Few things are better than falling into bed at the end of a long day. And few things are worse than not being able to get the rest you need—whether you have trouble getting comfortable, falling asleep, staying asleep, or just feeling rested in the morning.
Sleep problems are not only frustrating, but they can also take a toll on your physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation has been tied to things like:
- Trouble concentrating
- A weakened immune system
- Short- and long-term memory problems
- Weight gain
- Mood swings or anger
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of heart disease
So how can you be sure you get the sleep that you need to live a healthier, happier life?
There are some sleep disruptors that are out of your control, like certain disorders or diseases. If you think that might be the case for you, you’re going to want to talk to your doctor.
For the rest of us, who struggle to get sufficient sleep without a good medical reason behind it, one of the best things to try is designing a better sleep environment.
Why sleep environment matters
The right sleep environment will help you fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and get restful sleep. The wrong sleep environment could leave you tossing and turning.
The goal is to create an environment that is comfortable, stress-free, and signals to your body that it is time to sleep, so you are mentally and physically ready to settle down for the night.
How to Design a Better Sleep Environment
If you want to make a change in any area of your life, we believe that “design” is the way to go. That’s because designing something requires a well thought out plan and process that is deliberately directed toward a specific goal. This is why we don’t just talk about changing your sleep environment, but about designing it to be exactly what you need it to be.
Start with the end in mind.
One principle we apply to everything we design is to start with the end in mind. We find this idea particularly powerful when it comes to self improvement, but it also works for smaller changes, too (even creating a killer playlist).
When you start with the end in mind, you identify the main problem you’re having, and envision what it would be like if that problem were solved.
For example, when you’re designing your new sleep environment, you might start with the end goal of:
- Falling asleep more quickly,
- Not waking up in the middle of the night,
- Being able to wake up more easily in the morning, or
- Feeling more well-rested overall
Once you have your specific goal, try to envision what your life will be like once that goal is met. What will you have the energy to do? Will you look forward to bedtime? Will you enjoy mornings more? Having a detailed vision will help you stay motivated as you work to implement changes in your sleep environment.
Once you have this vision, it’s time to start actually making deliberate changes to your sleep environment. Here’s what to try.
Embrace the dark side.
The amount of light in a room sends signals to your body about whether it should be awake or asleep. As such, it’s important to start dimming the lights in your home about an hour before you go to bed. You should also avoid television and phone screens during this time, as the blue light they emit sends a “wake up” message to your brain.
Once it’s actually time to get in bed and go to sleep, you want your bedroom to be as dark as possible, and to stay dark the entire time you’re asleep. Some experts even say that something like a digital alarm clock or power button on a TV emits too much light. Ultimately, you should decide how dark is dark enough, but generally speaking, you should avoid bright overhead lights or significant amounts of light (e.g. from a lamp). If you have to get up in the middle of the night for any reason, try to avoid turning on major lights, and rely on night lights instead.
Early morning sun can also throw off your desired sleep patterns. Invest in some light-blocking curtains for your bedroom window that help keep those rays from disrupting your zzz’s.
Choose a soothing color palette.
Your bedroom should be peaceful, relaxing, and soothing. You want your bedroom to send you a message that this is a place of rest.
Colors you love will send this message more effectively. While you don’t necessarily have to choose soft or light colors when painting and decorating your bedroom, you should use colors that help you feel peaceful and at ease. You don’t want to get into bed every night thinking about how much you hate your wall color or throw pillows. A palette you love is going to serve you best.
Banish the phone.
For many of us, a phone is the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night. As we already discussed, checking your phone right before bed can be problematic in terms of sending the right signals to your brain. Not only that, but looking at your phone first thing in the morning can contribute to more serious problems by increasing stress and anxiety, taking up precious morning time, and setting your brain up for distraction throughout the day.
The best way to fix this problem: keep your phone in another room while you sleep. This will make it impossible to check your phone right before bed, right after waking in the morning, or in the middle of the night.
At the very least, turn on “do not disturb”, limiting texts and notifications during bedtime.
Be your own sound designer.
Some people like absolute quiet while they sleep; others prefer some background noise.
If you fall into this latter camp, keep in mind that changing sounds—different tones, volumes, etc.—can disrupt sleep. That means that sleeping with the TV on is more likely to wake you in the middle of the night. If you do need some noise to sleep peacefully, try creating white noise instead, whether by using a fan or noise machine. (And yes, there are “white noise” apps, but remember: your phone should be in another room!) We had a fountain installed in the courtyard outside our bedroom, I love the sound of running water at night, as well as morning bird chirping as they come in for a drink.
If you prefer quiet while you sleep, a good pair of earplugs could be your best friend. Find some that fit comfortably. Also, try to minimize noise outside of your room by not running appliances during the night if they’re within earshot.
According to sleep.org, the best temperature for sleeping is between 60-67 degrees (F). This cooler temperature helps your body get cooler (which it does naturally when going into sleep mode) sending the signal that it’s time to rest.
The bed is one of the most important factors in getting a good night’s rest. That said, it’s also one of the hardest to get right. There are so many options available in terms of bed size, mattress firmness, bedding material, and pillow type that it can take a decent amount of trial and error to find your perfect combo. But it’s worth it!
Start with your mattress. The right mattress is probably going to make the biggest difference in the quality and comfort of your sleep. The wrong mattress could leave you tossing and turning, or with aches and pains in the morning (pretty much the opposite of getting a good rest). Start your shopping at a mattress store where you can actually try different levels of firmness to find your preference. Then do some research to find the best mattress at that firmness level in your price range. If possible, buy from a company that allows a trial period, so you can return it if it ends up not working.
True story: We stayed the night at a friend’s home on a trip once. I slept better than I ever had in my life! Woke up hours earlier and had no pain. The bed supported my body so well that I had no aches and slept through the night, which was unusual for me. I called my friend, learned about the mattress, and we purchased one right away! Don’t skimp on something you spend half your life using. Get this part right.
Next, find the right pillow. The right pillow for you is going to depend largely on whether you sleep on your back, stomach, or side. If you’ve had a hard time in the past finding a pillow that works well for you, try an adjustable pillow, which allows you to add or remove stuffing to get to your ideal level of firmness.
Finally, move on to bedding. People have a wide variety of preferences when it comes to sheets. Do you prefer toasty flannel, stretchy jersey, smooth bamboo, or something else? The answer is going to depend largely on whether you are a hot or cold sleeper, and how you like your sheets to feel.
Also, do you want a duvet, quilt, comforter, etc.? These add extra warmth and up the cozy factor of your bed. Lately, I’ve really been liking my gravity blanket: the added heaviness helps calm the body (you can even use it to help with anxiety), and there are some outer covers available that make it so the blanket doesn’t make you too hot.
Do you smell that?
A pleasant, relaxing scent could help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Many people enjoy the scent of lavender, but vanilla, jasmine, sandalwood, and bergamot are also known to be relaxing.
Additionally, the smell of clean sheets is relaxing for many people. A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation shows that three out of four people say they sleep better on clean sheets.
Bonus sleep tips
The above tips will help you design a better sleep environment, but there are some sleep habits that will help you improve your sleep as well. Here are a few.
Set a regular bedtime and wake up time. This regulates your body’s internal clock, so sleep becomes easier and more predictable.
Don’t drink caffeine right before bed. In fact, avoid drinking too much of anything, so you don’t wake up having to go to the bathroom.
Follow a routine. A consistent routine signals the body when it’s time to wind down, so by the time you get into bed, your body is ready to drift off.
Skip the midnight snack. Eating right before bed is more likely to keep you awake. Try not to eat anything for 2-3 hours before bed.
Stay calm. Calming activities like reading, coloring, knitting, listening to calm music, or doing yoga can help you get ready for bed at the end of a busy day.
Designing a better sleep environment could be the key to getting the sleep you want and need. Create your own design for your perfect sleep environment, and reap the benefits of a well-rested body and mind. Sweet dreams!
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