BEDROOM MAKEOVER FOR MORE RESTFUL SLEEP
Lawrence J. Epstein, MD
Harvard Medical School
f a busy schedule prevents you from getting the full seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep per night that the vast majority of adults require, it’s no wonder that you often feel drowsy during the day.
But what if you spend plenty of time in bed yet still never feel fully rested? Something in your sleep environment may be keeping you up or creating disturbances that, even without waking you fully, interfere with the normal progression of sleep stages that you need to feel truly rested.
Concern: Chronic sleep deprivation negatively affects virtually every aspect of life -- energy, alertness, work performance, mood, sex drive.
New finding: Sleep deprivation also contributes to weight problems. Studies show that losing sleep for just a few nights raises levels of hormones linked with overeating and weight gain and makes a person more likely to reach for fattening comfort foods instead of nutritious fare. Even worse: Sleep deprivation increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease as well as car crashes and other accidents.
What to do: Speak to your doctor -- sleep problems sometimes signal a potentially serious condition, such as sleep apnea (repeated cessations in breathing during sleep) or depression. If you still have trouble sleeping well even after underlying medical problems are ruled out or treated, chances are that your bedroom is not offering an optimal sleep environment.
Recommended: Follow the eight simple guidelines below to create a space conducive to restful, restorative slumber...
1. Clear out clutter. Ideally, a bedroom should be simply furnished and decorated so that there isn’t a lot to distract you from the primary purpose of sleep. Keeping the bedroom neat and well organized helps minimize anxiety.
Reason: A messy room often is an oppressive reminder of other things that need to be done, making it harder to fall asleep.
2. Don’t work -- or play -- in the bedroom. Keep your computer, checkbook, to-do list, briefcase and other paraphernalia related to your chores, job or responsibilities in your home office, where they are less likely to intrude on your thoughts during the night. If you must have a phone in the bedroom, use that extension only for emergencies, not for potentially exciting or disturbing conversations.
Recreational activities (other than sex, of course) also should be done elsewhere -- so remove the TV, DVD player, stereo and anything else that shifts the bedroom’s focus to entertainment. If you play music in your room every night before bed, for instance, and then wake up in the middle of the night, you may be unable to fall back to sleep unless you turn on the music again.
3. Banish dust bunnies. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that provoke nasal congestion and/or asthma attacks in allergy-prone people. Because airways naturally constrict at night, allergy flare-ups are likely to interfere with sleep.
Best: Regularly wash bedding in hot water, vacuum under furniture, and dust all surfaces.
4. Block the light. Light sends a strong message to the brain to wake up. Of all the external cues that keep the body clock operating on a 24-hour cycle, light striking the eyes -- even when they are closed -- is the most influential. Though you may not become fully conscious, light can move you out of deep-stage sleep and into lighter, less restful stages.
Solution: Hang shades, blinds or curtains made from "blackout" material over windows. Remove or cover any electronics that light up, including your alarm clock. If you cannot block ambient light, wear a sleep mask.
For safety’s sake: It is fine to use a low-level night-light -- for instance, to see your way to the bathroom.
5. Hide the clock. When you have insomnia, repeatedly checking the clock only makes the problem worse by providing an unwelcome reminder of just how much rest you are missing. Turn the face of the clock away so it won’t taunt you as you toss and turn.
6. Muffle or mask sounds. Noise is extremely disruptive.
Recent findings: People whose partners suffer from sleep apnea (which causes loud snoring and gasping) lose about the same amount of sleep each night as the apnea sufferers themselves do. Also, people who live near airports often experience blood pressure elevations and disturbances in the heart’s normal resting rhythm when planes fly by.
Self-defense: Use heavy draperies, double-paned windows and rugs to muffle outside sounds. Earplugs are very effective -- try an inexpensive foam or silicone drugstore product. If you find earplugs uncomfortable, turn on a fan or white-noise machine (sold at household-goods stores) to create a low, steady background sound that masks more disruptive noises.
7. Make the bed comfortable. The older the mattress, the less support it generally provides (and the more dust mites it may harbor), so if you have had yours for more than 10 years, consider getting a new one. Take your time testing mattresses to see which brand and level of firmness feel best to you, and lie on your favorite one for as long as you need to before you buy to make sure it is comfortable.
Helpful: Replace pillows when they no longer feel comfortable. Avoid products filled with natural down if you are prone to allergies. Keep extra blankets at the foot of the bed -- body temperature drops a few degrees during sleep, so you may wake up chilled during the night.
8. Keep a pen and paper on your bedside table. If you are fretting over impending tasks or feeling excited about a new idea as you’re trying to fall asleep, jot down some notes about the situation. This way you won’t worry about not remembering your thoughts in the morning -- clearing your mind for a good night’s sleep.