Getting a good night's sleep can be as simple as taking a good look at the space we sleep in. It’s crazy how effective creating a restful sleep environment helps us feel better rested in the morning. And this applies not to just us, but our kiddos too. It seems so simple, but I was amazed at how much better I slept after installing blackout blinds. Being intentional with how the bedroom is set up and protecting that space for sleep can support settling into deep sleep more easily.
First, ensure your sleep space satisfies these four basic criteria:
Dark - use blackout blinds or an eye mask to make the room as dark as possible to signal the brain to release the sleepy hormone, melatonin
Cool - try and maintain an air temperature between 19-22C to allow your body temperature to drop more easily as you settle into sleep
Quiet - use ear plugs or a sound machine that drowns out random household noises to support uninterrupted sleep
Boring - if you can, keep tech and distractions out of the bedroom so your body and brain can focus on sleep only.
What's actually in your room?
Next, take stock of what’s actually in your bedroom. Our bedrooms can often become a place we store all the things we don't have space for throughout the house. Or where we quickly stash miscellaneous items when company is coming. These things over time become a part of the furniture and we don't even "see" them anymore. But their sheer presence can seep into our subconscious creating conflicting messages about what this space is for.
Take some time to look at your sleep space and each item you have within view. What reminders are lying around of all the things you haven’t done, habits you haven’t adopted, or books you haven’t read. What clutter has accumulated in your bedroom that really doesn't belong there? What elements in your bedroom remind you of all the things you have to do or should be doing? Although you may not think it's a big deal, seeing these things just before closing your eyes can send your mind spinning when it should be slowing down.
For example, I have to take stock of my bedside table on occasion as it's where I store my growing pile of half-read books. I realize that unconsciously, it is reminding me of what I haven't done. I don't want this to be the last thing I see before sleeping. I want my bedside table to be clear, simple, tidy and home to only the books I wish to read as I’m falling asleep.
Keeping technology out of the bedroom is a tough one. Ideally, phones or tablets would be shut off 1 hour before bedtime and stored elsewhere in the home. They can be a huge source of distraction, but there are also some great resources for sleep available on smart phones. Use tech with intention and consider whether the benefits are worth some of the risks of keeping it in your space.
Sometimes you may not be on the same page as your partner when it comes to tech use in the bedroom. Have a frank conversation with your partner about your thoughts, priorities, and rationale. Come to an agreement on if and when phones, tablets or TV's are permitted in your shared sleep space.
Is your bedroom somewhere you want to be?
Making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary and somewhere you want to be can really help you relax and allow your body to fall into sleep easily. Is your bed comfortable and somewhere you love to be? Ensure the sheets feel good, the weight of your duvet or comforter is comfortable and your pillow adequately supports you.
Is your bed reserved just for sex or sleeping? Aiming to only wear clothes (if any) you intend to sleep in can build the association that your bed is a place for rest. These subtle cues can let the brain know it’s safe to switch off and lie down.
Is the room clean? Plan to vacuum and dust frequently to ensure it remains clean and tidy. Keeping dust at bay can help stop allergies from keeping you awake. Plus, those dust bunnies you notice in the corner as you crawl into bed can remind you of more that you "should" be doing rather than sleeping.
What's your plan if you can't sleep?
Our brains have a powerful ability to create strong associations. So, it's important to allow yourself to get up and do something else if you are having trouble sleeping. Lying in bed awake may start to build an association contrary to the one we wish to build - that this is a place for sleeping.
Do you have a plan for if you wake up in the night and can’t settle? If it’s stretching, have the space ready before you go to bed so you don’t have to think too much in the middle of the night. If it’s journaling or colouring, set up your materials in a place where you can go and not disturb anyone else. If it’s reading, have the book ready in a space with enough light to read, but not too much that it will wake you. Beware of those LED lights as the bright white/blue light can work against you. Ensure the light you use emits a warm yellow/orange light that won’t trick your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up.
I keep a pen and paper beside my bed for a place to list those things swirling in my head as I drift off or wake up and can't settle. I find dumping my to-do list so my brain doesn’t have to hold it anymore allows my thoughts to settle down more quickly. Those ideas are now safely stored and I can think more about it in the morning.
One thing that I've come to appreciate is the value of prioritizing my sleep space and creating boundaries around it. I try and keep our bedroom tidy, restful, and used for sleep or rest only. It is now one of my most favourite places to be and I look forward to crawling under the covers each night.