A good night’s sleep: In our over-scheduled world, it seems like everyone’s searching for it. The first place to start — before you go to the sleep clinic, before you take pills, before you try sleep therapy — is the most obvious: the bedroom.
And why not? Our kitchens are designed for optimal cooking, our dining rooms for entertaining. Our bedrooms should be designed for sleeping — and perhaps one other undercover pursuit. And like that other pursuit, sleeping is also a sensual experience, literally using four of your senses.
“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present,” said philosopher Francis Bacon.
The quality of the light and the darkness is important for a bedroom. If you’re the kind of person that needs your bedroom completely dark to fall asleep, blackout curtains can help , although morning light is helpful to keep you from oversleeping.
The lighting itself also makes a difference for your slumber. Bedrooms need “lighting layers,” says Clifford Starr, chief lighting designer consultant for Lighting by Gregory, referring to the number of lights in the room, including the overhead light, the closet light, the bedside sconces and table lamps. Starr recommends warm-temperature LED lights (which are replacing halogen) — and everything on dimmers “so you have full control over the mood of the room.” Starr also recommends touch lamps for your bedside table, so you don’t have to fumble for a switch when you’re dozing off reading a book.
Simon and Garfunkel sing about “The Sound of Silence,” but as a city dweller, it’s hard to find it. Besides, too much silence — or the sound of crickets — can sometimes get my brain going. So I prefer the steadiness of white noise. Since my husband likes the bedroom to be chilly, he uses the fan or air conditioner to drown out street noise. I personally love the sound of the ocean, rain pellets and wind (but, my husband says it makes him have to go to the bathroom.) So I listen with headphones to an app on my phone.
The sound quality of apps, however, can be distorted by the electronic device. Plus, many find the electronic blue light of of phones and tablets disturbing for sleep, making sound machines a better choice. Here are the five best rated sound machines, including an adaptive sound machine that may neutralize intermittent sounds from your sleep surroundings.
Olfactory is a typically overlooked sense when it comes to sleep. But many scents can relax you. Studies show that red rose and lavender oils have been known to produce better quality sleep and even better dream recall. Roman chamomile oil and clary sage are also good relaxers. Here’s a good aromatherapy recipe to help with insomnia.
Some people recommend spraying your bedsheets and the room at large. “Most off-the-shelf room sprays that claim ‘to clean’ the air are actually chock-full of chemicals,” says an expert at Parachute, a luxury bedding purveyor. “Forget the Febreze and make your own natural room spray instead,” she says, with instructions for Purifying Eucalyptus & Lemon Room spray and Sensual Sandalwood + Vanilla Room Perfume.
Who doesn’t like to nestle into the downy comfort of a well-appointed bed? When it comes to the Goldilocks mattress debate of too hard vs. too soft, there’s no right answer: you need to find what works for you. But what if you and your partner disagree on the level of firmness you want in a mattress? Memory foam mattresses might solve your problem, or some coil mattresses are firm on one side, plush on the other.
But the key to a good night’s rest might lie more in the bedding than the actual bed itself.
First: your pillow. “Sleep with a pillow,” the American Chiropractic Association advises. “Special pillows are available to help with postural problems resulting from a poor sleeping position.” (For a splurge, try the Novos Contour pillow).
If you find yourself propping your arm beneath your head that means your pillow isn’t offering enough support. And speaking of support, the firmness of your pillow corresponds to the position you sleep in. Stomach sleepers need soft pillows, side sleepers need firm pillows and back sleepers need medium support. “It’s important to find the right down pillows to match your sleep position, whichever phase you’re in. Keeping your head, neck, and spine aligned means you wake up feeling rested and without any aches and pains,” according to the Pacific Coast Feather Co.
Next: your bedding. It surprised me to discover that thread count is actually not a good way to measure the quality of sheets. That’s because there’s only so many threads a sheet can have (experts say 400) and after that, you’re splitting hairs. In 2002, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute found that seven out of eight sheets have exaggerated thread counts, often by three to five times the true number. But again, sheets are a personal preference. Some like it crisp (go with percale) and some like it soft (go with sateen). If you’re at a hotel and find yourself in love with their bedding, ask if they offer it for sale. Here are the Good Housekeeping Institute’s picks for favorite hotel sheets.