According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as many as 10% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, or to fall into deep sleep. Sleep is crucial for virtually all functions in the body and brain to repair for optimal function. As a result, insomnia causes many undesirable effects. Among them are poor concentration, lower immune function and higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Luckily, there are all-natural strategies for improving sleep quality that have been proven to work. Here are seven changes you can make in your bedroom to help you get higher quality sleep.
1. Embrace Total Darkness
Sleep experts say that the key to better sleep is to work with and support your brain's natural sleep-wake cycle. When night falls, the sleepiness hormone known as melatonin naturally begins to secrete from the brain in response to the darkness. This hormone signals feelings of sleepiness to your body and mind, making you feel ready for bed.
When you're inundated with screens and lights in your home up until the moment you get in your bed, it can delay this important process of melatonin release.
One solution is to ensure your room can be completely darkened at night so that it's not affected by outside lighting or indoor electronics. Sleeping with your room darkened completely is shown to help increase melatonin's release and lead to deeper sleep. Make sure you seal up any leaks letting light in, especially if you plan to sleep past the time the sun rises.
Ditch electronic screens starting 30 minutes before bed and spend time in dim lighting. Dimming lights can be used in your bedroom from the time the sun sets. At a dim setting, they can help limit your light exposure at night. If you don't have a dimmer in your bedroom, you can create layers of lighting with different lamps.
2. Eliminate Clutter
Clutter in your bedroom builds stress in the mind when you see it, and especially if that clutter is where you sleep. It's a constant reminder you need to clean, it makes finding things you need difficult, and is stressful to look at. That said, you should clear the clutter and prevent it from building up again. With just a few minutes of attention each day, you can keep your room tidy and organized.
Your bedroom shouldn't be your workplace. If you have to work in your bedroom, make sure you keep your things tidy and organized in the same area your desk is. Keep your bed clear of school or work materials. If it helps, distance yourself with a 4-poster bed with curtains to distract you from the outside world.
3. Use a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets are blankets for sleeping or resting that weigh between 5 and 30 pounds. The weight has therapeutic effects on the nervous system, similar to those of deep pressure stimulation.
The March/April 2020 edition of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy published a systematic review analyzing the studies that have been done on the effects of sleeping with a weighted blanket . The review found that research suggests weighted blankets help with anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. Anxiety and insomnia feed into one another in a vicious cycle, which means a weighted blanket can significantly optimize your sleeping.
4. Get the Right Mattress and Pillow
If you've been sleeping on an older mattress, ask yourself if it's still working for you. Old mattresses are lower in quality, and may be worn out in areas. Modern memory foam mattresses and hybrid spring and memory foam mattresses are high-quality options for supportive firmness with a soft, even texture. They help you distribute your weight on the bed more evenly, reducing muscle tension.
Also consider your pillow's size and feel. Do you prefer a full, firm pillow for neck support? Or do you feel more relaxed on a flatter pillow? If you aren't getting a good night's sleep, swapping what you have for a more comfortable mattress and pillow could potentially make a huge difference.
5. Diffuse Essential Oils
Certain essential oils have been proven in studies to improve sleep quality and fight insomnia. In a 2020 study published in "Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine," lavender and peppermint essential oils were shown to improve sleep quality in cancer patients .
Having an essential oil diffuser in your bedroom is well worth a try. Or, put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball and leave it next to your pillow. This method was used in a 2015 Iranian study on postpartum women. Lavender essential oil was applied to cotton balls left on the bedside through the night. After eight weeks, the women showed improved sleep quality and were sleeping longer . Other essential oils to diffuse for sleep are bergamot oil, clary sage oil, chamomile oil, ylang ylang oil and valerian oil.
These all-natural oils contain medicinal volatile molecules able to enter your bloodstream through your olfactory center, where your sense of smell is processed. Essential oils should never be ingested, but inhaling the aroma can lower stress hormone levels and even your heart rate. This is how they work to improve sleep.
6. Choose Tranquil Decor Elements
Your bedroom shouldn't look too busy. Less is more, since a simple look creates a lighter ambiance in the room. Too much bedroom decor or memorabilia on display can begin to have the same psychological effect as clutter.
Paint color also plays a role in your bedroom's mood. You can use warm or cool tone colors, but avoid bright hues. Neutral colors or one solid-color theme are elements that work well for better sleep. According to the Better Sleep Council, nature photography and nature-themed art are relaxing choices for bedroom decor.
7. Improve Your Air Quality
Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that sleep quality directly correlates with air quality of the sleep environment. In dusty urban apartments where fresh air is minimal, using an air purifier in your bedroom can go a long way.
Also, if you're heating your home all through the winter, the air can sometimes become too dry for comfortable breathing through the night. If you live in a cold region, sleeping with a humidifier in your bedroom might help with your quality of sleep.
Creating a Better Sleep Environment
With just a few smart interventions, your bedroom (and your bed) can become more conducive to a good night's sleep. The benefit of having a clutter-free, tranquil bedroom is that you can spend 30 minutes to an hour before bed relaxing to help you wind down and get to sleep. Your mattress, pillow, air quality and lighting all affect your quality of sleep. With some trial and error, you can find out what's affecting your sleeping and then you can fix it.