In today’s busy world, our bedrooms have become our fitness studio, office space, craft room, family lounge and more. However, the purpose of a bedroom is for sleep and connecting with your partner—not fitness, paying bills, work, folding laundry, etc. In fact, all these activities come with “stuff” that has nothing to do with sleeping and may be keeping you from getting restful sleep.
Our physical senses react to the the space around us, which means we can become either relaxed or agitated by:
- Clutter and misplaced items
- Bright colors
- Room configuration
Through thoughtful design, you can adjust these five stimuli in your bedroom to reduce stress and provide a supportive environment for a better night’s sleep!
CLUTTER AND MISPLACED ITEMS
The world around you impacts your mood. For example, researchers have found an association between increased clutter and increased anxiety. While different people have differing abilities to deal with stimulation around them, clutter is a distraction and can overstimulate you. Researchers found that women who described their homes as cluttered or full of unfinished projects had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and more symptoms of depressed mood than women who described their spaces as restorative and restful. Likewise, researchers at Princeton found that we can become overwhelmed by objects in our space that are not related to what we are supposed to primarily do in that space.
Researchers who also evaluated whether encouraging people with sleeping difficulties to organize and declutter their bedroom could improve sleep found that decluttering and self-care habits predicted fewer sleep related problems and improved sleep quality. If you think about it, the last thing you see at night before you fall asleep is your bedroom. If your room is messy and cluttered, you are likely to feel more anxious. If your room is neat and clean, you are likely to feel more relaxed.
Hence, it is important to keep our bedrooms only for sleeping and connecting with your partner. Try to keep laundry, work, exercise, television, and other activities out of your bedroom. Also, if you find clutter has snuck into your room and you do not have time to organize before bed, consider having a “put away” basket that you can put items into and move outside of your room. While this is not as restful as actually putting it all away before bed (since you mentally still know that task needs to be done), it is still better than being surrounded by the visual clutter. The next day you can try to return those items back to their proper place.
The light your body is exposed to during the day and night influences your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s natural cycle that tells it when it is time to sleep and wake. The ambient lighting in your room is created by both the overhead lighting and the natural light that comes in from the windows and skylights. Being exposed to bright light at night can interrupt your body’s rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep. A great trick for avoiding this issue is to put a dimmer switch on your overhead lighting in your room. It is recommended that you switch to softer lighting about 60 minutes before you intend to go to bed, to help make it easier for your body to fall asleep. Hence, as it gets closer to bedtime, you can rotate the dimmer and slowly reduce the overhead lighting you are exposed to. Also, using lamps in the evening before bed instead of overhead lights can help if you cannot dim your overhead lights.
Also, do not forget about the light coming in through your windows and skylights. Research demonstrates that simply closing your eyes does not block enough light to protect your circadian rhythms to promote sleep, because your eyelids cannot block out all light. You likely cannot control whether your neighbors leave their porch lights on all night or if there is a large streetlight outside your bedroom. Therefore, putting up blinds or curtains that are light blocking can also help reduce the light pollution in your room from outdoors. In fact, the team at Harvard Med recommends complete darkness if possible as the best sleep environment. If you are worried about being able to see if you need to get up in the night, small nightlights that are triggered by movement can be a great solution.
The sounds you hear at night create a different type of clutter in your life. They not only make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep, but they are also connected to poor health outcomes—likely due to insufficient restful sleep. Identify any noises within your home that may be irritating you as you try to fall asleep or awaking you in the night, such as a clock with a loud tick, dripping faucet, snoring partner, refrigerator alarm, etc. If you cannot control outside noise from traffic, airplanes, or a barking dog—or cannot remove the problems causing the noise pollution within your house—you may want to consider a white noise machine or playing quiet, relaxing music to help block the noise coming from outside your home. Experimenting with different types of sound can be helpful, as some people prefer the sound of waves while others may like a brook or simply the sound of static to block out noise pollution. Also, if you have hard surface floors in your bedroom, you may want to consider a floor runner rug for your primary traffic pattern to dampen the noise from someone getting up in the night and walking on the floor. Fabric surfaces help absorb sound, so even a large tapestry on your wall rather than framed artwork may dampen some of the noise in your bedroom.
The color of your bedding and walls is an important design choice that also impacts your sleep. Color is evaluated based on its hue, saturation, and lightness. Hue is the name given to a shade of color, such as blue or red, while saturation describes the intensity of a hue, and lightness is a value of the color that varies based on the presence of black or white in the color.
For example, the hue red is a stimulating color that increases our heart and breathing rate and causes our body to move faster. Researchers in one study found that people in red rooms reported higher stress than those in white or green rooms. Interestingly a research study found that when architecturally identical dorm rooms were painted different colors—including violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red—the blue, green and violet rooms, respectively, were preferred, with the least popular colors being orange, yellow, and red, respectively. Blue was identified as not only the preferred color but also as being calming for mood and conducive to studying.
Ideally, light-colored walls are ideal for sleep. However, if you are a shift worker such as a nurse, you may want to consider a deep, dark paint color to help reduce the brightness of your room since you must sleep during the daytime. Also, a flat finish to your paint is softer than a glossy finish and is more relaxing.
To keep your bedroom from feeling cramped, the layout and size of your furniture can be important. Ideally you should select a bed and other furniture (dresser, nightstands, etc.) that are to scale with your space. If the purpose of your bedroom is sleep and connecting with your partner, then the largest real estate in your bedroom should be dedicated to your bed. Ideally you want a mattress that is large enough to support a good night's sleep for you and your partner, which may mean upping the size of the bed you have now. However, since that may make your room wall-to-wall furniture, you might want to dedicate more space in your bedroom to a larger bed and skip the dresser or night stands on both sides of it. You can keep this storage space by moving the dresser to your closet or moving the items you do not use often to a spare bedroom.
Our horizontal surfaces are also part of your room’s decor and layout. When opting for décor, try to keep things simple and purposeful. For example, you might consider a clean and simple nightstand as a source of dim light from a lamp, or possibly a solution for nighttime problems—like a glass of water if you wake up with a dry throat, a notepad and pencil if you have racing thoughts and need a place to write them down, or a book with sleep meditations to help relax you at bedtime. By keeping your bedroom’s surfaces minimalistic and purposeful, you’ll create a more functional space.
Your environment impacts your stress and mood, which can impact your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The overall quantity and quality of sleep we get can have an impact on your current and future health, so providing a bedroom space that is conducive to a good night’s sleep is important. A great way to do that is to take a tour of your bedroom with a new outlook and address the impact of your decor on your stress and sleep by:
- Removing misplaced items from your bedroom
- Dimming the lighting and blocking light from windows
- Reducing external noise or using a sound machine to block out external noise
- Opting for soft, relaxing colors instead of bright colors
- Addressing your room’s layout and surfaces
In addition to these design tip recommendations, do not forget to keep a healthy bedtime routine and supportive environment by:
- Winding down at least 30 minutes before bed by turning off electronic devices that emit blue light (cell phone, iPad, computer, tv, etc.)
- Refraining from eating at least 3 hours before bedtime
- Sticking to a consistent schedule of going to bed and waking that provide seven to eight hours of sleep
- Choosing a high-quality mattress and pillows to support your unique body position
And, the next time you are shopping for new paint or bedding for your room, keep in mind that your goal is to create a calming, clean, simple space conducive to sleep.