Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated February 26, 2021
Are you having trouble getting a good night’s sleep? It happens to everyone occasionally, but your room might be to blame if it takes you hours to drift off or you wake up several times during the night. Optimizing your bedroom — even on a budget — doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. By understanding the basics of sleep and the theory behind creating a bedroom for better sleep, it’s possible to make small changes that can make a big impact.
Room temperature is one of the most important considerations when optimizing your bedroom environment for better sleep. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that are colder or warmer than this ideal can disrupt the cycles of internal temperature regulation (1) that help govern our sleep. Depending on your personal rhythms and the temperature of your room, this disruption can manifest as difficulty falling or staying asleep.
While cold temperatures appear to disrupt sleep more than warm temperatures, heat also contributes significantly to poor sleep and cannot be addressed by adding another blanket. Air conditioning is the most popular and effective way (2) to solve a too-warm bedroom, as most people find alternatives like electric fans to be inadequate.
Color can have a significant effect on our mood, and rooms that are painted blue appear to have a calming effect (3) that is ideal for bedrooms. These effects may be due to our societal perceptions (4) of what blue "means" as a color, as it is the favorite color of many Americans and is connected to feelings of security and comfort. Regardless of the cause, blue arouses our nervous system the least (5). Green may also have similar effects.
When choosing a color for your bedroom, it’s crucial to consider its shade as well as its color. Bright blue and green are less calming than paler shades, counteracting some of the benefits of these colors. Some of the best bedroom colors for sleep include the slate blue of a cloudy sky, bluish lavender, soft grey, or even a creamy white with slight blue undertones. Warmer tones should be used only as subtle accents.
Don’t forget about light when optimizing your bedroom for better sleep. While blue-toned paint is good, blue light from electronics and certain light bulbs is not. It’s the part of the visible spectrum that has the most impact on your natural sleep-wake cycles and avoiding it may improve your sleep significantly (6).
Artificial blue light may have this effect on our sleep-wake cycles because it mimics the effects of sunlight (7) on our circadian rhythms. While sunlight occurs only during daylight hours, our exposure to artificial sources of blue light may occur late into the night. This exposure can adversely affect our natural rhythms (8), making it harder to fall asleep at night.
Most blue light avoidance techniques are lifestyle changes, like shutting your devices down at least an hour before sleep. However, there are also steps you can take in your bedroom to reduce your blue light exposure. LED lights on electronics or charging cables, for example, are a common source of blue light in bedrooms. If you cannot move your devices from your bedroom, you may want to consider covering the light with electrician’s tape. Nightlights should use dim bulbs with a warm yellow or red light, as these hues have the least impact (9) on natural rhythms.
Some people need absolute quiet to sleep well, while others find that white noise can mask ambient sounds and improve their sleep (10). Artificial white noise and natural sounds in the white noise spectrum are available on both smartphone apps and dedicated sleep sound machines. Some of the common sounds are electric fans, static, rain, and wind. Sleep music is another option. Choose relaxing genres such as classical or smooth jazz rather than upbeat styles. Music without lyrics is the best choice for sleep.
Scent is an often-overlooked part of the bedroom environment. Research suggests that some essential oils — specifically lavender (11), heliotrope, sandalwood, cedarwood, cypress, and juniper (12) — may encourage relaxation and make it easier to fall or stay asleep. Since these effects appear to be caused by organic compounds in the essential oils, artificial scents are unlikely to have the same effect. Some fragrances can also cause headaches and other side effects (13) that are not conducive to sleep.
Scented candles can be a fire hazard, so it’s better to use an essential oil diffuser or room spray if you want to harness the power of scent in your bedroom. If you use a diffuser, choose one without bright lights and with an automatic shut-off feature.
Houseplants can be a soothing addition to any bedroom. While studies on their ability to filter air are limited, they do appear to benefit people with asthma and other lung conditions — even if those effects are due to their psychological benefits (14). Actively caring for houseplants is also relaxing, as it lowers blood pressure (15) and suppresses sympathetic nervous system activity that can manifest as anxiety.
While the psychological benefits of houseplants occur regardless of the plant species, you may want to choose one based on its scent or air-purifying abilities. The smell of lavender, for example, appears to calm the central nervous system (16). For air purification, studies have shown that palm species, rubber plants, and English ivy are among the best choices (17). When choosing a houseplant, it’s also important to consider any allergies you may have (18) and whether the plant may be toxic to your pet (19).
A key part of optimizing your bedroom is making sure that your bed is as comfortable and supportive as it can be. If you’ve ever slept better in a hotel than at home, the quality of your bedding or mattress might be the reason why.
A good mattress, matched to your body weight and preferred sleeping position, can make an incredible difference in your sleep quality. Some people prefer latex mattresses, while others prefer memory foam or the feeling of a hybrid model. Try out a few before making your decision, or consider buying a mattress that offers a free in-home trial.
If you have a mattress that’s in good shape but not entirely comfortable, adding a topper can provide comfort on a budget. Just 2 or 3 inches of supportive, cushiony foam can make an old mattress feel new again.
Pillows are also a crucial element of your bedding. The days are long gone when the only options were down or fiber. Now you can find shredded foam pillows, memory foam pillows, and even gel-filled pillows. Look for a durable pillow that will keep its shape and support your spine without flattening overnight. Comfort is highly personal, so you may need to try several types of pillows before deciding what’s right for you.
Bedding can also affect how well you sleep. Once again, the materials you choose are a matter of personal taste. However, natural fibers like cotton, linen, and silk are among the most popular choices thanks to their ability to regulate temperature. You may also want to consider making your bed with several layers — such as a top sheet, blanket, and comforter — so that it’s easier to adjust the level of warmth as needed.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427038/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
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- https://www.academia.edu/3880952/RELATIONSHIP_BETWEEN_COLOR_AND_EMOTION_A_STUDY_OF_COLLEGE_STUDENTS Accessed February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28612080/ Accessed February 25, 2021.
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