Sleep Better by Changing Your Environment

In Part 2 of the series, Dr. Doni explores how the environment can affect your sleep and gives 6 tips to help turn your bedroom into a haven of restfulness.

Part 2 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Sleep Disruptors and Insomnia

Sleep Better by Changing Your Environment In the introduction to this series, I gave an overview of 12 things that can disrupt our sleep:

  1. Timing
  2. Environment (this post)
  3. Waking to use the bathroom
  4. Blood sugar imbalance
  5. Elevated cortisol
  6. Weight gain
  7. Inflammation and pain
  8. Food sensitivities
  9. Imbalanced neurotransmitters
  10. Hormonal changes
  11. Low melatonin
  12. Stress

Over the next few weeks, I will examine each of these reasons in more depth and give tips on how you can address them. Last week, we talked about how important timing is to the quality of our sleep—what time we go to sleep and the amount of sleep we get. This week we’ll focus on the environment in your bedroom (or where you sleep) and how it could be affecting your sleep including tips for improving your sleeping environment and making it more conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Lack of sleep is known to be a stress on the body that can predispose you to a number of health issues including frequent colds and sinus infections, weight gain, diabetes, and cancer, so it is well worth figuring out why you are not sleeping well and finding a solution.

By the time you land in bed at the end of the day, hoping to get a full night’s rest, it’s too late to pay much attention to your mattress and bedding. And although with a busy schedule, it may be the last thing on your list, it is incredibly important to your sleep and your health to make sure your sleeping environment is just right.

If we assume you normally get the optimal 7.5 to 9 hours sleep per night, it means that you spend almost one-third of every day in bed. If you are sleeping on a synthetic mattress, which has been sprayed with flame-retardant and stain-resistant chemicals, you are being exposed to quite a lot of toxins while you sleep. Add foam cushioning and you are now also exposed to petrochemicals that off-gas (release trapped gas) over time. Then, when you consider dust mites, mold, mildew, bacteria, and dander that accumulate in your bedding and bedroom, let alone other compounds in the air from paint, furniture, fragrances, dry cleaning, smoke, and exhaust, it can quickly add up to quite a toxic space.

Many of my patients tell me they sleep with the TV and/or lights on. For some, the light and sound creates a comfort and distraction that allows them to sleep. However, too much light while you sleep can disrupt your circadian rhythm and therefore the quality of your sleep so it is best if you can turn off the TV and lights and allow your body to sleep without distractions. To do this, we may need to address other reasons that your sleep may be disrupted – see the list of 12 possible causes of insomnia that we are working through in this blog series. If more than one of these causes apply to you, you may need to address other things first before coming back to changing your environment when you are ready.

If, however, you think that it is something in your sleeping environment that is throwing off your sleep patterns, here are 6 tips for making your sleeping space optimal for sleep.

Tips for a Good Sleep Environment

Tip 1: A Clean and Comfortable Bed and Bedroom

Starting with the mattress, it is extremely important to ensure that you have a clean and comfortable sleeping area. It may even be time for a new mattress, in which case I encourage you to consider getting one made from organic materials such as cotton, latex or wool which are naturally anti-microbial and dust-mite proof. Cotton is the best option if you are sensitive to chemicals and odors, and a wool mattress topper makes for soft and comfortable support.

It is also important to cover or encase your mattress and pillows in barrier cloths, ideally also organic, that will protect you from dust mites. Studies show that mattress and pillow covers help with eczema and other allergic conditions plus they protect your mattress and pillows from exposure to liquids (like sweat). Sheets, blankets and duvet covers also come in organic, non-toxic materials, and should be washed regularly in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill dust mites). Wool has been shown to be a better option than down because wool is lightweight and prevents dust and mold. Find out more about organic mattresses and bedding at TheCleanBedroom.com.

Research has also shown that clutter in the bedroom can affect your sleep, so remember to take time each day to put away laundry, unpack your suitcase from a trip (if you haven’t already), and organize your things. This way, when you get into bed you’ll be less likely to be thinking of everything that needs to get done. Learn more and be inspired to get organized at ToTheNextLevel.net.

There is also evidence that some people are sensitive to electricity in the bedroom so, removing electrical devices such as the computer and the TV could also benefit your sleep.

Tip 2: Clean Air

We hear about air pollution all the time but we don’t tend to think about it in our own homes. However, the air in our houses and bedrooms is full of tiny particles of dust, dander, mold, viruses and other toxins that can aggravate allergies and irritate our airways and affect our ability to get a good night’s sleep.

An air purifier with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter can eliminate 99% of dust, dander, mold, smoke, and particles that are 0.3 microns or bigger. Some filters can even filter smaller particles (referred to as ultra-fine particles), down to 0.1 microns, such as viruses, car exhaust, and pollutants from industrial plants. Examples of high quality air filters are IQAir, Alen, Austin Air. If you don’t want to buy an air filter (or can’t afford to) even just opening the window to air out the room on a regular basis can do wonders.

Another option is to get a whole house air filtration system and/or special furnace filters that can remove at least 90% of allergens and particles that are 2 microns and larger. Furnace filters usually need to be changed about every six months, so if your filter has not been changed lately, make sure you put it on your “to-do” list, and choose a filter that is intended to help with allergies.

Tip 3: Darkness

Light exposure decreases melatonin production; darkness increases it. Melatonin is the hormone that plays a key role in our circadian rhythm (or body clock), it is responsible for making sure you are awake when you should be awake (during daylight) and getting you to sleep when you should be asleep (when it’s dark). It also plays a role in recovery and immune system function. It is therefore crucial, we create an environment that allows our bodies to produce enough melatonin so that we are sure of getting enough good quality sleep and that we get the maximum benefit from it.  That means making your sleeping environment as dark as possible. Even lights from a filter or device in your room (the standby light on a TV or the light from your mobile phone) or from a street light outside your window, can be enough to disrupt your circadian rhythm and your sleep, even when your eyes are closed.

Take notice of any light that you may be exposed to while you sleep and find ways to change the situation. Sometimes it can be as easy as a darker cover over the window, or covering the lights on any necessary devices in your room (or removing the unnecessary ones).

If you work late or have a night shift, then you’ll want to make sure that your bedroom is dark when you sleep even if you sleep during daylight hours. I’ll be discussing melatonin in more depth in a subsequent post.

Tip 4: Temperature

Interestingly, our body temperature drops while we sleep, reaching a minimum temperature during the period of the night when we sleep most deeply (about 4 hours before we wake). So, to optimize your sleep, you’ll want to allow for this drop in temperature by managing the temperature in the room and bed.

The ideal temperature for sleeping is not too cold, but not hot either. Research indicates that sleeping in a room that is cooler—between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit – makes for more deep sleep, less wakefulness, and feeling more refreshed the next day. Being either too cold or too hot, instead, leads to wake-ups and less restful sleep. Find a temperature that feels comfortable to you, and is slightly on the cool side and consider getting cooling mat or pad if you need help cooling your body temperature. Find out more at ChiliPad or Cool Gel Pad.

Tip 5: Non-Toxic Décor

Paints, floor coverings and curtain fabrics can all contain, or be treated with, chemicals that release toxins into the air. These toxins can have long-term effects on health that can impact your ability to sleep well. Fabrics and carpets are also trap dust that can aggravate allergies and also affect your sleep.

When you paint your bedroom walls, choose non-toxic VOC-free paints. Remove carpeting in order to reduce dust and toxins and choose wood (with a non-toxic finish) or tile flooring instead. Replace old curtains and shades with untreated wooden blinds or organic fabric shades.

Tip 6: Shhhh… Quiet

It may seem so simple, but quiet can make all the difference to your sleep, and noise can disrupt your sleep even when everything else is going well. Get to know what works best for you and how likely you are to be woken by nighttime noises. In some cases it is not so much about quiet as it is about consistent sounds, which may even cover up more disruptive noises. White noise can help you sleep better by providing a consistent background noise. You can use a white noise machine, a white noise app on your phone, or turn on an air filter or fan. On the other hand, complete quiet is the best option for other people and, in that case, ear plugs may work for you by blocking out all sound while you sleep. Whichever of these approaches you try, you’ll know they are helping because you will sleep through the night with no interruptions and you’ll feel more rested when you wake in the morning.

Next Steps

Take a minute now to make notes of what you’d like to do based on what you have read in this article to improve your sleep environment. Do you need to order a filter, new bedding, or ear plugs? Do you want to download a white noise app to try out and/or find someone to help you clean up dust or mold in your room? Even if you start with just one step, little by little you will improve your sleep, as well as your health.

If you’d like to continue following this topic week-by-week, please join me by subscribing to my blog in the right margin above or by signing up for my weekly wellness wisdom newsletter here, where I share my blog posts and other tips and support for healthy living.

If you have questions or ideas to share, please submit them in the comments box below.

–Dr Doni
13th November 2014

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This rigorous program will help you identify the underlying cause of your sleep issues, construct a natural remedy plan that will reduce or eliminate your symptoms, and design a long-term health regime to help you get restful sleep and restore your quality of life.

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Comments

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