Pandemic aside, year after year, I see people making mistakes when it comes to their sleep. And while many focus on ways to improve sleep—like studying the relationship between exercise and sleep, or cutting back on caffeine—they often miss one key component: their sleep environment.
In fact, research has consistently shown that your sleep environment—including light, temperature, and sound—can play a key role both in how much you sleep and how restorative your sleep is. Even if you’re following your chronotype for an optimal sleep schedule, the truth is that a poor sleep environment can take away any advantages.
Let’s take a look at three easy steps you can take to upgrade your bedroom this new year for better sleep and better health. These are all small changes—some of which you can make in just a few minutes—that will make a big difference.
Lighting has a dramatic effect on the quality of your sleep. You’ll especially want to be wary of blue light. Blue light suppresses melatonin production for twice as long as other light wavelengths, and also alters your circadian rhythm. Meanwhile, even street lighting can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Action Plan: Replace any bright lights with low-watt, non-halogen lights. Instead of bold colors, consider repainting your walls with soft and calming hues, such as light pastels. Invest in blackout curtains if possible, and set a timer on your TV so it turns off if you have a TV habit. If you can’t resist looking at your smartphone in your bedroom, at least wear blue-light-blocking glasses two hours before bed.
You don’t need me to tell you that noise can disrupt your sleep—whether it’s your dog howling, your partner talking in their sleep, or noisy neighbors. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your bedroom is a quiet space. But it turns out that some sounds can help you sleep better, too.
Several studies show that listening to music before bed can improve sleep quality in all ages and overall sleep efficiency (the time you spend sleeping compared with the time you spend in bed overall). Pre-bedtime music can help you fall asleep more quickly too and may even reduce anxiety.
Action Plan: Experiment to see what works for you. Opt for calming music an hour before bed. In your bedroom, reduce sound as much as possible. Sometimes it’s helpful to use a fan for white noise. I recommend breathable fabric and a comfortable sleep mask to muffle light and block out sound.
Thermoregulation is our body’s way of maintaining our core body temperature, which naturally rises and falls throughout the day and night. The 24-hour cycle of rising and falling body temperature is directly related to our sleep and wake cycle. A drop in body temperature, in other words, signals when it’s time for us to sleep.
A bedroom that's too hot can lead to excessive sweating, nighttime awakenings, and overall disruption in restorative sleep—and even wearing the wrong sleepwear can add to the problem.
Action Plan: Turn your thermostat down. Sixty-five to 67 degrees is ideal, though you may have to see what works best for you. Use a fan if you need to, and avoid nighttime sweating by opting for moisture-wicking pajamas. If you do find yourself still sweating, it may be time for a check-up. Nighttime sweating can be caused by menopause, other hormonal changes, anxiety, or even a sleep disorder like sleep apnea.
Bonus Tip: I’ll leave you with one last bonus tip to help you sleep better in the new year: Check your mattress. If your mattress is sagging, making your allergies worse, or you’re having chronic back pain after sleeping, it may be time to shop for a new one.
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