How to Create a Perfect Sleep Environment

How to Create a Perfect Sleep Environment


Unless you’ve been living in a cave (in which case you probably get great sleep already), you’ve heard about the importance of sleep for health and how most of us aren’t getting enough quality sleep.

Unfortunately, just like with a good diet, simply knowing the importance of sleep isn’t enough to make it happen. More than just knowing the importance of sleep, we have to create a good sleep environment and optimize the factors that lead to good sleep.

Sleep is certainly one very-important aspect of health that I struggle with personally. It is easy to make the excuse that I’ve had babies or toddlers to keep me awake for the last (almost) decade, but the truth is that I’m also bad about turning off and unwinding, even when all the kids are already asleep.

I’m still a work in progress for being able to stop working and get to bed early, but I’ve found several factors that really improve my sleep quality and make it easier to fall asleep quickly.

Why Create a Good Sleep Environment?

We spend about 1/3 of our life sleeping. This is, of course, an average of the 23.5 hours a day we sleep as infants and the 1.5 hours a day we sleep as parents of infants, but by the time we sleep for the last time, we’ve spent approximately 1/3 of our life snoozing.

In fact, we statistically spend as much or more time in our beds and bedrooms as we do anywhere else, so it is important to make sure that your sleep environment is promoting health in as many ways as possible. Improving sleep environment can have lasting benefits to other aspects of your life, including your physical health, mental focus and even work performance.

These factors can make a tremendous difference in improving a sleep environment:

Lose the Light…

Light, or lack thereof, is vital for regulating circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. The presence of even a small amount of blue light in the bedroom at night can reduce vital melatonin levels and disrupt sleep.

This is the reason I wear dorky orange sunglasses at night and cover the blue light on my smoke alarm with electrical tape.

Many of us think we are sleeping in darkness, but forget mini light sources like clocks, charging cell phones, TV lights and other tiny light sources.

Why does it matter so much?

For much of human history, we had sunlight during the day and no light or only orange hues from the moon, stars, or campfire at night. Now, we have artificial light in various shades and spectrums and our bodies respond to these differently. Even ambient light in a normal house is 12-30 times brighter than natural moonlight and in much different colors.

At night, in darkness, our pineal glands produce melatonin which is vital for regulating cortisol, hormones and body temperature. Even small amounts of artificial light can interrupt this process, and as crazy as it seems, even a little bit of light in your bedroom at night, especially blue light, can disrupt hormones and potentially lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems, increased cancer risk, higher chance of depression and anxiety, premature aging and heart problems.

What To Do:

  • Get your bedroom (and your child’s bedroom) as dark as possible!
  • Cover light sources and remove any unnecessary electronics
  • If you have artificial light outside (like streetlights), use blackout curtains to cover windows
  • Avoid computers, phone screens and TV for at least 90 minutes before bed, or if you must, use orange glasses to block blue spectrum light

Keep Your Cool…

Temperature is another important factor for great sleep. Your body temperature naturally cools slightly during sleep, and this occurs most easily when your bedroom is at certain temperatures.

A room that is too hot or too cold can affect sleep quality and even reduce the quality of REM sleep. Most experts recommend a bedroom temperature of 62-68 degrees with comfortably warm bedding and socks.

Temperature is so important, in fact, that one initial study showed that insomniacs who wore cooling caps that helped reduce body temperature were able to sleep as soundly and for the same amount of time as those without sleep disorders.

What to Do:

  • Keep your bedroom at a cool but comfortable temperature for you.
  • Choose bedding that warms but doesn’t make you hot
  • Wear socks so you don’t get cool when your body temperature drops during sleep
  • Completely anecdotally, I’ve found that an ice pack on my forehead or the back of my neck helps me fall asleep if I’m having trouble

A Good Mattress…

I feel like our mattress saga could be a book on its own. For years, we slept on a mattress that we bought new off Craigslist for $100. It worked and was comfortable but it wasn’t organic and it started to really show its wear after about 7 years (and a bunch of toddlers bouncing on it while I folded laundry).

We eventually made the jump to an organic mattress, which was wonderful for the kids, but after a few months, my husband started having back pain because the mattress was too soft. We realized the mattress was the problem when we would travel and his back would immediately stop hurting.

I knew we would have to switch mattresses… again, but organic mattresses are not inexpensive, and we were determined to try (and only buy) a mattress that we could try and return if it didn’t help his back.

What we did…

After a lot of research, the recommendation of two close friends, and the chance to try it, we settled on Intellibed and his back pain has been completely gone ever since. Long way of saying that finding the right mattress can be a long (and expensive) road and I hope you don’t ever have such a long journey of finding one that works for you.

In general, look for a mattress that is organic and contains only inert materials. For us, Intellibed was the perfect mix of support and comfort with all safe materials. Whatever you choose, make sure you research your mattress (and try it!) before buying it.

Clear the Air…

Air quality can directly affect sleep. The Harvard School of Public Health found that poor indoor air quality increased the risk of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, which is one of the fastest growing sleep disorders. Indoor air pollution and the resulting sleep disorders may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

This makes sense because we are sedentary and indoors at night, and are breathing more indoor air, which we know is often up to 70 times more polluted than outdoor air.

What to do:

  • Plants: NASA research found that house plants were an effective way to clean indoor air, and they used plants to purify that air in space facilities. Bamboo, snake plant, yucca, ferns, and aloe are just a few plants that effectively purify indoor air. Bonus: plants are beautiful to look at and some research shows that just like being outdoors, seeing plants on a regular basis can help reduce stress and improve mental outlook.
  • Inexpensive Air Filters: Three inexpensive ways to clean indoor air are: Bamboo Charcoal bags, Salt Lamps and Beeswax Candles..
  • The Most Effective Option: Not inexpensive, but this Austin Air Purifier is the best I’ve ever found. It has five filters and can remove dander, allergens, mold, and smoke from indoor air.

Put Your Feet Up…

This is technically done before bed, but I’ve found that this is one simple (and free) thing I can do that really improves my sleep quality and helps me fall asleep more quickly.

The theory is that since most of us are standing or sitting most of the day, blood and lymph fluid can collect in the legs and this can actually affect cortisol patterns as well. Putting your legs up at a 90 degree angle before bed can help this fluid drain and can also help balance cortisol levels.

What to do:

For about 30 minutes before bed, lay on a flat surface (bed or floor) and put your feet up on another surface a couple feet higher at a 90 degree angle. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is on the bed with pillows stacked under my legs, or on the floor with my legs and feet up on a couch. Basically, it should look like you are in the sitting position, but with your back on the ground.

I hope that some of these tips will be as helpful to you as they are to my family. Certainly, some of these options are not in every budget, but even if you just cover your windows with some dark cloth or old blankets and create a dark sleep environment or sleep with the windows open when it gets a little cooler, I hope you’ll experiment and figure out how to make your own perfect sleep environment.

“Sleep is the best meditation.  Recharge your batteries.”

Don’t forget to further explore the MaroonsRWell page by checking out This Week in Wellness and the VPC Health Living May/June Newsletter.

In health – Kate


About Kate Smith