AMBIENCE- Now that you have all the equipment in place, it is time to consider the ambience of your sleep space. We are especially sensitive to our environment when entering the first stage of sleep, as we can be easily disturbed, and it is essential that we feel relaxed, comfortable and safe in order to go to sleep. Here are some ways you can improve the environment you sleep in.
Lighting – Most importantly, you need to get the room lighting correct. For the body to activate the ‘go to sleep’ hormone melatonin, it needs darkness. Gentle, low lighting in the bedroom, therefore, allows the body slowly to prepare for sleep. With this in mind, choose low-level lamps that give off a diffused light; this also has the advantage of creating a relaxing, intimate mood.
Architects and designers call this kind of gentle lighting ‘mood lighting’, but because in winter months you also need your bedroom lighting to be bright enough to allow you to dress and prepare for the day, you will need brighter ‘task lighting’- your lighting plan should allow for both. Fitting a dimmer switch to the overhead light will give you the most range. If you share a bedroom, bedside lamps are invaluable for allowing one person to read and the other to snooze. The ultimate luxury is a switch by both the bed and the door, or even voice-activated ones, so that you don’t even have to get out of bed to turn off the lights. When tackling children’s rooms, low-level lighting, such as a night-light, means you can leave it switched on without disturbing the child’s sleep. Dimmer switches can also be used to help your child recognize that bedtime is approaching.
The light as you wake is just as important as the light when you are trying to sleep. While it is necessary to keep strong light, such as irritating street lights, out of the room to allow you to nod off, you also need to make sure there is enough light coming in to let the body know when to start rousing you from your slumber. A window treatment that shuts out the emerging dawn will encourage the production of extra melatonin, which will lead to a drugged and disorientated sensation upon waking up. Thick, heavy curtains will keep you warmer in winter, but will also produce this effect. lf you have no other choice but to opt for total blackout, buy a light-activated alarm clock that imitates the onset of dawn and helps the body prepare for waking up by releasing the ‘wake up’ hormone cortisol. To allow natural light to wake you, try diffusing it with voile or muslin curtains. A good tip is to treat yourself to a visit to a sumptuous hotel to see how the experts create appealing sleep spaces. Perhaps steal a few ideas, such as bedside lamps mounted on the wall or down lighters – you can always justify it as research.
Temperature and Humidity
Key to a really good night’s sleep is the correct temperature. The body needs to cool down to allow the core temperature of the internal organs, like the heart and lungs, to slow their rate. This is why hot summer nights can make it so difficult to sleep. Gentle lighting is essential for creating a calming mood in the bedroom and for letting the body (and an active mind) knows that it is time to rest. Cool – not cold – conditions are the best for good sleep and the ideal temperature should be between 16 to 18″C (60-65″F). Even on chilly winter nights, when it might be tempting to turn up the heating, you should try to maintain this level. If you are cold, don’t just throw a heavy blanket over the bed to keep you warm, as this can affect the efficiency of the duvet. Instead, replace your duvet or team it with another one for a heavier tog value. Alternatively, put the blanket under the duvet or buy a thin electric blanket.
Humidity is also an essential element for good sleep. Central heating can dry the air in living spaces and make breathing become difficult or uncomfortable. If you wake up with a sore throat or dryness in your nose, the room probably has too little humidity. You may be unable to sleep with the window open, because of pollution or noise, but humidifiers, which release moisture into the air, can prevent the room from seeming dry and stuffy. You can achieve a similar effect by placing a bowl of water near the radiator or heater in your room.
Blocking Out Noise
Noise is not always such a bad thing. Although it would be wonderful to sleep in total silence, sharing a planet with lots of other people means this is frequently unachievable. People often wake up, roused by noise, as they enter the lighter part of their sleep cycle – this is often more a problem for older people who spend less time in deep sleep and more in the kind that is easily disturbed by noise. You can, of course, use sound insulation if you live on a busy road, such as double glazing, insulation between floors and walls, or choose a room in the quietest spot of the house away from main roads or good old-fashioned ear plugs.
However, an effective trick can be to add some noise of your own. The low-level whir of a fan can often block out distracting noises, and once you have become used to the sound, you may find that it no longer disturbs you at all. If you have ever fallen asleep in front of a flickering TV, the effect of a comforting low-level background noise will be familiar.
Color Yourself Sleepy
Color has an incredibly far-reaching effect on our emotions; for example, orange is known to stimulate mental activity and red represents power, drive, action and passion. When choosing a color for your bedroom, therefore, it is not always wise to go with your favorite color. lf you have a color that you really want to use, like purple, try a paler version of it such as lilac; it will be much more restful. You can then use it in its bolder form as accents such as cushions or throws.
The most reflective colors are associated with calm in nature: dusky pinks of late summer skies, soft greens of pastures, and pale blues of wildflowers. Other colors can be used in more intense shades and still feel restful, such as turquoise and pink. In conjunction with the Color and imaging institute at the University of Derby in the UK, Angela Wright created a software system that analyzes the most appropriate use of color based on emotional and psychological principles. In their pure form, the following colors are most suitable for a bedroom environment. Color affects us in ways that we rarely consciously acknowledge. Ensure you choose the correct colors to create a restful haven. The key to choosing a color that creates calm rather than coldness, for example, is selecting the right shade; look at several samples and choose the one that draws you to it when you think of a calming, rather than cold space. A ‘warm’ shade (such as a white with a yellow undertone rather than a blue undertone) will always seem friendlier (and less like an old fashioned hospital ward)-
Blue: Essentially calming the mind soothing, blue affects us mentally, and aiding concentration. A strong clear thought. Too much, or the wrong shade, can be cold.
Violet/Purple: This color has the shortest wavelength, making it nearest to ultraviolet, and lending it mystical qualities. It encourages spiritual contemplation, and has associations with luxury, truth and awareness’ Too much can cause introversion and a sense of suppression’ blue will stimulate
Pink: A physically nurturing color, pink evokes feelings of tranquility; warmth and love are all represented by pink, which is also the color of femininity. It is physically soothing, but can be draining if used to excess.
Green: This color is at the very centre of the color spectrum, and therefore represents balance. It suggests harmony, refreshment, peace and rest. Too much can indicate stagnation or boredom.
A monochrome scheme is restful on the eye. When using white, achieve a more interesting look and feel by using it with different textures in the bedroom.
White: White creates a heightened perception of space, and represents purity, clarity, sophistication and simplicity. However, when used with warm colors it can make them seem garish, so accessorize carefully. White used in the wrong shade (there are many ‘whites’) can seem cold and unfriendly, so choose a yellow-based shade. The color works well with texture to soften its hard implications.
Brown: Warm and soft but serious, brown communicates earth and nature. A useful neutral, it is quietly supportive in interior design. Too much can look heavy, so is best used as an accent, such as a dark wooden floor in a white room, which will help achieve softness.
Keeping outside influences, and reminders of the active daytime world, from creeping into your sleeping environment will go far to aid rest and relaxation. There are also ways you can create sense experiences that reduce sleep, from introducing comfortable fabrics to using relaxing aromas to scent the bedding and air – which can form a welcome contrast to the rest of your home and help coax the body into a state of deep relaxation.
Two-thirds of British children have a computer, games machine or TV in their bedroom, which could mean they are losing sleep as a result. The adult population is no better. As well as encouraging you to stay up past your bedtime to send just one last email, the red ‘stand-by’ lights can impair your sleep quality by affecting the brain’s ability to switch off. Electronic equipment needs to be moved from your sleeping space if you are to get a good night’s sleep. If space is at a premium, however, and you have to work from your bedroom, use a storage system that you can fold away or, at the very least, use black tape to cover the red stand-by indicators.
Bedrooms often double up as places to watch TV or as home offices, which keep the mind active long after it should be winding down for sleep. A chaotic room can keep the mind racing with thoughts of outstanding chores. Make sure you keep mess in your sleep space to a minimum.
Clear Up the Clutter
There are other distractions that should also have a veil drawn discreetly over them. Open storage might seem like an efficient way to grab a cardigan before work, but being able to see a mess out of the corner of your eye is enough to keep you wide awake just thinking about clearing it up. A clear demarcation of space is needed. Doors, or even muslin drapes, can help you to shut out mess and muddle and to switch off. Think of clutter as intellectual noise. lf you leave things heaped about the room, you are doing the equivalent to your brain as inviting a brass band to play while you try to sleep. Even if you are too tired to tidy that night, throw everything into a basket and put it outside the bedroom door. You can deal with it tomorrow when you are more refreshed.
Texture is essential for bringing interest and comfort to a bedroom. A neutral relaxing color scheme, such as a mixture of off-whites and camel colors, can be given extra depth and interest by throwing a woven blanket over the foot of the bed, or hanging some heavy, chunky cord curtains. Don’t just opt for one type of texture. If you would like some personal mementos to keep the theme fun and sleep-inspiring, a collection of black-and-white photographs of loved ones is stylish without making you forget why you are there.
You can also use texture to try something new. If you are getting over a sleep problem, or just want to shake off old associations, try a gauzy canopy over the bed, a string of tiny lights around the bed head instead of a reading lamp, or a dramatic window treatment; choose a focal point and make the most of it. Texture can add much-needed interest to a room. If accessories are taken from a palate of similar tones, the overall effect remains calming and neutral.