Healthy Living is brought to you by:
It's 11pm. Your alarm is set to go off in seven hours. You know you need sleep but you're dreading the all-too-familiar toss-and-turn routine. In between yawns, you contemplate reaching for a sleep aid.
But don't break out the Nytol just yet--your sleep trouble might stem from nothing more than a substandard sleep environment. In other words, it might be time to revamp your bedroom.
No, we're not talking fancy new furniture and super-expensive accessories (although these things can be nice!). A few simple changes can go a long way toward creating an environment that's conducive to sleep.
Ditch the Distractions
First of all, look around your bedroom. Do you see things that don't belong, such as your kids' toys, a still-unpacked suitcase from last month's business trip, and random household paperwork? These items do not belong anywhere near your bed, says Helene Emsellem, M.D., medical director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md., and author of "Snooze or Loose: 10 'No-War' Ways to Improve Your Teen's Sleep Habits."
"Clean up your room," she says. "Get extraneous stuff that is irritating you out; put it in a closet or in another room."
Does your bedroom double as a home office (or a space to frantically work toward meeting tomorrow's big deadline)? While I hate to be the one to break the news, it is a fact that your laptop and Blackberry fall into the 'extraneous stuff' category. Quality sleep is near impossible with screen glow and email alerts in the background all night long. Same goes for the TV.
"TV is terribly engaging, and it is hard for some people to turn the TV off," explains Emsellem.
In other words, move the tube elsewhere. Leno is just as funny in the living room, I promise.
Down With Down?
Instead of all the various techo-gadgets, try placing items in your bedroom that will actually promote sleep. You don't necessarily need 800-thread-count sheets, but you should have bedding that is comfortable. Same goes for pillows--the key is finding one you like (some people like fluffy; others prefer firm--and then there's always memory foam). Emsellem's biggest concern when it comes to bedding? Allergies.
"A lot of bedding is down, and down is very soft. But it is also very allergenic," she explains, adding that people who have trouble sleeping at night due to nasal congestion might consider losing the down comforter in favor of something synthetic.
And speaking of congestion, consider deep cleaning those hard to reach places.
Emsellem says, "Put on a good mask and vacuum behind the bed, your bureau and other furniture."
Bedroom lighting is also important. Bright lamps--those inside and on the street--are bound to keep you from getting your Zzzs. Remember the classic "Seinfeld" episode where Kramer is kept awake all night by a neon sign from the chicken joint across the street? You don't want that to happen to you.
"Our brain is queued for when to wake up and when to go to sleep," Emsellem says, and lighting helps these queues do their job.
She suggests dimming the lights as bedtime approaches. Also, if you like to read before going to sleep, beware the tiny halogen book lights (they are often way too bright). As for black-out curtains, she says most people don't really need them (night-shift workers are an exception, of course, as they often have to trick their brains in order to sleep during the day). But if you've got a bright light outside your window, consider blocking it out with blinds or heavier drapes.
Wind Down Time
There's rest and there's relaxation. Emsellem suggests incorporating a few relaxing activities into your bedtime routine. Things such as reading, writing in a journal or working on crossword puzzles (simple ones!) encourage your brain and body to wind down, she says. A warm shower and/or stretching can help, as well. Other ideas include listening to soothing tunes (extreme heavy metal is out of the question--but classical music or tranquil nature sounds will do the trick) or applying aromatic lotions before crawling into bed.
So, follow these steps, and remember to stay relaxed--the rest is up to the Sandman.
About the Author
Freelance writer Dawn Weinberger lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband, Carl, and her cat, Lucy Lui. She covers health, fashion, pets and green living for several local and national publications.