In the first part of this series of articles on sleep, I discussed the “team no sleep” culture, my own former bad sleep habits, the wonderful benefits of getting great sleep, and the dangers of not getting enough. I also went into detail explaining my morning ritual and how it sets me up for not only a great day, but for an excellent night’s sleep. In the second part of this series, I explained how significant of a role diet plays in sleep, what foods I consume for a great night’s sleep, the importance of a “caffeine curfew”, and the sleep aids I use to get the deepest, most restorative sleep of my life. In this part of Sleep Better Now, I will introduce you to my “sleep sanctuary” and share with you what you need (and don't need) in your bedroom to get the best sleep ever.
Your Sleep Sanctuary - AKA your Fortress of Solitude, AKA your BatCave, AKA your bedroom - is the most important place in your house. This is where the magic happens, and that magic is deep, restorative sleep. I like to think of my bedroom as my own personal human habitat - a place engineered to help me fall asleep as quickly as possible, get the high-quality sleep my body and mind need, and stay fully asleep until I am 100% rested. This is done by making sure certain things are in your room, and making sure certain things are not in your room.
Far too many people use their bedroom as an office, studio, entertainment center, and more; and it may be contributing to a lack of quality sleep. It is important to program the mind to automatically think “this is where sleep happens” when in the bedroom, especially in the evening. Using the bedroom as a place to do work or play is ill-advised because your brain will associate it with being awake and stimulated. Move the work-station to the living room, kitchen, or a nearby coffee shop. It may take some time to break bad habits; but changing your environment is the first step to ensuring that...
Your Sleep Sanctuary is a Sacred Place dedicated to SLEEP.
First, let’s discuss what should be removed from your Sleep Sanctuary in order to create this environment and have the best night’s sleep possible. Full disclosure: I was guilty of having all of these things in my bedroom before, so I know first-hand the significant impact that removing these sources of sleepytime stimulation can make. First, get rid of the TV. Move it to another room, gift it to a special someone, donate it to charity...just keep it out of your bedroom. This may not be easy, but it can make a very positive impact on your quality of sleep, not to mention your romantic life. I would suggest keeping TV viewing to a bare minimum in general (there are so many better ways of spending your time). For the shows you absolutely can’t miss (for me: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and now Better Call Saul), watch them earlier in the evening, if possible, or save them for the weekend (take advantage of that DVR).
Most TV shows - fiction and nonfiction alike - are high-intensity and feature quite a lot of violence...even the news (especially the news)! You may or may not physically feel the effects, but our subconscious minds react to this stimulation (fight or flight) and release hormones (cortisol) that make it difficult for us to fall into a deep sleep. This is why you should reserve your television viewing time to earlier times of the day. Furthermore, the bright blue and white light that’s beaming out of your flat screen and into your eyeballs are similar wavelengths to the light emitted by the sun in the middle of the day. That light is sending a message to your brain that it’s still daytime, which suppresses the sleep-inducing hormones our bodies are supposed to naturally secrete (melatonin) in the evening when we’re in sync with the setting of the sun and should be getting tired.
The next object that has no place in the bedroom is a close relative to the TV - and possibly even more difficult to remove - the computer. The same sleep-suppressing light is coming out of your computer’s display and is affecting your sleep, and therefore impacting your health and performance. In this day and age, completely avoiding your computer once the sun sets is just not realistic for most of us, me included. I am not necessarily advocating computer and TV abstinence; however, I am strongly encouraging you to use them exclusively outside of the bedroom. I have also invested in a pair of amber-tinted glasses that filter out blue light, allowing me to comfortably work on my computer or watch TV after the sun has set without it having a significant impact on my sleep. There is also a great, free App you can download called Flux that will automatically filter the blue light out of your computer screen as it gets later in the day. Download this now, you'll thank me later! More on blue-blocking glasses, Flux, and other sleep-related tech & tools that I use in the next part of this series.
Do you have any other bright LED screens or displays in your bedroom? A digital alarm clock that bathes the corner of your room in a green hue? A surge protector that has a tiny LED bulb that emits an astonishing amount of light on its own? A night light? Get rid of all of them! If you can’t get rid of them (like the surge protector), invest in a cheap roll of black electrical tape and cover those little, but powerful, lights up. Why go through such extreme measures? Because it’s the most important part of creating a Sleep Sanctuary:
Make your bedroom pitch black for optimal sleep.
Your room needs to be so dark that even after a few minutes of letting your eyes adjust, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. This is essential for falling asleep and staying in a state of deep sleep. You may even want to invest in some black out curtains. Not only will they keep outside light pollution from entering your room, but they will help keep your room cooler when the sun is out, and can even help muffle outside noise. Think: Bat Cave.
Other than your TV, computer, other LED screens and sources of light, the last things that I suggest eliminating from your Sleep Sanctuary are any unnecessary electronics. Anything that must be in your room, but isn’t being used at night should at least be powered down and unplugged if possible. Make this easier on yourself by having easy access to a power strip that can be used to power off multiple devices at once. If you have a wi-fi router in your room, I would strongly suggest permanently moving this somewhere else, or turning it off when getting ready for bed. There is a growing amount of research showing that our household electronics - even our “low power” consumer-grade electronics - emit enough EMFs (electromagnetic fields) to disrupt many people’s quality of sleep, in addition to contributing to other health concerns. If you’ve removed the TV and computer, you’ve already taken care of the biggest culprits, but don’t stop there. This isn’t about getting good sleep; it’s about getting the BEST sleep.
Removing everything mentioned above will lay a solid foundation for creating your Sleep Sanctuary, but to really enhance a great night’s sleep, there are a few things I’ve added to my bedroom over the years that help a lot. The quality of the air we breathe is important all day long, but it is even more so when we are sleeping. This is why I have a small snake plant in my room (his name is Groot), which gives off oxygen at night. My plant literally filters formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air leaving behind fresh, glorious oxygen. This isn’t some tree-hugging hippie stuff either. This important suggestion is backed up by research done by NASA, among other experts. Check out the NASA research here, and find a plant that filters the most contaminants and looks appealing to you.
My plant really makes my room look more aesthetically pleasing, and it naturally keeps my air fresh. I like to give my bedroom air an extra boost of cleanliness and freshness with the helping hand of an air purifier. There are many available that come in all sizes and costs; the best one for you depends on the size of your room and your budget. I use this smaller Holmes model I got at Target that is reasonably priced. Based on consumer reports and reviews, this Coway model seems very highly regarded, but is much more expensive. For the average bedroom, a smaller one is ok, just make sure it has a replaceable HEPA-type filter, you clean it often, and replace the filter at least a couple times throughout the year.
My buddy Groot and my air purifier are working around the clock to keep my air crisp and clean, and it really makes a difference. There is one other air enhancer I use to keep my air fresh, but I only run it at night - a humidifier. The light moisture from my humidifier (I have a PureGuardian from Costco) keeps my nasal passages and throat lubricated, which aids in healthy breathing and prevents waking up with a dry throat or mouth. A humidifier can also help with keeping your skin from getting dried out as well - particularly in the winter months.
Speaking of winter months, keep your sleep sanctuary a comfortable temperature no matter what time of year it is. You won’t sleep as well if you’re too hot or shivering throughout the night. If you need to run your AC or heater to keep your room in the Goldilocks zone - so be it. Just don’t be one of those energy hogs that needlessly turns your home into an ice box (or oven), driving up your utility bill and wasting energy. Typically, your AC or even a strong fan would dry out the air in your bedroom to an undesirable level, but the humidifier takes care of that problem. Personally, I like the steady, barely-there background noise from my air purifier in one corner of my room and my fan on a low setting in the other.
Another suggestion for your sleep sanctuary that goes hand-in-hand with having the cleanest air possible is having the cleanest bed, floor, and furniture possible. In addition to wiping your air purifier clean every week, dust all other surfaces in your room as well. Your plant and purifier can only do so much, and that dust can contribute to asthma, allergies, inflamed breathing passages, etc. In other words, dust is disruptive of a great night’s sleep. Vacuum your floor regularly as well - there is even more dust there that you can’t see, and where there is dust and carpet, there are dust mites (ew). There are other creepy-crawlers that would love to call your bed their home too, that is, unless you wash your sheets in hot water regularly. I would suggest doing this at least once per week, but it depends on your personal level of hygiene and preference.
Other than having an immaculately clean bed, I believe that it's important to have an incredibly comfortable bed too. After all, you spend about a third of your life in it, and your level of comfort will have a direct impact on how well you sleep. Invest in a great mattress - it should be more on the firm side, but this will depend on personal preference. Next, you'll need the perfect pillow, but this again depends on personal preference, including if you're a back or side sleeper (pro tip: don't sleep on your stomach). Fortunately, most pillow brands now design them specifically for the type of sleeper you are. If what you're using now isn't working for you, now is a great time to replace it. Finally, to complete your "dream bed", get some soft, comfortable, cotton sheets. 100% Cotton from a decent brand is a great choice because it can be very soft and comfortable, breathes well, is easy to maintain, and gets even softer over time as you wash and dry it.
I realize that if you don't already have many of the things I've mentioned above, it could be a significant financial investment to make these upgrades to your bedroom. But once again, consider the fact that you spend a very significant amount of your life in your bed. Also consider how much of a positive impact getting high-quality sleep has on your life; conversely, getting sub-par sleep will have a very negative impact on your day-to-day performance and your long-term health and longevity. If you're kicking ass during the day, fully energized from a full night's sleep, this investment will pay significant dividends. Coming up next, I will review some tech I use to help me sleep and track my sleep, and divulge the details of my bedtime ritual. In the meantime, make it a priority to make your bedroom your sacred Sleep Sanctuary - a place you can't wait to go to at the end of each day to get the best sleep ever.