Six secrets for a successful sleep environment Jeff Mann December 7, 2012 Tips Sleepless nights? If you're struggling to explain the reasons for your insomnia, have you ever considered that your bedroom could be keeping you up at night? Too often, insomnia advice focuses on sleep hygiene and behavioural changes, ignoring the impact your sleep environment has on your sleep quality. Bedrooms can too easily turn into multi-function rooms, either out of convenience or laziness. You wouldn't dream of putting a bath in your kitchen so why would you set up an office in the room that you sleep? We't put together our top 6 tips for creating a perfect sleep environment that will have you nodding off in no time. 1) A bedroom is for two things only... ....sleep and sex, that's it. Your bedroom is not a place for work or exercise or watching horror movies. It should be your sanctuary, a place of rest and relaxation, free of any unnecessary stress or stimulation. If you're serious about improving your sleep quality you'll need need to realise that your bedroom IS NOT an office, a home cinema, a games room or a gym. It may be tough, but the first thing you need to do is get rid of every gadget and gizmo that's not immediately related to sleeping. A few books are OK to unwind, but TVs and computers are particularly bad bedroom companions. The blue light emitted from computer screens can seriously disrupt your sleep patterns by blocking the sleep hormone, melatonin. Falling asleep with the TV on, as well as causing you uneccessary stimulation at night could even cause depression. 2) Clean up your act So now you've gotten rid of your fax machine, surround sound system and exercise bike, it's time for a clean and tidy. Get rid of as much clutter as possible. Try to leave clear, open space around your bed as this will set up a relaxing, calm frame of mind before bedtime. Clean your room thoroughly. Dust mites are tiny parasites which live inside bedding and upholstery, living off flakes of shed skin. If left unchecked they could literally number in the millions, potentially causing allergies and/or asthma. Dust can also cause coughing and sneezing, keeping you awake at night. Keep pets out of the bedroom. Fur and hair also contains dust, dirt and parasite. Here are some more tips to solve your dusty bedroom blues. 3) Colder, not warmer If your idea of a perfect bedroom climate is to turn the central heating up to maximum, you've got it all wrong. Room temperature has a significant effect on sleep. Studies have shown that the optimum temperature to fall asleep is between 16 - 20°C (60 - 68 °F). At night, your body temperature starts to drop gradually , as part of your natural sleep cycle. A room that's too warm will make it harder to get a full nights's rest, reducing the amount of deep slow wave sleep and increasing night-time awakenings. If you're using air-conditioning or heating, adjust your thermostat accordingly. Otherwise you can add or remove blankets, use a fan or leave a window open. Babies and seniors find it harder to regulate body temperature so they may need the room to a couple of degrees warmer. 4) Stay on the dark side Light is one of the body's most powerful cues to regulate our sleep/ wake cycle. So it's vital to consider the role light plays in your bedroom. Ideally, when you're asleep you should be in total darkness. If you live near streetlights you may want to consider blackout blinds or curtains. Block out any light from electronic devices. Even the dim glow from a digital alarm clock can keep you awake at night. (Here's a tip to fix this problem that'll only cost you pennies). Use soft lamps with low wattage bulbs instead of a ceiling light. This will create less harsh shadows and a warmer, relaxing environment. Avoid blue or fluorescent lights completely in the bedroom. This type of lighting simulates daylight, promoting alertness, not the kind of state you want to be in at bedtime. If you wake up at night, try not to turn on bright lights. This will trigger your brain into wakeful state, making it harder to get back to sleep. 5) Keep the noise down Some people (like me) are more sensitive to noise and need an almost silent environment to fall asleep. If this is the case and you have a noisy bedroom, your only option may be to wear ear plugs. Sometimes you may fall asleep in a noisy room, but the continual racket keeps you in a light stage of sleep, preventing you from entering the deep, slow-wave sleep cycle, which is necessary to feel fully rested in the morning. Another solution is to use a method known as white noise. White noise CDs, MP3s or special machines emit a sound which resembles static interference on an old radio. The white noise has a 'masking' effect, so that any unexpected sudden noises like traffic, or dogs barking are less likely to wake you up. "White noise" has also become a generic term for any constant sound that has this effect - it could be nature sounds, or even a washing machine in the background. 6) Bed:the final frontier As we spend a third of your lives asleep, it makes sense to invest in a bed that's comfortable, and leaves you feeling refreshed after a night's sleep. There's no one, single bed that suits everybody but there are some basic guidelines for choosing the right bed: Size: too big isn't a problem but choose a bed that's too small and you're setting yourself up for restless nights. This is especially the case if you sleep with a partner. A good rule of thumb is that you both should be able to fit comfortably on the bed with your arms folded behind your head without touching each other. Mattress: your choice of mattress is probably the single most important factor for comfort. There are literally hundreds of types to choose from. If possible spend at least 15 minutes trying out a mattress in the showroom before you commit to buy. Remember though that too soft can cause slouching, leading to back pain, whereas too hard can lead to pain at pressure points such as hips and shoulders Bedding: whether you use a blanket, duvet or just a sheet it's your choice, make sure you're warmly snuggled but have enough airflow to avoid sweatiness. Choose a pillow that puts your cervical spine (the bit in your neck) in alignment with no bend or muscle tension. If you've got any other tips to make your bedroom even more sleep-inducing, leave a message in the comments section below.