How to Design Your Bedroom for Better Sleep
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
After a long day of working, parenting, or simply trying to stay on top of your to-do list, nothing feels better than retreating to your bedroom for some much-needed rest. But if, rather than being a serene sanctuary, your bedroom is filled with distraction or clutter, it may not be the best environment for a good night's sleep.
If this sounds like your bedroom and you feel your quality of sleep could stand an upgrade, try these tips for creating a cozy, calm, and inviting bedroom environment so you can finally get the rest you so desperately need.
1. Get Rid of Work Reminders
Some of us don’t have the space to set up a separate home office, which often means the bedroom has to become a two-for-one workspace. While that may solve the daytime problem of where to work, it creates a whole other nighttime issue. Some experts warn that the mere presence of our work materials, from stacks of papers and files to the desk itself, may have a negative effect on sleep hygiene.
“You don’t want reminders of work while you’re trying to decompress at night,” explains Sally Augustin, Ph.D., an environmental and design psychologist and the principal designer at Design with Science, an interior design consultancy based in Chicago. “Simply put, you don’t want any reminders of things you have to do while awake when you’re trying to fall asleep.”
Such thinking aligns with stimulus control therapy, a type of treatment for acute or chronic insomnia, where the bedroom is reserved solely for sleep and intimacy because bringing other activities, like doing work, into your sleeping quarters can lead your brain to make associations that ultimately make it harder to fall asleep.
In short, doing work in your bedroom can signal to your brain that it’s time to “be on.” And that can make it harder for you to switch off when bedtime rolls around.
If setting up shop in your bedroom is your only option, Augustin recommends adopting an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality at nighttime. “If possible, try to reconfigure your furniture so you can’t see your desk or any of your work materials while you’re trying to drift off to sleep,” she says.
Try setting up a room divider or privacy screen to section off your desk area. Or you could store your work materials in bins that can be stashed under your desk or bed in the evenings.
2. Tidy Up As You Wind Down for the Night
Clutter comes with its own laundry list of possible negative effects, from limiting our ability to focus to making it more difficult to process information. Though frequently ignored, among the ill effects on that list is making it harder to fall asleep, because the visual complexity of clutter may be linked to stress.
“‘Visual complexity’ is environmental psychologists’ term for clutter, and if there’s too much clutter in your space, you can become stressed and distracted,” Augustin says. “For your best sleep, you’ll likely want to moderate it.”
To keep ahead of the inevitable pile up of papers and clothing and, well, stuff, make decluttering a staple of your evening routine. And don’t worry—we’re not talking about a full-blown deep clean. Augustin says closing your closet doors and drawers is a simple but effective way to decrease visual complexity in the bedroom.
From there, dedicate five to 10 minutes to putting things away, namely devices, shiny objects, and visual reminders of things you need to get done, and your space will be better suited for shut-eye.
3. Make the Bed As Part of Your Morning Routine
We hate to break it to you, but your mom was right: Making your bed in the morning is a worthwhile habit. Climbing into a well-made bed at night simply feels good, and in a survey conducted by the Sleep Foundation, participants who said they make their bed most mornings also reported that they got a good night's sleep more often than their less diligent counterparts.
What’s more, you won’t have to waste time wrestling with twisted-up sheets when you climb into bed at night.
4. Create a Relaxation Station
The most important component of bedtime is the bed (it's right there in the name). That's why it's essential that your bed be both comfortable and comforting, notes Augustin, who recommends starting with soft materials.
Skip the scratchy or easily snagged materials and opt for bedding that feels good to the touch. Everyone's tastes are different, so it’s worth taking the time to think through your preferences. Hot sleepers should consider breathable fabrics (cotton, linen, bamboo) with a more open weave (percale vs. sateen), which allows the warm air under the sheets to pass through.
No matter which kind of material you land on, Augustin urges you to keep one science-backed sentiment top of mind: Research suggests that keeping your feet warm can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. So, keeping a warm blanket folded at the bottom of your bed, or even wearing a pair of socks to sleep, can be helpful.
Certain sounds and aromas can also aid relaxation and promote sleep. Research suggests that both nature sounds and white noise may help you wind down for sleep, and the scent of lavender may help boost sleep quality.
5. Turn to the Dark Side—Safely
It’s widely known that blocking out ambient light can help you sleep better, but blackout curtains aren’t for everyone. “You don’t want it to be so dark that you trip over toys left on the floor or can’t see if you have to get up to use the restroom,” Augustin explains.
If you anticipate having to get up at night, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends a dim flashlight, or perhaps a motion-activated night light, so you can still see without exposing yourself to bright light and fully disrupting your sleep cycle.
If you prefer or need blackout curtains in the bedroom—say, there are bright city lights outside your window—you may consider investing in a sunrise lamp that may make it easier to wake up in the morning when natural sunlight doesn’t come in through your window.
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