Your teeth brushed, you step over the discarded jeans on the floor, hop in bed, wrestle up the covers, turn out the light and ... wait.
The vibration of text message arrivals buzzes from your cellphone; the glow from streetlights outside filters through the windows; one of the neighbor’s dogs barks as he bolts out their back door for his final trip outside before they turn in, too.
And isn’t it getting stuffy in here?
We can’t always escape from daily stress — but what we can do is work to create an oasis of calm where we can gather our thoughts and our breath. The bedroom is the perfect spot to find some peace.
“This is really important!” says interior designer Kristine Whitham of Redesign by Indigo in Lancaster. “Especially today, because our minds keep going and are constantly stimulated.”
The National Sleep Foundation, an organization for sleep researchers, physicians and professionals, lists six tips for creating a sleep-friendly bedroom. Several of the six can be accomplished with no or little expense, and Whitham and interior designer Martha Alongi of HomeStar Designs Ltd. in Lancaster share some ideas for making those tips reality.
But before you start, Whitham says, get rid of the electronics. The temptation of watching television in bed, or checking emails if you awake in the night, can be irresistible for lots of people. The light from the screens has been proven to interfere with sleep, too.
“Your room should make you feel relaxed and peaceful,” the National Sleep Foundation says. “Think cool neutrals or soft pastels,” Whitham recommends. “That just creates a very calming environment.”
“Overhead lights can be more permanent fixtures,” Alongi says, “and, as such, (the) selection should be neutral.” A dimmer switch, which Whitham recommends, allows you to follow a second Sleep Foundation tip: Dim the lights about an hour before bedtime. It will “help regulate your body and tell your brain it’s time to shift into sleep mode.”
If you want a bedside table lamp for reading, Whitham says, consider a multiswitch lamp and a two- or three-way bulb so you can adjust the brightness.
And make sure your window coverings can block out sunlight. Natural light is great during the day, but even small amounts of light at night can interfere with sleep.
Keep it cool
Temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees typically enable the best sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.
“Invest in a ceiling fan,” Whitham recommends. “(Being) too hot or too cold of course can create interrupted sleep, but ceiling fans also provide not only sound, but also the motion of air circulating in the bedroom. Consider a ceiling fan with a remote so that you don’t have to keep getting out of bed to make adjustments.
Consider the bed
Choose a mattress, pillows, linens and blankets that you find comfortable, and remember that what you find comfortable at 25 might not cut it at 55. Having several light layers of bedding also helps if you awake in the night too hot or too cold; you can subtract or add layers as you need. Keep a comforter folded at the foot of the bed. If you share a bed, both of you can adjust the warmth to your preference.
And, if your bedding has a pattern, Alongi says, try to make sure it is proportionate to the size of the room and in harmony with wall coverings, flooring and other accessories.
Whitham will ease her “no electronics” rule for two items. One is a sound machine that creates white noise or other soothing sounds. That sort of steady noise can help cancel out other, more abrupt or irregular sounds that interfere with your shuteye.
If you’re on a budget, there are many free smartphone apps that create white noise. Just be cautious if having your phone so close to the bed will tempt you to use it for more than sounds, and keep the phone face down so the light doesn’t show.
“Surround yourself with scents you like,” the Sleep Foundation recommends. Lavender, for example, may decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.
That’s why an essential oil diffuser is Whitham’s second concession to a “no electronics” rule. She’s seen them make a difference, for example, when used in the bedroom of a child who had anxiety.
And there are studies to back it up. A Wesleyan University study found that subjects who sniffed lavender essential oil increased the duration of of their slow-wave, or deep, sleep.
Diffusers can be found for under $20 but to save a bit of money, put several drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue and tuck it in your pillowcase.
One final step
Declutter. That goes for stuff, as well as how you use your bedroom.
“Go through things and minimize your items” in the bedroom, Whitham says. “We always find that when we start going through stuff, we end up (getting rid of) whole bags (of items no longer used). To control clutter, look to Alongi’s suggestions for organizing a child’s room: organizer cubes, shelves, drawers, cabinets and a closet outfitted for maximum storage.
Whitham suggests using beds with either pull-out drawers underneath or enough clearance to allow storage containers or bulky items to be slid under the bed frame. Get your laundry off the floor and into a hamper, or fold and hang up.
And use the space for one purpose: relaxing and sleeping.
“I had the horrible habit, and I think a lot of us do, of making my bedroom a multifunctional place,” Whitham says. “I’m checking my email, I’m folding laundry, I’m exercising on the floor.”
But there’s a problem with that common practice. Studies have shown that using the bedroom as a “catch-all” space for tasks interferes with falling asleep. And, as reported in a 2018 National Sleep Foundation survey: Those who report the healthiest sleep habits also reported the highest levels of feeling effective at getting tasks done.