It’s always been evident that sleep has a profound effect on many aspects of our lives; our overall health, our productivity, and our general mood. In recent years, sleep has begun to be thought of as the third pillar of health, the first two being diet and exercise. Many doctors have published articles on the topic of sleep hygiene, which can be defined as the variety and practices and habits one can adopt that are necessary for good sleep. Overall, people have become more and more aware of the importance of sleep, and things like pulling all-nighters are no longer thought of as badges of honor. Beyond that, people are also starting to realize it’s not just about the quantity of sleep that you get, but the quality.
Why Your Wearable Is Not Enough
Currently, there are countless devices on the market that will track and monitor your sleep. When I think about all the wearables that are out there, from Fitbit to Leaf, Shine to the Apple Watch, it is almost overwhelming how many choices exist. For the most part, all of them give you the same type and level of information. With things like motion and heart rate sensors, these devices can track your sleep cycle and provide you with a bunch of graphs and tables to inform you how well – or not well – you slept. However, once you have all that data, I think there is a lot of disconnect when it comes to synthesizing the information. If your wearable is telling you that you sleep poorly, you need to know what to do about it.
In order to figure out how to fix the problem of poor sleep, it might be helpful to ask, what are the factors that directly affect how we sleep? Most people when posed this question would probably come up with things like what we eat or how much stress we might be under, but what about the actual environment that we’re sleeping in? And I’m talking about more than the right pillow and mattress. Have you ever thought about how much light is in your bedroom at night? Are there any noises occurring while you try to sleep? When we began our design partnership with Marpac in 2015, these are the types of things we started to ask ourselves that we had never deeply considered before.
If you are committed to getting the best sleep possible, it means examining the entire sleep environment
Marpac is the premier manufacturer of sound machines and therefore is primarily focused on masking disturbing noises during sleep. And you may think, I’m not a light sleeper, so who cares if there are noises while I’m sleeping? If they don’t wake me up, it doesn’t matter…because I’m asleep! But the truth is that while you may not be actively hearing the noises around you, your body will still respond to them in the form of disruptions to your sleep cycle. This same theory applies to environmental factors like light, temperature, air quality, and humidity. With this in mind, if you are committed to getting the best sleep possible, it means examining the entire sleep environment.
Finding the Holistic Solution to Better Sleep
This holistic approach of considering the entire space is both appealing and logical to me. I think this method of broad spectrum thinking really allows for solving problems in the most effective way possible. If we’re using the example of the sleep environment, and the problem is that you’re not sleeping well, let’s say you make a change to try and solve it. You could try removing all electronic devices from the bedroom – yes, your phone too! – because they emit a lot of blue wavelength light, which acts as a stimulant increasing your alertness and disrupting your circadian rhythm. But if you do this and find that you’re still not sleeping well, that’s because you haven’t considered all the environmental factors involved. You’ve only tackled a part of the problem because you aren’t thinking big picture enough.
As designers, we know that widening our view and observing situations in their entirety allows us to see solutions we otherwise may not. I recently read an article by Dr. Travis Bradberry, the author of Emotional Intelligence, in which he discusses the importance of sleep hygiene and some key strategies for helping you get the best quality sleep. While I found all of his points compelling, I was most taken by the idea that your brain treats your sleep cycle as a day long process. Your brain relies on natural cues from sunlight as well as hormone and chemical regulation within your body to know whether you should be awake or not. This is why things like blue light, caffeine, and other stimulants affect your sleep so deeply. With all this in mind, now we can step back even beyond the environment and think about all the things that are aiding or preventing quality sleep from the time that we wake up, to the time we go to bed, and even while we’re asleep. And really, it doesn’t get much more “big picture” than that.
Now I won’t try to help you tackle EVERY obstacle preventing you from having good sleep, but I will help you look holistically at the bedroom environment that you can change to help you achieve better sleep hygiene:
1. Limit Blue Wavelength Light
I talked about this a little already, but I’ll go a little more in-depth by explaining that morning sunlight actually contains blue wavelength light which helps you wake up, so your body becomes confused when you introduce it at other times of the day. So exile your television, computer, tablet, and all other electronic devices from your bedroom to give your circadian rhythm a better chance at regulating.
2. Reduce Disrupting Sounds
I mentioned this one too, but want to reiterate that your brain will continue to register noise even while you’re sleeping, so consider investing in a sound masking device to reduce disturbances. We believe our friends at Marpac make the best one in the business, so I recommend giving it a try. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t think I needed one of these machines in my life, but after using one I can attest to how remarkably better my sleep is with it.
3. Set the Right Temperature
Your body temperature naturally cools at night to help you sleep, so you want to make sure the temperature of the air in your bedroom is helping, not hindering. You might be surprised to learn that National Sleep Foundation recommends a room temperature of 65 degrees for sleeping. Keep in mind that everyone is different, but the general rule of thumb here is that heat is more likely to interfere with your sleep, so cooler is better.
4. Make Sure Your Bed is Comfortable
This might seem a little too obvious, but your bed could be causing more problems than you realize. For example, did you know that it is recommended to replace your pillows every two years? Or that your bed should allow you enough space to stretch out completely and turn over without obstacles? Sometimes investing in the right mattress, pillows, and sheets can make all the difference.
5. Curate a Relaxing Environment
The bedroom is for sleeping, so naturally, it should be the most relaxing room in the house. Think about what makes you feel most relaxed, and fill your room with those things. From candles that provide soothing scents to throws that you can’t help but cuddle up with, every object in your space can help signal sleep for your body.
Creating good sleep hygiene habits will do more for your health than you realize, so I encourage you to think like a designer when it comes to catching better Zs. Look at all aspects of your day and scrutinize your sleep environment so that you can solve the entire problem, not just a piece of the puzzle. If you do, you might just catch yourself thinking, who knew that all this time design thinking could actually be helping us sleep better at night?
For more information and tips on good sleep hygiene: