Remember the ‘Man Cave’ which was popular a few years back? Well, think of creating a ‘cave’ at home to sleep in, because the ideal sleep environment is indeed cave-like. Below is a check-list to work through as you design the perfect sleep environment. You can also see this month’s issue of SHAPE magazine, with tips from designers and yours truly.
To make a perfect ‘Sleep Cave’:
1. Dark. Should be as dark as a cave, this allows your natural melatonin levels to soar at night and help you sleep.
2. Quiet. Ever sleep in a basement and have a better night’s sleep because it was so quiet? Turn off everything that makes a sound, thus asking for your attention. Do what you can to keep the dog from barking, or his collar from jingling. If there are irregular sounds, a soft white noise machine might be helpful.
3. No electronics. Did a caveman have little lights flashing, or sales texts chirping in the night? Research this last year shows that many people are woken multiple times each week by the phone. Make sure you are not one of these folks by putting your electronics to bed in another room.
4. Comfy. Sleeping surfaces vary widely around the world. What’s most important is that the bed is comfortable for you. Unfortunately bedpartners can prefer different firmness in the mattress. Modify it with extra padding so it’s softer for one, or put a firm board under the mattress so it’s firmer for the other person.
5. Cool. People sleep better when it is cooler than 65, or even cooler at 60 degrees. Adjust both the temperature of the room, and the covers so you aren’t waking up too hot. Many patients tell me they like the bed to be warm when they get into it in the evening, but then get too hot in the night. You can use a heating pad, electric blanket, or hot water bottle to warm the bed beforehand, but then turn it off once you are in bed.
6. Minimal ‘stuff’. Back to those cavemen, they didn’t have so much stuff in their sleeping quarters, did they? Remove all the things from your bedroom that are thought provoking or call for action. You want the bedroom to be a place that you are ‘off-duty’ from the responsibilities of the day.
Although none of these recommendations are high tech, they are based on solid research, and make a huge difference in how well you sleep. Making these changes will be worth it as you get optimal sleep and all its’ daytime benefits!
Think about what a cave is like . . . dark, cool, quiet, and did I say dark? For the best sleep, a cave-like bedroom is ideal.
People sleep best in a cool room, no warmer than 65 degrees. Keep bedcovers in light layers that can easily be adjusted so you avoid getting too hot.
Keep the room quiet. If there are intermittent sounds you just can’t avoid, then use a soft sound machine through the night.
Dark makes all the difference in sleep. Melatonin which is so important for falling asleep is suppressed by light. Unfortunately in most urban settings there is so much light polution that it’s difficult to make the bedroom dark. Use black out shades to block outside light, then turn off all nightlights and electronic LEDs in the bedroom.
Making these simple changes to the bedroom can make a real improvement in your sleep.
Sleep is interesting in that it is a physiological process, which is strongly influenced by habit. When we work to have positive sleep associations with our bedroom, we can sleep better.
Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Whenever Pavlov fed the dogs, he would ring a bell. Eventually just ringing the bell would cause the dogs to start salivating, because they associated the bell with food.
People can also develop these type of associations. For instance, hard not to think about food when you’re standing in the kitchen. What associations have you developed about your bedroom?
Sometimes, when people spend a lot of time awake in their bed or bedroom, they start to associate it with being awake. This can feed into difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
To create a positive association of your bedroom as someplace to sleep, avoid being awake either in bed or in the bedroom.
– Choose to unwind before bed in another room.
– Don’t have a TV or computer in the bedroom, as those are waking activities.
– If you are awake more than 30 minutes at the beginning of the night, or 10 minutes in the middle of the night, get up and do something boring until you are sleepy enough to return to bed.
To learn more about Naturopathic Sleep Medicine go to www.naturalsleepmedicine.net.
So . . . ’tis the season for making New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s my healthy sleep resolutions that will help make this the best year ever!
1. Get enough sleep each night, enough so I am ready to get up and start the day with enthusiasm!
2. Stop work, TV and computer about an hour before bedtime so that I can unwind before lights out, and fall asleep easily.
3. Schedule my work day in accordance with my circadian rhythm – mentally hard work in the morning and late afternoon, with filing and less demanding tasks during the mid-day circadian dip (for me this is about 1:30-2:30pm)
4. Keep my bedroom a great sleep environment – cool, dark, quiet, and without all that clutter which makes me think of my ‘To Do’ list rather than sleep.
What sleep resolutions will you make this year?
Dr. Catherine Darley is director of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine in Seattle. More at www.naturalsleepmedicine.net
Over the centuries, and from place to place throughout the world, sleep environments have varied widely. I once attended a presentation on sleep environments in other cultures. The most striking was in a nomadic culture. The women sleep squatting down, with their skirts stretched tightly across their knees. Their babies sleep on their skirts so as to be safe from the many poisonous snakes in the area.
Fortunately we are able to organize our sleeping place to be the best it can be. We can usually minimize stimuli that interrupt sleep. Below are some tips you can use at home, with the reasoning behind each.
Creating a healthy sleep space at home:
Doing most of these items will take 10 minutes or less – the result can be a more restful night!
– Move your clock from the head of your bed. Place it across the room where it cannot be seen from your pillow. Sleep comes easier if you are not thinking about the time, or how much time you have left to sleep!
– Find someplace else for your pets to sleep. Of all my recommendations this is sometimes the hardest for people to do because they love their pets. I love my pet too, but the fact is that the pets can be waking you up in the night, and leaving you less refreshed the next day.
– Sleep in the same bed each night. As we cycle through the five sleep stages each night we hit Stage 1 sleep every hour and a half or so. At that time people frequently sit up, adjust the covers, scan the room for anything that needs attention, then lie back down. If you are in an unusual room it may take longer to make sure the room is safe and return to sleep.
– Make the room as dark as possible. Even the light from a night-light or clock is enough to interfere with your natural melatonin rhythm.
– Wash your bedding regularly to minimize any allergic reaction to dust and dust mites. Sheets and pillowcases should be washed weekly; pillows, blankets and mattress covers washed at least every quarter; and pillows replaced every two years.
– Remove any workstations from your bedroom. This includes computers, TV, sewing or any other hobbies. Having these activities in your bedroom conditions you to be active and alert in the bedroom instead of relaxed and asleep.