Difficulties in falling asleep and staying asleep are extremely common. There can be any number of factors at work, such as anxiety, stress, jet lag, or a medical condition. But relief could be as simple as optimizing your sleeping environment for peaceful rest.
To create a great sleep environment in your bedroom, make sure you have these seven essentials.
. Keep the bedroom as a place of rest.
With the many electronic devices like laptops, cell phones, and tablets, it’s easy to turn your bed into a work space and entertainment center. If you are having sleep problems, keep your bedroom as a place just for rest. Remove the electronic and other distractions from the environment. Go to your bedroom when it is time to go to sleep, and avoid doing other activities. This will set up a psychological connection in your head between getting in bed and going to sleep.
If you must keep your cell phone nearby, designate a time of night (ideally at least an hour before you intend to go to sleep) after which you will no longer look at texts or emails, or receive incoming calls. Turn on the “do not disturb” function, and place your phone face down. Don’t pick it up til the alarm goes off!
. Find your ideal temperature.
For a good sleep environment, you must minimize all discomforts. Being too warm or too cold can disrupt your sleep, leading to prolonged periods of wakefulness during the night. Even if you don’t wake all the way up, your sleep can be disturbed to the point where you find yourself waking up still tired and not refreshed.
Ideal temperatures vary from person to person, but sleep researchers say that for most people, the best temperature is between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Experiment in that range to find the setting that works for you. If you share a bed with someone who finds your ideal too hot or too cold, consider setting a fan up to blow toward them, or purchasing an electric blanket with dual controls.
. Make sure your bed is comfortable.
You may be tossing and turning at night because your mattress is uncomfortable. How old is your mattress? If it is over ten years old, it is likely time for a new one, particularly if it has lumpy or sagging spots. In fact, doctors say that if you are over 40, you should purchase a new mattress every seven years or so, because your body becomes less tolerant of pressure as you age.
If your mattress is not that old, try rotating it if you have a single-sided mattress, or rotating and flipping it if you have a double sided mattress. If you sleep with someone else who has a different need for firmness in his or her mattress, consider investing in a mattress where each person can set it to their ideal “sleep number”.
. Hide the clock.
Once you have set your alarm, put the clock (or phone) somewhere in the room other than right next to you, or turn it away so that you can’t see it easily. When you can stare at the clock or check it easily, it is all too easy to fall into a cycle of calculating how many hours of sleep you can get, and keeping yourself awake worrying that you aren’t getting it!
When trying to break a cycle of sleeplessness, it is important not to focus on time. Seeing how early it is or how little time has passed can only increase your anxiety and frustration, which in turn makes it harder to get back to sleep.
. Darken your room.
A dark environment helps signal to your body that it is time to rest. Even small amounts of light can trigger wakefulness. When it is time to sleep, keep light sources to an absolute minimum. Turn off televisions, computer monitors and other electronic devices, as the blue spectrum light they emit is particularly stimulating.
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Even when your eyes are closed, light in your bedroom can still affect your restfulness. If your environment outside your windows is well-lit, you may wish to invest in blackout curtains or a sleep mask to get the darkness you need.
. Make sure your room is quiet.
Like ambient light, ambient noise can disrupt your sleep. If you go to bed earlier than other members of your household, request a “quiet hour” after which noise is kept to a minimum. If another person wishes to watch television or listen to music, ask them to keep volume very low or use headphones. Alternately, you can use earplugs to block out noises.
Another possibility is to use a monotonous noise to override other noises. This can be particularly effective if the sources of noise are beyond your control, as in an urban environment where traffic is constant, or a rural area where insects, frogs, and birds make noises all night long. Use a fan or a white noise generator to block the other sounds. There are even apps for your phone that can play white noise or other calming noises like waves or rainfall, and that you can set to shut themselves off after a period of time.
. Banish pets to their own beds.
If you have a habit of sleeping with your dog or cat in the bed, consider retraining them to sleep elsewhere (though this can be easier said than done!). Pets’ nocturnal activities and their own tossing and turning and trying to get comfortable can disrupt your sleep.
In addition, the hair and dander that pets shed can trigger mild allergies in you, even if you are not consciously noticing it. Stuffiness in your nose or sneezing can also disrupt your sleep, either waking you up, or stimulating you out of the deeper, most restful phases of sleep.
It is possible that making these changes can completely alleviate your sleep issues. If they do not, you may have some underlying mental or physical health issues, and you should consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. Either way, you will be making sure that whatever sleep you do get will be as refreshing and energizing as possible.