Let’s face it: In attempts to make our bedrooms Instagrammable oases, instead, we end up sacrificing our sleep. Our bedrooms are bright and perfectly decorated with Pinterest as head designer, our mattresses practical yet not super functional, our nightstands cluttered with tech devices, alarms and leftover things to read.
But as the connection between sleep and overall health grows, so does our concern with better sleep quality. It is no surprise we all crave restful sleep each night but just can’t manage to get the elements right. In fact, the CDC has reported that 35 percent of adults do not get enough sleep (at least seven hours), which is one in three adults.
So what can we do to help our plight? Michael J. Breus, known to millions as The Sleep Doctor — he is regularly featured on “The Today Show,” “The Dr. Oz Show” and more — says it is all about catering to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, in that order.
1. Block Light, Especially Blue Light
“When you look [at] the senses, you need to look at them in a particular order because light has the largest effect on sleep,” says Breus. “And light has within its spectrum something called blue light, which isn’t actually blue, but it’s a wavelength of light between 440 and 480 nanometers inside that wavelength, and when that wavelength hits our eyeballs, it turns off the melatonin faucet in our brain.” And while blocking all light before bedtime may not be entirely realistic thanks to TVs, iPads, phones and bedside table lamps, to name a few, Breus is a big advocate for changing all lightbulbs themselves and wearing blue-light-blocking glasses around when you are on your tech devices before bedtime. “My favorite company … is called Healthe,” says Breus. “I have these in my room, my kids’ rooms, etc., to help lower the blue light exposure significantly.”
2. Get a White Noise Machine
“It turns out that the quieter [sic] it is, the more acute your hearing becomes, which is kind of fascinating,” Breus says. So when it comes to people who have trouble falling asleep, sometimes a little bit of noise can mask every other noise, and once you become accustomed to a sound, it can be very effective in helping you fall asleep faster. “Personally, I use the iHome Zenergy line,” Breus adds. “It’s great, we spend a lot of time finding the right sounds that have got the science behind them,” And because we can’t talk about sounds that help you fall asleep without talking about sounds that do not help you fall asleep, if your sleeping partner snores, it is all about the right kind of earplug. “I personally like the Earplane. They’re silicone and work really, really well. They work better than anything else I’ve ever seen,” says Breus.
3. Rethink Your Whole Bedding
When it comes to your bedding, it is all about evaluating your whole sleep system: sheets, mattress, pillows. Breus says it is worth the investment, and when it comes to mattresses, you get what you pay for. “Your bed kind of dictates what kind of sleep posture you’re going to have, and that’s a factor of your height, your weight, and how that weight is really distributed,” he says. “If [you] can afford $1,000 for a good bed, it’s a worthwhile investment.” And while we have all heard of the Sleep Number and Casper, there is also the ReST Smart Bed, which is made up of sensors that monitor your sleep and adjust the support to where you need it most to make sure you are comfortable. But if picking an entirely new mattress is overwhelming, start with getting a new pillow. “The kind of pillow depends on if you’re a back sleeper, side sleeper or stomach sleeper,” says Breus. Generally, side sleepers need a firmer and thicker pillow, stomach sleepers need a soft pillow — or no pillow at all — and back sleepers need a flatter pillow to keep their head and neck in alignment. Also, Breus recommends choosing materials that are breathable fibers like eucalyptus, wool, linen, silk and cotton, and to avoid synthetics like polyester, which trap heat and moisture.
4. Control the Room Temperature
Room temperature is critical to signaling your brain that it needs to start getting ready for bed. “Our body temperature rises throughout the evening and gets to a high point until about 10 p.m., then it starts to go down,” says Breus. “When the temperature starts to drop, it’s actually a signal to your body to release melatonin, which is very important to kick off the sleeping process.” Generally, Breus recommends anywhere between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit as the ambient room temperature. Higher than that, and your body has a little more trouble cooling down, and any lower than that, and you may have trouble getting into REM sleep. That being said, if you live in extreme weather locations, controlling room temperature may not be as easy, in which case Breus recommends 20-25 degrees off the daily high.
5. Open the Windows and Infuse Your Room With Relaxing Scents
If you think that scent plays no role in restful sleep, think again. The scent is actually one of our most potent senses, and it is directly connected to the body’s limbic system, which regulates impulses and emotions. Paying attention to the scents in your room can help enhance restful sleep, and some of them are particularly conducive to sleep. “There are aromas that can be helpful for relaxation,” says Breus. “So far, the only two scents we’ve found that have that effect are lavender and vanilla.” Research has shown that lavender has relaxing properties and helps reduce morning sleepiness, whereas minty scents actually promote alertness, and are best kept out of the room. Additionally, Breus is a big advocate for opening the windows and using an air filter — it is the best way to introduce fresh air and clear out pollutants contributing to allergies and breathing problems that might disrupt your sleep.
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