You’ve likely heard of “The Princess and the Pea,” a fairy tale in which a princess is kept tossing and turning all night by a lone pea placed secretly beneath her forty mattresses. Talk about sensitive! She might remind you of your partner.
Yet we are all aware of our own turn in the leading role. It’s a version much less humorous: A leaky faucet dripping throughout the night. A maddening rattle from the radiator. A night owl of a neighbour whose energy only grows as our sanity dwindles.
The Importance of Sleep
The negative effects of sleep deprivation are nothing to brush off. Yet many of them are easy to ignore in the short term, a mere annoyance.
What are the early symptoms?
- Mindless eating
- Difficulty thinking
- Memory issues
- Weakened immunity
But over the long term, chronic lack of sleep increases your likelihood of more severe symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Accelerated aging
- Strained relationships
- Weight gain
- Greater risk of accidents
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important contributors to our health and well-being. It’s more than something to hope for; it’s something we must actively manage.
Easier said than done, right?
What You Can Control, and What You Can’t
You might not be able to fall asleep on command, but the upcoming tips are all things within your control: how to set up your bedroom for the perfect conditions for falling – and staying – asleep. In fact, many are small lifestyle changes you can start using tonight.
The perfect conditions for falling asleep come from optimizing three keys elements: darkness, coolness and quiet.
The darker the room, the easier it is to stay asleep. Our circadian rhythm relies on light and darkness to regulate our wakefulness, and too much brightness interferes with this process. Light is detected through the optic nerve, setting off a reaction that cues our body that it’s no longer time to be sleeping.
By taking incremental steps to make your room darker at night, you increase the odds of achieving quality sleep.
What should you be on the lookout for?
- Outside light creeping in through the window or doorway: Most drapes and curtains still allow some light to leak through, but every bit you can reduce helps in turn. Install blackout blinds if possible. For the sliver of light coming from under your bedroom door, a simple fix like a rolled up towel or wrapping paper tube can block most of the light.
- Blue light from digital displays or power indicators: All of those electronic displays are working against you at night. If possible, turn off your alarm clock display, unplug unneeded electronics and place a piece of black electrical tape over any blinking lights from your power bar or phone charger.
- Sleep masks: This might be your best option if you need to sleep during daylight, or past 5 a.m. on a summer morning.
As you fall asleep, your core temperature drops from about 98.5 to 96.5 degrees Fahrenheit, rising back to its initial level shortly before you wake up.
As tempting as it can be to crank up the heat and wrap yourself in your warmest blanket, you’re better off keeping your room slightly cool as you prepare to doze off. In the same way, just before bed you’ll want to avoid activities that cause your body to temporarily warm up.
What else can you do to keep a cool room?
- Invest in breathable fabrics: Your body has many systems to regulate its temperature, cooling down and warming up as needed. But if your polyester blend sheets are trapping in heat, you’re more likely to have a restless sleep. This goes for your pyjamas, too.
- Try some cool bed gear: The best pillows and mattress pads disperse excess heat so they feel cool to the touch. When updating your bed gear, look for a pillow that can keep your head cool while also providing the right neck support. This is critical to a good night’s sleep. Choosing the right mattress for your sleeping style can go a long way, too.
- Layers, layers, layers: The same advice for dressing for fall weather applies to your bedding. You can shed blankets when things get too hot, but that’s not much help if you’re missing them when you get too cold.
- Use something to cool off on hot nights: When the next heat wave rolls around, be ready with a portable air conditioner or at least a fan to keep the air circulating.
Keeping a quiet room may be the hardest condition to meet, especially if you share a space with a partner. Echoing hardwood floors, street noise and rumblings throughout the house can all disrupt your beauty sleep.
That said, here are some simple things you can do reduce the disturbance and improve your chances of nodding off easily, even if you can’t eliminate these disturbances entirely:
- Dampen the noise: A rug on a hardwood floor or a towel under the door are two ways you can minimize the noise that makes it to your ears.
- Invest in earplugs: For those especially noisy nights, a pair of disposable earplugs is a step above doubling the pillow over your ears.
- Turn on the fan: Sufferers of ceaselessly ringing ears are already familiar with this strategy. By creating white noise and drowning out other background sounds, the fan provides a consistent sound more conducive for sleep. And as mentioned earlier, the fan also helps to circulate air and keep the room cool.
Every Little Bit Helps
Not one of these tips is a silver bullet guaranteed to kill insomnia and restlessness forever. Rather, they’re a collection of small habits that if focused toward the same aim will eventually tip the scales and result in a healthy sleep routine. Extend that over the thousands of nights and afternoon naps yet to come, and the benefits to your health and mood become obvious.
You can’t control whether you’ll fall asleep right away, but you can control what actions you take to help or hinder the likelihood. Choose right, and sleep tight!