Many of us joke about being sleep-deprived, but the condition puts a major damper on quality of life—not to mention it can be downright dangerous. Poor sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, accidents and difficulty carrying out daily functions. Our cognitive abilities become impaired, our reaction times slow down and we get grumpy, anxious and depressed.
Sleep deprivation is also associated with weight gain, increased risk of diabetes and dementia.
“Sleep constitutes one-third of our lives,” Dr. Pervez says. “We need it to restore ourselves so that we can function during the day.”
“We need it to restore ourselves so that we can function during the day.”
It’s about more than just recharging our batteries and maintaining our energy. Sleeping serves many physiological functions, too. Many of the body’s systems regenerate and recover during sleep. Hormonal changes important for growth and internal balance occur during sleep.
For these reasons, it’s important to create a sleep-friendly bedroom. Here are some suggestions for creating the perfect sleep environment.
1. Make sure your bedroom is exclusive to sleep (and sex).
Your bedroom is a sacred space that should be used only for sleeping and sex. This helps you condition your brain to know that being in the bedroom means it’s time to get ready to fall asleep.
Don’t keep attention-grabbing things in your bedroom. Having a tangle of work papers, video games, exercise equipment, phones and tablets in the bedroom can distract the mind and condition the body to regard the bedroom as a place of activity, not rest.
2. Limit noise and distractions outside your bedroom.
It would be much easier to relax and fall asleep if you couldn’t hear the garbled whinny of 30 Rock reruns from the living room while the oven timer emits an urgent beep, announcing your roommate’s pizza rolls. In the distance, dogs are barking and a car door slams.
You feel like you’re in for a night of frustration and a rough tomorrow. Sleep seems like an impossibility. Rather than thrashing in bed, consider that you have more control over the noise than you think.
Here’s what you can do: First, politely ask the humans with whom you live to change their behavior. Calmly ask them to turn down the TV a little and maybe use the timer on their phones instead of the oven timer, which is loud. Share this article with them to help them understand why sleep is so important.
Of course, you can’t control all the noises in your neighborhood. But you can still take action: Some people like to drown out external noise with calming white-noise machines or phone apps. Some people use a fan. There are also earplugs and headphones made to be worn while falling asleep.
3. Limit the light.
You want to minimize the light to which you’re exposed during the hour or so before you hit the hay because light is a natural suppressor of melatonin, the body’s hormone that promotes sleep.
This mechanism works in your favor in the morning; when you’re exposed to bright light then, it sends a signal to the brain that the day has begun. But light exposure close to bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep because the light tells your body that it’s still daytime.
Artificial light sends the same messages to your body as sunlight. A dimmable light switch that you can control from bed is a great way to gradually bring down the light in the bedroom and tell your body that it’s time to wind down during the hour before bedtime.
4. Don’t mindlessly scroll through your phone in bed like a social media zombie.
Honestly, you should consider putting your phone across the room on “Do Not Disturb” mode so that only important phone calls get through.
Why? There has been a lot of research on the effects of taking smartphones and tablets to bed with you. Portable electronic devices disturb sleep in two major ways.
- They provide an activity—whether it’s reading the news, checking out your Instagram feed or playing Candy Crush—therefore keeping you engaged with the device rather than relaxing and going to sleep.
- In physiological terms, most LCD screens emit shortwave blue light directly into your eyes. Blue light tells your body to suppress the release of melatonin that would otherwise be helping you fall asleep.
If you like the convenience of an electronic device for reading before you go to sleep, consider using a non-LCD e-reader that doesn’t emit blue light right into your eyeballs.
5. Decorate for relaxation, and kill the clutter.
In a sleep-friendly bedroom, you want design elements that are calming, such as light green or blue paint. Rainbow zigzags, faux graffiti and other brain-stimulating decorations are better suited for other parts of the house.
Having a clean bedroom can benefit your respiratory system. Make sure your sleeping environment is dust-free by dusting, sweeping and vacuuming regularly. This will help you limit the severity of snoring, sleep apnea and allergies.
6. Cool down temperatures for sleeping.
Your body temperature starts dropping during the initial stages of falling asleep. An external temperature drop that matches your internal temperature drop helps you fall asleep.
That’s why having a bedroom environment between 66 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit is best for sleeping. If the bedroom is overly warm, it can create a stimulating effect and keep you awake.
7. Remove the glowing alarm clock.
You’re having trouble sleeping. You start wondering how long you’ve been lying in bed. You calculate how much sleep you could get if only you’d fall asleep right then. You look over at the clock yet again.
Ditch the clock: It’s just stressing you out.
If you can’t sleep, get up and go to another room. Read for a while until you’re ready to try to sleep again. Repeat.
Leaving the room and reading will increase your chances of eventually getting sleep. Staring at and stressing over the red glow of a digital alarm clock will not help you get into the relaxed state of mind that tells your brain it’s time to sleep.
If you’re suffering from sleeplessness, take our free online SleepAware assessment to find out if you’re at risk of a sleep disorder. Find a doctor near you or learn more about our sleep disorder services in Wake County and Orange County.
Adnan Pervez, MD, is a sleep medicine physician with REX Pulmonary Specialists and the REX Sleep Disorders Center.