5 keys to a more sleep-friendly bedroom
Do you have trouble sleeping? The problem might be your room. Most people look inward for explanations when they don’t get enough sleep. Or they focus far outside themselves, at work or family stress. Those can all contribute. But sometimes, the answer is simpler than you think. If your bedroom isn’t set up to help you sleep, it’s priming you to fail.
And that’s a huge problem in this country.
Somewhere between 50 and 70 million Americans don’t get enough sleep. That’s up to one out of every five people. And it’s a very conservative estimate, at that.
A full 30% of US adults get less than six hours of sleep a night. The average adult needs 7-8 hours in order to avoid sleep-related problems.
And there are plenty of problems.
Sleepiness doesn’t just make you tired
When your body doesn’t get enough rest, it starts to break down.
We’ve all felt some of the more obvious effects—moodiness, memory issues, and impaired mental function. Little wonder that lack of sleep goes hand in hand with a rise in accidents and accidental death.
And that’s not even counting the times when bodies rebel, and put you to sleep at inopportune moments. 30% of adults report falling asleep at the wheel in the past year—contributing greatly to the 100,000 car accidents that are directly attributed to lack of sleep each year.
But the dangers go far beyond the obvious.
Your immune system produces infection-fighting antibodies while you sleep. Not enough sleep means not enough soldiers—and an increased risk of illness.
Sleeplessness also increases your body’s production of cortisol—the stress hormone. That comes with all the risks associated with stress, including weight gain.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, that alone can add pounds to your waist!
And lack of sleep is awful for your heart and cardiovascular system. A single night of short sleep can raise your blood pressure for a day.
Prolonged lack of sleep increases the risk of just about form of heart disease.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sleep is a time of rest and repair. Without enough sleep, all your body’s systems degrade, and function poorly.
In other words, if you care about your health at all, you’ve got to care about your sleep!
Luckily, getting enough sleep is sometimes as simple as putting yourself in a position to succeed. And that means having a bedroom that acts like a lullaby.
Five keys to a sleep-friendly bedroom
1. Only use your bed for sleep
With our always-connected, highly-mobile, always-on world, it’s easy to use your bedroom as a work space. Or an entertainment zone.
When you’re conditioned to be active in your bedroom (watching TV, making phone calls, etc.), your mind won’t slow down when it’s time to sleep.
On the other hand, if you only go to the bedroom when you’re tired and ready to call it a night, your body will be cued to sleep as soon as the lights go out.
So make your bedroom a sanctuary reserved for rest. You’ll fall asleep faster, sleep better through the night, and wake up more refreshed and recharged.
2. Eliminate all screens
The sun has always been the dependable keeper of time for our circadian rhythms. When it’s bright out, we feel more awake and active. Darkness produces the opposite effect.
Blue light, in particular, has a dramatic effect on your internal clock. More than any other color, blue light suppresses melatonin production and affects your circadian clock.
And our TV screens, computer screens, and phone screens are awash in blue light.
So get all the screens out of your bedroom. Turn off the TV well before bed—or, best of all, don’t even have a TV in your bedroom.
Stop checking email two hours before bed. Use that time to read a book, or do an offline activity.
This might be a large change for you. And, at first, it may be a difficult one. But if you can avoid screens before sleep for a week, you’ll notice a profound difference.
(If you simply cannot stop looking at a screen, do your best to cut down. Instead of a TV, use your tablet. Instead of a tablet, use your phone. And take advantage of apps that automatically dim your screen and filter blue light to something red.)
3. Use blackout curtains
While blue light is the worst culprit, all light has an effect on your body.
And, with streetlights outside most homes and city night skies turning pink with light pollution, it’s easy for light to seep in from outside.
That’s why blackout curtains are a must. They can seal off your bedroom, creating a completely dark space in which to sleep.
This one single change might be all you need to get a great night’s rest.
(If you can’t get curtains, or if you and your spouse are going to bed at different times, a useful alternative might be a sleep mask.)
4. Turn off all electronics
There’s a growing body of work that suggests all the electricity we produce can affect us.
This electric pollution is called electrosmog, and if you’re one of the people bothered by it, you have electrosensitivity.
This phenomenon hasn’t been widely accepted yet, though some studies suggest up to 8% of the population is affected.
Back in 2007, a report compiling the work of over 2,000 studies found that electrosmog is a likely contributor to a number of different maladies—from cancer to, yes, sleep difficulties.
It may be some time before this danger is addressed. Of course, washing your hands was laughed at for a century after it was first suggested as a method to stop the spread of disease.
I hope it won’t take 100 years for us to get to the bottom of electrosmog.
But even if it turns out to be more smoke than fire, I prefer to err on the side of caution. And I know that many of my patients report much better sleep when they shut off all electronics in their bedroom. Some even just flip a circuit breaker for that room when they go to bed, with positive results.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it makes sense to see if shutting off all the electronics in your bedroom makes a difference.
5. Use a grounding mat
For many, a grounding—or earthing—mat produces near-miraculous results.
Grounding, or earthing, is the practice of making skin contact with the earth, to let electrosmog pass through your body without doing harm.
Since you probably don’t sleep outdoors, grounding mats can have the same effect.
And even if you turn off all electronics, they can be useful. After all, cell phone signals and WiFi are all around us.
So if you think that electrosmog might be interfering with your sleep, a grounding mat is a worthy investment. Simply ground yourself before bed, to let the negative ions out of your body.
Again, electrosensitivity isn’t a problem for everyone. But if you suspect you might be sensitive—if you get unexplained headaches or rashes—it makes sense to try grounding.
Whatever works best for you, do it. And make sure you give yourself plenty of sleep time. Sleep is often the forgotten component of good health, but diet and exercise alone can only get you so far.
Without proper rest, you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle. But with proper sleep, you’ll likely find all your other health goals much easier to achieve.
- CDC, Insufficient Sleep Is A Public Health Problem
- Drowsy Driving, Facts and Stats
- Ann Pietrangelo, The Effects Of Sleep Deprivation On The Body, Health Line, Aug 19 2014
- Harvard Health Letter, Blue light has a dark side, Harvard Medical School, Sep 2 2012
- Michael Segell, Is ‘electrosmog’ harming our health?, NBC News, Jan 18 2010
- Andre Fauteux, Electrosmog: 12 Ways Of Avoiding It, Maison Saine, May 15 2012