Don’t let poor sleep ruin your life

The ideal bedroom setup

The ideal bedroom setup

The bedroom

The bedroom is a sleep sanctuary

The first important thing to remember is that your bedroom should be the room devoted to sleep. It’s the ‘bed’ room and not the office, games room, gym or cinema. It‘s the place for sleep.

In some languages, the word for ‘bedroom’ (for example the German ‘Schlafzimmer’ and Dutch ‘Slaapkamer’) make this explicit. The bedroom is the ‘sleep’ room. Therefore, everything about the room should be devoted to getting optimal sleep.

More than that, it should be a sanctuary from the stresses and strains of the world and a place where you can feel safe and secure: a retreat from daytime life.

calm bedroom environment

Temperature – burn baby burn

Many experts say that the bedroom’s ideal temperature is 16-18°C (60-65°F), although this is really a matter of personal preference. [ ^1] 1

However, it’s not just the room temperature that’s important for getting good sleep. The temperature in your direct sleeping environment, i.e. under the duvet, is equally important and should be close to a thermo-neutral temperature (approximately 29°C).

Think of it this way: you’re just one big, fleshy hot water bottle and so you’ll ordinarily heat the space between your sheets just by being in bed. During the night, the body needs to lose heat and this is done mainly through the head and face since these are the only bits that typically stick out from under the duvet. A cool bedroom facilitates heat loss from the head and face, leading to better sleep.

If your bedroom is too hot, or you’re too hot under your duvet, it’s more difficult for your body to lose heat which will cause disturbed sleep. The same is also true if you’re too cold as this means your body has to work hard to maintain its optimal temperature and, again, this can disturb sleep.

So, getting the best temperature for sleep requires the right combination of:

  • air temperature
  • duvets
  • bedclothes.

If this means you wear bed socks but have the window open, so be it.

Achieving the right temperature can be additionally complicated by your bed partner as they’ll no doubt need different conditions to you in order to achieve their comfortable sleep temperature.

woman hot in bed with a fan

Light levels — black is black

The general advice is that the bedroom needs to be as dark as possible during the night. But how dark is dark?

If, during the night, you can stand at one side of your bedroom and see the opposite wall then your bedroom is much too bright.

Even small amounts of light, for example from your alarm clock, can have an impact on your sleep. You can reduce light in the bedroom by:

  • using opaque curtains or blackout blinds to block light from outside
  • removing or covering light-producing devices — this includes bedroom clocks.

Of course, we’re all different and some people don’t mind sleeping in a light bedroom. As long as you sleep well and feel awake and alert during the day then don’t worry. 2 3

blind on window with starry night

Noise levels — the sound of silence

Your bedroom should be as quiet as possible. 4 It’s a simple fact that some noise can disturb sleep. The reason for this is that when you sleep, you’re vulnerable and seemingly unaware of your surroundings.

From an evolutionary perspective, being unaware of your surroundings would put you at a disadvantage. When you’re fast asleep something big and hairy can find you and eat you so we likely evolved to be aware of threats while asleep.

Because we’re deprived of our vision when we’re asleep, we have to rely on our hearing to give us information about the environment. Each of us wakes up hundreds of times during our sleep to check that we’re still safe and secure.

These arousals are very short — no more than 1-2 seconds — and you’re not aware that you have them. If the brain, via our hearing, doesn’t detect anything of ‘importance’ then we can safely continue to sleep. However, if we perceive something in the environment that’s not right (for example, an unexpected noise) our ‘primitive’ brain needs to be sure that this isn’t a threat and so we become fully awake to process and rationalise what’s going on.

However, we don’t wake up to each and every noise.

The sound must be ‘meaningful,’ i.e. perceived as important or a threat, for it to disturb our sleep.

This means that we can actually get used to sounds that initially seem very disturbing. This usually takes at least a couple of weeks as our brain works out that a particular noise is not a threat and it’s safe for us to ignore it.

The fact that we can adapt to some sounds in time doesn’t help when we’re staying somewhere temporarily. If you’re on holiday, for instance, it’s probably easiest to carry some earplugs.

Of course, if a sound is loud enough regardless of how meaningful it is then it’ll wake you up and particularly in the latter part of the night when your sleep is naturally lighter and more easily disturbed.

fire alarm going off

Ideally, your bedroom should be as quiet as possible but this may not be an easy option. If you can’t create a quiet bedroom then you might want to try using other sounds like:

  • the drone of an electric fan
  • a pink noise app.

These sounds can distract the brain from more disruptive noises.

It really doesn’t matter what noise you listen to. The most important thing is that your brain doesn’t have to listen to it actively.

Remove from the bedroom any sources of noise that are at a level that disturbs your sleep (including your partner!).

Ventilation — breathe, breathe in the air

The bedroom shouldn’t be stuffy and fresh air is good for sleep. Opening the window lowers the levels of carbon dioxide in the air and that’s been shown to improve the quality of sleep.5

open windown plantpot sleepy cat

Invest time and money in making the best bed choice

The bed is an important part of life. If you live until the age of 70 you’ll spend approximately 220,000 hours asleep and you’ll probably do this in a bed.

Therefore in your lifetime, you’ll spend more time in bed than you’ll spend in any other single location. So, it’s crucial that you have the right bed, taking into consideration your weight, body shape, height and medical status.

It’s unavoidable that you need to invest time and money in choosing and buying a bed. You wouldn’t buy a couch without sitting on it and putting your feet up and you wouldn’t buy a car if it was uncomfortable to drive.

When should you buy a new bed?

Regardless of what bed manufacturers or retailers tell you about how long a bed should last, you should buy a new bed when you start noticing your old bed. For example:

  • you wake up stiff, numb or with aches and pains
  • you don’t sleep as well as you did
  • your mattress feels uncomfortable
  • your mattress creaks when you move
  • you and your bed partner roll towards the middle of the bed.

Remember that each night you sweat a significant amount of moisture and shed a good amount of dead skin into your mattress so, for hygiene reasons alone, it would be good to change your bed regularly.

Remember, you can buy the best, most luxurious, most expensive bed on the planet and it will not guarantee you a good night’s sleep. That’s rather like a bad driver buying an Aston Martin and expecting to be a good driver.

If your lifestyle or bedroom environment isn’t conducive to good sleep then having a good bed will make little difference.

What exactly is a comfortable bed?

Science cannot measure comfort. Essentially, bed comfort is a matter of personal choice. Mattresses do differ in the comfort and support they claim to provide and so the only way to choose one that’s right for you is to go out and lie on as many beds as possible.

two people moving a mattress

The key to buying a mattress lies in the line of your spine. If a mattress is right for you, your spine should:

  • be straight when you lie on your side
  • maintain a natural curve when you lie on your back.

You want to make sure that you’re sleeping ‘in’ the bed and not ‘on’ the bed. Too hard a mattress stops both the hips and shoulders sinking down into the mattress but too soft a mattress is unable to provide any resistance to the body’s weight.

So, when looking for a mattress, lie on it for at least 10 minutes and more if possible. You naturally move 40-60 times each night, of which 10-20 are major positional changes. Testing a mattress for a longer time means you’re more likely to assume more of the positions you’ll take during your night’s sleep.

It’s also important to feel what it’s like when you try to roll over. It will:

  • take a lot of effort if the bed is too soft
  • feel uncomfortable on your hips and shoulders if it’s too firm.

One other trick for testing the bed is when you’re lying on your back, place your hand between your back and the mattress.

  • If you can hardly get your hand in, then the bed’s too soft.
  • If this is easy and it feels as if your hand’s in a space, then the mattress is too hard.

Don’t use your eyes when buying a bed

People tend to buy a bed with their eyes rather than with their body. They’re seduced by a stylish bedstead or a fancy headboard rather than understanding that, however beautiful a bed looks, it’s the feel of the bed when you’re lying down that’s of the utmost importance.

The ‘technical specifications’ of a bed provide little helpful data to allow you to judge the comfort of a bed. For example, it’s not as simple as saying more springs equal a better bed.

The price of the bed also has no bearing on the comfort of the bed: more expensive does not necessarily equate to more comfortable. You can find more advice on buying a bed in our article, here.

fancy bed

Finding the perfect pillow

The pillow is for your head and neck what the mattress is for your body. Therefore, the pillow must work in conjunction with the mattress to provide the correct support.

Again, the only way of judging if a pillow will be comfortable for you is to actually try it out on a bed in the same way that you would use it at home.

two men asleep in bed on nice pillows

The right duvet can make a real difference

Having too warm or too cool a duvet will affect body temperature loss during the night and can make getting good sleep more difficult.

The good thing about a duvet is that, unlike mattresses and pillows, there’s a standard, meaningful, classification system: the ‘tog’ rating. So regardless of what the duvet is made of, you know that a particular ‘tog’ is designed to provide a specific level of warmth.

In summary

There are many aspects to designing your bedroom to get the best night’s sleep you can. Much of the work involves getting the bedroom in as good as a place as it can be in order to wind down and rest your senses. We’ve covered:

  • Sight: Your bedroom needs to be as dark as possible.
  • Sound: Your bedroom should be as quiet as possible but if that’s not achievable then you can use a noise generator to provide non-arousing background noise.
  • Touch: Your bed needs to be suited to your body. That’s to say, the nature of the mattress and duvet need to be taken into account.
  • Temperature: The temperature of your sleeping environment needs to be thought about too and there are a number of ways to achieve this.

Naturally, this is a starting point for a good night’s sleep. If you’re well along the way to an ideal (for you) sleep environment and still find it hard to nod off then consider reaching out to Sleepstation.

References


  • Xiong J, Lan L, Lian Z, De dear R. Associations of bedroom temperature and ventilation with sleep quality. Sci Technol Built Environ. 2020;26(9):1274–84.

  • Bjorvatn B, Mrdalj J, Saxvig IW, Aasnæs T, Pallesen S, Waage S. Age and sex differences in bedroom habits and bedroom preferences. Sleep Med. 2017;32:157–61.

  • Phillips AJK, Vidafar P, Burns AC, McGlashan EM, Anderson C, Rajaratnam SMW, et al. High sensitivity and interindividual variability in the response of the human circadian system to evening light. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019;116(24):12019–24.

  • Chellappa SL. Individual differences in light sensitivity affect sleep and circadian rhythms. Sleep. 2021;44(2).

  • Basner M, McGuire S. WHO environmental noise guidelines for the European region: A systematic review on environmental noise and effects on sleep. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(3).

  • Strøm-Tejsen P, Zukowska D, Wargocki P, Wyon DP. The effects of bedroom air quality on sleep and next-day performance. Indoor Air. 2016;26(5):679-86679-86