasant morning
#3 TUNE OUT THE NOISE
Be it a dripping tap or a party going on next door, the sounds around you can rouse you from slumber. In fact, it is not so much the noise that is disruptive, but the inconsistency of sound and silence.
What you can do:
Reduce noise in your house
- Turn off all sound-emitting devices (such as the TV and radio) when you go to sleep, as changing tones and volumes can interrupt your shut-eye
Use a sound conditioner
If the noise in your sleep environment is beyond your control (such as noisy neighbours and traffic), consider getting a sound machine that produces a consistent, soothing background tune. It helps you relax by drowning out other sounds that keep you awake
Set a timer
- If you can’t go to bed without listening to music, set a timer so the player automatically switches off after the time you usually fall asleep
#4 SLEEP SMART
A key for better sleep is to remove technology from the bedroom. But there are exceptions to the rule — you can utilise smart technology that combines comfort and functionality for the ultimate sleep experience.
What you can do:
Invest in a smart bed
- A smart bed or mattress senses your movements and adjusts itself to your changing positions. It can also track your sleep and breathing patterns, ease pressure, and even gently wake you from deep sleep. Besides supporting changes in the body (such as pregnancy, weight gain or loss, and ageing), it can be paired with an app to give information on sleep quality, and recommend ideal exercise time and temperature control.
Get a sleep tracker
- Some fitness monitors can double as sleep trackers to record your bedtime behaviour. The functions of sleep monitors include collecting data (such as sleep duration and interruptions), stages of sleep, and even snoring (thanks to a built-in microphone). They can also be connected to mobile apps or smart home systems for greater accessibility.
Integrate with a smart home system
Some smart home devices allow you to lower and raise shades automatically, and alert you if doors are not locked. These features help enhance your sleep environment.
#5 CLEAR THE AIR
Air quality has a direct effect on sleep. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that poor indoor air quality increases the risk of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other complications. Indoor air has also been shown to be more polluted than outdoor air, and is often much more stagnant. Substances such as chemical-based cleaners, scents and detergents can further contaminate indoor air.
What you can do:
- Other than absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, some plants can even remove toxic agents (such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene) from the air
- Good air-filtering plants that are resilient and safe for pets and children include aloe vera, bamboo palm, snake plant, dracaena and Boston fern
Use alternative air filters
- Beeswax candles burn with almost no smoke, and clean the air by releasing negative ions that bind with toxins and eliminate them. Effective at removing common allergens like dust and dander, they are especially helpful to those with asthma or allergies
- Similarly, Himalayan salt lamps release negative ions into the air to purify it. They emit an orange glow that, unlike blue light, does not impact sleep
- Bamboo charcoal in burlap bags are excellent for removing odour and toxin from the air
Switch to non-toxic options for cleaning
- Look for environmentally friendly products that do not contain harmful solvents and chemicals. Choose products that indicate ‘petroleum-free’, ‘phosphatefree’, and ‘biodegradable’, etc
- Adopt DIY measures, such as using a reusable microfibre cloth to dust the room
Surround yourself with scents you like
- Using certain scents in a room can promote sleep. Aromatherapy brings about a calming atmosphere to help you relax for bedtime. Through routine use, your brain picks up the scent as a cue for slumber. Studies have shown that lavender oil can lower blood pressure and heart rate
#6 CLEAN OUT THE CLUTTER
Your room is a space for resting and relaxing. Using it for other activities keeps your mind too busy for sleep. Keep it tidy and clutter-free for greater clarity, peace and focus.
What you can do:
Get rid of potential distractions
- Put the treadmill elsewhere, set up your work station in another area, and limit entertainment devices (such as TV and game console) to the living room
Replace old bedware
- If you often wake up feeling stiff or tired, or if your mattress or pillow has lumps, sags or holes, it is time to replace them
- Modern technology has revolutionised bedware, but it all boils down to personal preference and sleeping habits. Choose mattresses, pillows and sheets that are comfortable to you
Choose a suitable wall colour
- A survey of over 2,000 British homes found that people whose bedrooms are painted blue, yellow and green get the most hours of sleep. These colours — typically associated with calmness and relaxation — supposedly help put our mind at ease. On the other hand, colours like purple stimulates creativity, while brown and grey are linked to dreariness and gloom
There are many sleep thieves around us but most of them can be arrested through lifestyle changes. Unfortunately for some people, practising good sleep hygiene and revamping their bedroom environment may not improve their sleep. If you suffer from a sleep disorder, it is best to seek help from a medical professional.