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Creating a bedroom that is conducive to sleep is one of the most important things you can do to resolve your insomnia.
You may not be aware of it, but the way you feel subconsciously about your sleeping space has a big impact on how well you sleep.
Following the principles of sleep hygiene can help you create a sleep-friendly space.
Cozy Nest Or Torture Chamber?
A few years ago I returned home completely stressed out from a horrible day at work. My project supervisor had surpassed even her usual standards of idiotic obstructionism, and I felt so angry I thought I was about to have a stroke.
As I went up to my bedroom and started to take my watch and earrings off, my eye suddenly fell on my pillow.
Immediately, I felt a sense of relaxation and well-being flood my chest. For a few seconds, it was as if I lived in a universe that was blissfully free of morons.
I realized then what a powerful symbol of rest and happiness my bed had become for me.
A while later, of course, I went back to fuming — but the experience taught me a lot about the role of the bedroom in sleep hygiene.
In the worst period of my insomnia, my bedroom always felt like a place of worry and unease to me. I always felt a shadow fall over my heart whenever I entered it.
If I knew then what I know now, I could have made it a better, happier room for sleeping in.
Your bedroom should make you happy and relaxed. That is a key principle of sleep hygiene.
Put Out the Light
Your sleeping space should be as dark as possible. This is because melatonin — the hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm and brings on sleep — is produced by your pineal gland when it is dark.
Just as importantly, melatonin production is actually suppressed in the presence of light.
If there is street lighting outside your bedroom window, you’ll want to shut it out completely. Even a few stray rays of light could make all the difference.
Put up the best (i.e., thickest) window drapes you can. Venetian blinds do not cut it.
This needn’t be an expensive venture. Proper drapes can cost a lot, but these days, it’s easy to buy ready-to-use curtain rods and curtains.
If you haven’t any cash to spare, put up an old bedsheet (or two, if one isn’t opaque enough) with clothespegs or paper clips — whatever works.
A friend of mine whose husband worked a night shift made sure he had a dark room for sleeping in the daytime by covering their windows with cardboard and duct tape.
If you don’t fancy this solution (and there is something to be said for pleasing decor), there are all kinds of ways to prettify cardboard!
I can’t emphasize this enough, because our over-bright world is taking a toll on our health. Lack of sleep is not the only issue — though it is one of the most important.
It is thought that the suppression of melatonin production with artificial lighting at night may be a factor in the high breast cancer rates found in the industrialized world.
Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and may inhibit the formation of certain cancers, so it makes sense that bright lights at night may not be the best thing for our health.
Cover your windows. It’s good sleep hygiene — and it’s good for you.
The lighting in your bedroom should follow this principle of sleep hygiene, too. Try not to turn on overhead lighting too often — and certainly not when you are about to turn in.
Table lamps with shades on are ideal. If you are reading in bed (not an ideal behavior! see below), you’ll want light on the page, not on your face.
You may even want to install a night light in your bathroom, so when you visit it in the middle of the night you don’t interrupt your brain’s melatonin production by turning on the bright, overhead light.
No Computers, No TV!
Don’t confuse your subconscious by associating your bedroom with any other activity besides sleeping (all right, and sex).
Watching TV at night isn’t recommended at all for insomniacs, but if you must watch some, make sure it is not in your bedroom.
Likewise, checking email and surfing the Internet (or worse, working) in your bedroom is a total no-no. Bad sleep hygiene!
If you live in a studio, screen off your workstation and TV so that your sleeping space is psychologically separate. Even covering your monitor or TV screen with a blanket helps.
(If I sound bossy about this, it’s because I have a friend who complains of being unable to sleep, but who I recently found out keeps his computer by his bed, even though he lives in a two-bedroom apartment.
When I suggested he move it, he said he couldn’t be bothered. Aargh! It’s enough to keep me awake at night.)
Sleep Hygiene is Not Just A Metaphor
I blush to confess that when I lived alone and my insomnia was at its most hobbling, I rarely made my bed and only changed my sheets about once a month.
I reasoned that I was only going to get into bed again in a few hours, and it was only me, and I always took a shower before bedtime, so why bother? (There, I sound like the friend I just complained about.)
But the perpetually unmade bed and unlaundered sheets only contributed to the air of stale, unfinished business in my bedroom. It was a place where things were only half-accomplished.
No wonder I was never either fully asleep nor fully awake.
Keep your bedroom neat and change your sheets regularly. Make your bed every morning, no matter whether you slept or not. Make your sleeping place a space where things are taken care of and treated lovingly.
If you have unpaid bills or half-completed work, make sure it is not anywhere near your bed! Neat, tidy, and squared away — that’s good sleep hygiene.
Silence Is A Kind of Clean
We are bombarded by much too much noise every day. Yet many people can’t seem to do without some kind of aural stimulation, whether from the radio or their MP3 player.
If you are one of these people, try cultivating a taste for silence. You may feel strange and insecure at first, but the quiet will allow your nervous system to calm down.
Noise pollution is gaining increased recognition as a threat to health. We may “get used” to a level of noise mentally, but our bodies never do.
Noise causes stress levels to rise — with all the physiological effects that that implies.
Studies done in neighborhoods surrounding airports have found higher-than-normal rates of heart and gastrointestinal trouble among residents.
If traffic noise reaches you in bed (or if your bed partner snores), you might try ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones.
Most apartment buildings have noise codes, but people don’t always abide by them.
If you have noisy neighbors, try not to pick a fight with them. It’s not good sleep hygiene to be angry at bedtime, after all.
Instead, bring over some flowers or cookies and politely explain that you are having trouble sleeping and that it is affecting your performance at work (or whatever else you wish to plead).
If this doesn’t work, speak to your building superintendent. Again, try not to get too emotional about this (annoying though it is). In a situation where you are depending on others to help you, it’s best to remain calm and respectful at all times.
Cool, Fresh, Moist Air
You should have a nice warm bed in a cool room. Don’t overheat your home at night — and make sure the air circulates in your bedroom by opening the windows regularly.
Creating the ideal temperature for sleeping in is part of sleep hygiene. Try for about 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius.
If the air in your sleeping space is dry, you may want to run a humidifier for a couple of hours before you get into bed. It’s easier to sleep well if the air is slightly humid.