Sleep disorders are extremely common in today’s world. They have all kinds of causes, from jet lag, to stress and anxiety, to a medical condition.
However, for many people the reason they are having trouble sleeping is simple: their bedroom is not a good sleep environment.
If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, before looking for deeper causes, begin by making some basic changes to your bedroom.
This is an important first step, and in many cases, it may be the only step you need to take to return to restful sleep.
Your Bedroom Is a Place of Rest
These days many of us take our office with us everywhere. Our phones, tablets, and laptops make it possible to work anywhere, even in bed!
If you are having sleeping problems, return your bedroom to its main function: rest. If you need to watch TV, work on a computer, or play a game on a tablet, move to another room.
Clear as many distractions from the room as possible. If you have a desk piled with bills, a shelf full of books, or a pile of magazines you haven’t read, these things pressure your mind subconsciously, reminding you of things you need to do.
Move as much of this as possible out of the bedroom so that entering the room sets your mind only on sleep, not on the many other things on your to-do list.
Make Sure Your Room Is Not Too Hot or Too Cold
Any discomfort can disrupt your sleep. Being too cold or too warm can wake you up, and once awake, it can be difficult to get back into deep slumber.
People’s ideal temperature varies, though experts agree that 75 degrees and above is too warm, and 55 degrees and below is too cold.
Experiment with average temperatures between 60-70 degrees to find your personal “sweet spot” and keep the bedroom at that temperature as much as possible.
Sometimes this can be difficult to compromise with a partner on. One person may prefer the room warmer, another cooler.
See if you can find a median temperature that works for both of you, or experiment with adding or subtracting clothing or covers.
Preparing the room for bedtime by arranging the correct amount of sheets or blankets, and putting on clothes for sleeping, becomes part of a daily ritual that tells your mind that it’s time to sleep.
Your Mattress May Be Giving You Trouble
People with sleep impairments often complain of “tossing and turning” during the night.
Even if you do this without waking up, it disrupts your sleep and makes it hard for your body to reach the deepest, most restorative levels of sleep. One reason for constantly changing positions is an uncomfortable mattress.
For many people, softer or more flexible mattresses are most conducive to a good night’s sleep. Too many people make do with a handed-down mattress or buy one based solely on price.
Or you bought a good mattress that once was perfect for you but it has become worn or no longer is right for you. If this is the case, or if your mattress is over eight years old, you may need to replace it.
If you and your partner have different preferences in mattress firmness, consider investing in the type of mattress where each of you can separately set it to your perfect number.
Hide Your Clock
What do most people do first when they wake in the middle of the night? Check the time! If you are routinely worried about getting enough sleep or falling back to sleep, this very act can add to your difficulty, because your brain immediately starts calculating how many hours you have gotten, and how many you have left.
Your stress level rises and interferes with falling back to sleep.
A good practice is to set the alarm and then turn the clock away or face down so that you don’t automatically see it. If you can’t resist flipping it to look at it, try keeping it on a dresser or other furniture that isn’t right next to your bed.
Good Sleep Requires Darkness and Quiet
Another great reason for turning the clock face down: it is adding to the light level in your room.
This is very important because your natural sleep schedule evolved in the centuries that people went to sleep when it got dark and woke when it became light. Artificial light, even in small amounts, can interfere.
Thus you want to make your room as dark as possible. If you live in an area where there is a lot of ambient light at night, invest in blackout curtains. Instead of nightlights or keeping a bathroom or hall light on all night, get some nightlights that have motion sensors, so they only light up when you need them.
If you must have your cellphone nearby for emergency phone calls, put it in a drawer or turn it face down so that incoming messages are not constantly lighting up the screen.
You also need your room to be quiet, so make sure that phone is set to silent or “do not disturb” at bedtime. If there is someone like a relative who needs to be able to reach you, most phones have ways to program certain numbers to ring through no matter how the phone is set. But silencing the phone will keep everyone else from waking you.
You may live in a household or an apartment where other people’s noise can disturb you, or in an urban environment where traffic is continuous.
Find ways to block out this noise. Many people find a fan is helpful for this. There are even apps that play the sound of multiple fans! Another possibility is a white noise machine that makes a steady, monotonous sound that blocks other sounds.
Many of these machines come with additional settings for various nature noises like rain or breaking waves. Experiment to find the setting that works best for you. Again, turning on your fan or your white noise machine as part of a nightly ritual is another signal to your mind that it is time to sleep.
As you make these adjustments, notice which changes add the most to the quality and quantity of your sleep.
It might be helpful to keep a small memo pad on the nightstand so that you can jot a few notes when you get up each morning.
Continue to make adjustments to see which arrangements work best. You may find that simply “rebooting” your sleeping environment resolves most or all of your sleep issues.