Four parts of our sleep environment that are key to sleep hygiene and impact our ability to sleep well throughout the night are temperature, lighting, noise, and bedding. Some of these may impact your sleep more than others and that may change depending on the season, your location, and your age. Tweaking any of the above can significantly impact how you sleep, helping you to achieve more restful sleep. Let’s break down each part one by one.
Temperature is the sleep space concern that is brought to our attention most frequently. Temperature can have a major impact on how one sleeps and this can change throughout the night. As you fall asleep your core body temperature drops, reaching it’s coolest about two hours into sleep. So you may go to bed and feel content and wake up feeling too warm or too cold, because your body temperature has changed during the night. It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to utilize the resources available to you. You can change the temperature in your bedroom by opening or closing windows or turning up or down the thermostat. If you often find you can’t fall asleep because of the temperature, showering or taking a bath before bed can be helpful. The temperature of the water can change your core body temperature; if you often get in bed feeling too warm, try taking a cold shower. If you feel the opposite, taking a warm bath can warm you up before bed.
Something else to consider is the weight of your comforter or blanket. If you find yourself waking up in the night covered in sweat and your room temperature is set to something comfortable, reflect on your bedding. You may not realize how warm your comforter is, so try sleeping with a lighter quilt or blanket. The same goes for if you wake up cold. Try adding another layer on top of your comforter. If you sleep with a partner and you need different temperatures to be comfortable, try each using your own comforter/quilt. This will not only allow you to find the one that fits your temperature best, but also removes any issues of blanket hogging. You can read more about temperature and sleep here.
For most people, our body’s natural circadian rhythm wants to follow the dark-light cycle, meaning that when it is light outside, we want to be awake, and when it is dark, our body knows it’s time to go to sleep. Light signals to our brains that we should be awake and that the brain should produce cortisol, while darkness signals the production of melatonin, which brings on feelings of sleepiness. However it is not always easy for our body to distinguish what is the natural light of the daytime and what is us looking at our phones or computers. Lights that come from our devices, such as phones, tablets, tvs and computers, can cause our brains to stay more awake and put off the production of melatonin. Because of this, it is important to put away devices at least 30 minutes, ideally longer, before bed. This gives the brain the opportunity to realize it is time for bed and that the brain should start producing melatonin. Additionally, the light outside and around your bedroom can impact your sleep. If you live on a bright street, the light coming in through the window can make it challenging to sleep. Blackout curtains and eyeshades can be beneficial for helping you to fall asleep and stay asleep. On the other hand, in the morning, waking up and turning on the lights or opening the curtains can be energizing for the body. When the eyes see light, the body will begin to produce cortisol, signalling it is time to wake up and get the day started. Try not to snooze the alarm too much and as soon as you wake up, get out of bed and turn on the lights. This will let your body know it is ready for the day and help you to be more awake.
Noise is a challenge when it comes to sleep, because it is often the least controllable. You might live with a roommate who has people over until late in the evening, when you like to go to bed at 9pm. Or you might live on a loud street. Humans prefer to sleep in quiet environments because noise causes us to awaken, a natural part of evolution. As we evolved, sound roused us because it meant a predator was approaching and we needed to escape. Today, noise isn’t a predator approaching, but instead someone being loud in the house next door or on the street. If you live somewhere noisey or are sensitive to noise, try using a white noise machine, fan, or listening to sleep music. These noises can drown out the inconsistent and loud noises that keep you awake. You can buy a device for this, or just use your phone. Many phones have white noise or sleep sounds apps that can run for the duration it takes you to fall asleep (often up to a few hours) and then shut off. You can also use earplugs if you prefer the silence. There are ones specifically created for sleep, but also the inexpensive foam earplugs that can be bought in bulk are just as effective.
The last part of sleep hygiene is bedding. We tend to focus on the comfort of a mattress and pillows, deprioritize the sheets, when all three are of equal importance. Some things to consider is the comfort level of each piece of bedding--do you find your mattress firmness, pillow firmness, bedding material comfortable. If your mattress is uncomfortable and buying a new one is financially challenging, they sell mattress toppers that are significantly less expensive and you put on top of the mattress, below the fitted sheet, that can improve the comfort level of your bed. Take some time and reflect on your pillows. They can be too firm or too soft and the longer they are used the less full they get. If your pillows feel too soft, we recommend replacing them. For sheets, it is important to consider how cool/warm they are. It is not only the feel of the sheets that impact how you sleep, but if they’re heavy or light and how that impacts your sleep. You should also be washing your sheets every two weeks at the minimum, this will refresh the comfort of the bed, as well as get rid of any dust mites, which can cause allergies. Having comfortable bedding will encourage better sleep and bedding does not need to be expensive. Many affordable mattresses, pillows, and bedding are made out of the same materials as more expensive ones and are just as comfortable. There is a misconception that a mattress needs to be more expensive to be comfortable as well and this also not true.
Other things you might want to consider as you think about your bedroom is allergens. If you have allergies, besides frequently washing your sheets, it can be helpful to vacuum underneath and around your bed more frequently to catch any dust mites. Additionally, try and recognize that the bedroom is a space that should be used only for sleep and sex. Try not to do work, watch tv, play videogames or anything else that is super high energy or involves a screen in your sleep space. This will cause you to naturally associate these high energy activities with what is supposed to be a calming and relaxing space.
Think about your bedroom and what is working for you. Then consider what is not and try to make changes to improve them. Your bedroom should be a space of comfort, making it as easy as possible for you to get a good night’s sleep.