Poor sleep can be a problem with consequences. W. Chris Winter, MD, in his book The Sleep Solution, lists the following medical conditions that can be caused or aggravated by poor sleep:
“Hypertension, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart failure, migraine, atrial fibrillation, depression, bed-wetting, or neurodegenerative disorders and memory disturbances like Alzheimer’s disease.”
In this essay, the goal is to improve your sleep by revamping your bedroom.
So how does one go about fixing a sleep problem? It depends. A medical condition can cause poor sleep, and you should do a sleep study to determine if that is the case. Then, the sleep center conducting the sleep study can create a treatment plan based on the results. For example, most of us know a person whose sleep study diagnosed them with sleep apnea and prescribed a CPAP machine.
On the other hand, sometimes poor sleep is caused by factors external to what is going on in our bodies. It may be that something outside us is stimulating our senses to the point we have trouble falling or staying asleep. In this case, the starting point to solving your sleep problem may be the sleeping environment found in your bedroom. Remodeling and refurnishing your bedroom may not solve all your sleeping problems, but it might help somewhat and, at worst, can rule out your bedroom as the cause of your sleep issues.
A Goal for Sleep
The first goal for rest is to enjoy sleep. There should be no such thing as strenuous sleep or rigorous sleep. Tossing and turning should be nobody’s idea of fun. We want to relax when we sleep and wake up refreshed.
The second goal for sleep is to fall asleep quickly once we have gone to bed and then stay asleep until we are ready to wake up and meet the new day. If we wake up before being prepared to get up, we should be able to get back to sleep quickly.
One does need to be realistic about sleep. A person past sixty may remember easily getting eight to nine hours of sleep at age twenty and think that is the way it should still work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. It doesn’t do any good to lay in bed for nine hours if the maximum amount of sleep you will get is seven hours. As we grow older, the amount of sleep needed is less.
Let’s get mathematical for a bit. Dr. Winter has a formula for “sleep efficiency:”
Time Spent Asleep / Time Spent in Bed * 100 = Sleep Efficiency (%)
He recommends a sleeper try for a sleeping efficiency of about 85%. Using the example of nine hours in bed and seven hours of sleep, the sleep efficiency is:
7 hours asleep / 9 hours in bed * 100 = 77.78% Sleep Efficiency.
With this sleep efficiency, this person is probably spending too much time in bed. They would enjoy sleeping more if they reduced the time in bed to about eight hours. On the other hand, reducing time in bed much more than that might leave this individual tired during the day.
We also need to be realistic about the quality of sleep. We may not be able to get always enjoyable sleep, but just getting better sleep is still worth it.
Your Senses and Sleep
When it comes to sleep, we can divide the world into two parts: one part being what happens inside our body, and the second part being what happens outside our body. Outside of our body is our bedroom or sleeping environment. So the question becomes, what in our sleeping environment disrupts our sleep?
The answer to this question is a lot of things, from a flickering television screen to a playing radio to a bed partner turning over to a bothersome air freshener to a candy bar on your nightstand.
The first thing to do is remove all these sleep distractions from your bedroom. The tv needs to go back to the living room. If you can’t resist turning another device on, it must also go to another room. It would help if you did things to make it harder to activate disruptive devices; moving them further away from the bedroom is one of them.
Children and pets need to be removed from the bedroom too. Even your spouse must have their own bedroom if they snore or toss and turn. It may seem cruel, but they will be happier with a less grumpy you during the day.
Next, remove the air refresher from the wall or replace it with one that doesn’t bother you. Then, search out any other distracting smells and remove them by cleaning the bedroom thoroughly.
Finally, any food needs to be removed from the bedroom too. Just thinking about that candy bar can activate your taste buds.
Note that all these distractions are associated with your senses:
- Sight (Flickering TV)
- Hearing (Playing music)
- Touch (Bed partner turning over)
- Smell (Air freshener)
- Taste (Candy bar on the nightstand)
When I was a kid, our teachers taught us that this was the complete list of senses. While researching this article, I found this website, Phenomenology – Tom van Gelder, claiming there are as many as twelve senses. One of the non-traditional senses listed on this website, temperature, is also crucial for eliminating sleep distractions. The following sections of this article explore in greater detail how the traditional five senses plus the sense of temperature can disturb sleep and what to do about it.
Sight and Sleep
Besides a good pair of eyes, what else do you need to see? Light! Without light, not even a cat can see.
Our early ancestors experienced light differently than what we do now. They were outside more than us during the day and went to bed when it was dark. When it was dark, it was really dark – no TV, cell phone, lighted clock, or light from any other electric device because there was no such thing as an electric device. Even a camp side or fireplace fire eventually ended as light-less ashes. According to the Psychology Today article by Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., “Is the Moon Affecting Your Sleep?,” only the full moon, which can reduce the amount of sleep we get, provided our ancestors with much light at night.
The human biological clock, the circadian rhythm, then as now, tended to parallel the night-to-day cycle. When daybreak occurred, the light signaled our biological clock to reset itself.
Modern life has blurred the lines between night and day. Our biological clock is confused as a result. In particular, this article by Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School), “Blue Light has a Dark Side” tells us that blue wavelengths at night are causing havoc with our health and sleep.
How can this be fixed? As indicated earlier, it helps to put away the devices that emit light, especially the blue light that e-readers can put out, a couple of hours before bedtime. The room should be kept as dark as possible. Keep outside light out of the room by pulling down dark, thick shades. Shades may be the best long-term solution, but if this isn’t possible, you might try wearing a mask. Unfortunately, some people can’t tolerate a mask over their eyes as it feels too oppressive. Surprisingly, a pair of sunglasses worn during sleep may be less noticeable than a mask to the wearer.
Hearing and Sleep
Long ago, when I was a freshman in college, I scheduled an early 7:30 AM class. That was a mistake! After a semester of listening wide awake to loud music booming thru the dormitory late at night, I decided from then on that I would sleep-in in the morning.
If you own your own house and bedroom, you have at least some control over how much sound infiltrates your room. Soundproofing may work best in the long run but is expensive. Fixr, a remodeling website, can estimate a cost for soundproofing on this web page, “How Much Does It Cost to Soundproof a Room?” In 2021, about $1000 to $2500 for a room and $45000 for a 1500 ft house.
Ear plugs are much cheaper – from $5 to $30. However, Healthline a very reputable health-related website, warns us in its article by Ana Gotter, “Is It Safe to Sleep with Earplugs?” that earplugs can have harmful side effects such as ear infections. This article on ‘the housit’ website, “Ear Plugs vs Ear Muffs – Which are Better for You?” explains in detail how ear muffs are a similar alternative to earplugs with different pros and cons.
At times the problematic sound may emanate from a single source. Fixing the problem with that single source may be more effective than trying to soundproof the entire room. For example, once upon a time, my housemate often had the TV on at night after I went to bed. The sound wafting into my room wasn’t loud, but it was all base tones; even two people talking made it sound like a war was going on. After he invested in more expensive speakers, that changed. I couldn’t hear the TV often anymore; if I did hear it faintly, the tones were normal and not annoying.
Touch and Sleep
Things on, under, and over us – the things we can touch and feel in bed – affect our sleep quality. Whether we are in pain or are merely stiff and sore, these things can aggravate the problem.
So, what should we have on, under, and over us when we sleep? Unfortunately, the answers to be found are numerous and often not the same, depending on the source.
Here are a few of the answers found on the internet:
What should we have on?
- Should You Sleep Naked? — There are reasons to sleep naked. There are also reasons not to.
- What To Wear To Sleep — Sleepwear should be loose and comfortable, and there are many good fabrics from which to choose.
- What Should Women Wear to Bed? — When it comes to sleepwear, we all have different tastes.
- What Do Most Guys Wear To Bed? — There are certain things that an individual does before they climb into bed and go to sleep.
What should be under us?
- How to Choose a Mattress — The right mattress depends on you, the sleeper.
- Do You Need a Mattress Pad or Mattress Topper? — A mattress topper can extend the life of your old mattress and keep you cooler.
- Is Your Pillow Hurting Your Health? — A pillow can make you more comfortable if chosen wisely.
What should be over us?
- Why We Need Blankets to Sleep, Even When It’s Hot — Blankets are for more than just keeping warm.
- Do Weighted Blankets Work? — Weighted blankets may help with insomnia.
- How to Choose Bed Sheets for A Great Night’s Sleep — Sheets need to let the heat out.
- The Scandinavian Sleep Method Could Be the Key to Saving Your Sleep — Two people in bed? – Each person needs their own blanket.
Smell and Sleep
Personally, the smells I like the best are the ones that remind me it is time to eat – like the smell emanating from a warm pot of chili. However, fragrances can have a purpose other than arousing your taste buds – there are different scents associated with a comfortable (or uncomfortable) night’s sleep:
- How Smell Affects Your Sleep — How Smell Affects Your Sleep.
- Your Air Freshener may be Harmful to Your Health — Be careful which air freshener you use – it can harm your health.
- Diffuser vs Humidifier – Which to Buy? — A diffuser/humidifier may be better than an air freshener for scenting the air.
Taste and Sleep
The book ‘The Sleep Solution’ warns against consuming tobacco, coffee, alcohol, or food less than two to three hours before bedtime. Here are the reasons Dr. Winter gives:
- The nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant.
- The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant.
- Alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly, but it ruins the second half of the time you should be sleeping.
- Eating just before bed causes some people to have indigestion or gastroesophageal reflux.
- High protein foods can keep you up at night.
Temperature and Sleep
Is temperature a sense? Yes, (Temperature Sense) there is a sense allowing you to detect temperature differences. What is more, it can influence your quality of sleep:
- What Is the Best Temperature for Sleep? — A cooler temperature (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit) is the best temperature for sleep.
- Having Trouble Sleeping? Try a Hot Bath Before Bed — Paradoxically, a hot bath before going to bed can help you fall asleep sooner by making body temperature drop faster once out of the tub.
Beyond the Bedroom
Taking a sleep study and improving your sleep environment are two things you can do to improve your sleep. As is often the case, diet and exercise can also improve sleep. It works both ways Diet and Exercise and Sleep: Diet and exercise can improve your sleep, and better sleep gives you the energy to exercise more and improves your chances of keeping on a good diet.
Beyond that, keep reading about how to improve your sleep. The book mentioned previously, ‘The Sleep Solution,’ is a good place to start as the doctor who wrote it spent many years studying sleep. He provides detailed yet reasonably simple explanations of how sleep works and how we can improve our sleep.
There are, of course, many other books, websites, and products that promise to help you sleep better. But, hopefully, you can find one that works for you.
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