How many of you use your phone or laptop right before you go to sleep? I’m going to be honest—I’m on my phone every night before bed. I’ve convinced myself that playing on my phone is one of the ways I enjoy the precious kid-free moments at the end of the day.
But it turns out my precious phone time is actually ruining my sleep. Experts suggest that your bedroom should be a distraction-free zone, and your phone counts as a distraction.
Essentially, you should be using your bedroom for only sleep. Well, there is another activity that begins with an “S” you can do in the bedroom, but now is not the time to discuss it.
To create the optimal sleeping environment, you need to get rid of anything in your bed/bedroom that distracts you or disrupts your sleep—noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed or pillow, and warm temperatures.
Let’s talk specifics …
Melatonin release is actually controlled by both your body temperature and light exposure. You need both queues to work simultaneously for your body to recognize that it’s time for sleep.
This means your room/house/office should be bright during the day and dark during the night so your brain can release melatonin at the right time. Before the days of electric lights, lighting automatically matched our circadian rhythms. You know, because of the sun and the rotation of the earth. But since Thomas Edison’s little invention has permeated every part of our lives, we need to be more deliberate about how we use light throughout the day, especially when we get ready for bed.
So, what’s the best way to combat light? Matthew Walker, PhD, author of Why We Sleep, suggests we:
- Dim the lights – Install dimmers on your lights, so at night, you can turn the lights down to get yourself ready for sleep. You can also use them as mood lighting for that other s-word we talked about.
- Use blackout curtains – Blackout curtains maintain complete darkness in your room throughout the night to help decrease distractions in your room. If you’re a night owl, they also help you sleep longer into the morning so you can get the sleep you need.
Did you know your core body temperature has to decrease in order for you to fall asleep? It’s true. In order to initiate sleep, your core body temperature needs to drop 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius).
Most of the cooling work is done by your hands, feet, and head. So, if your hands, feet, and head are cool, your core body temperature will decrease.
Have you ever wondered why you stick a hand or foot outside your bedding at night? When your core body temperature gets too high, you automatically get your extremities out of the warmth of your bedding and into the cool, night air to help you fall and stay asleep.
Here’s another interesting nighttime routine that helps decrease your body temperature. Do you wash your face before bed? I do it religiously. And before now, I assumed it was because I liked to go to bed with a clean face. There is, however, another evolutionary explanation. When you use your hands to splash water on your face—the two most vascular surfaces on our bodies—the water (warm or cold) dissipates the heat from the surface of the skin as it evaporates. This cooling effect then cools your inner body core.
That was the long way of saying, “Your body needs to be cool to sleep, so you should keep your bedroom cool.” The ideal room temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’m just going to say it—LED lights are killing us. Here’s what my favorite sleep expert, Matthew Walker, PhD, has to say about it:
“The light receptors in the eye that communicate ‘daytime’ to the brain are most sensitive to short-wavelength light within the blue spectrum—the sweet spot where blue LEDs are most powerful. Which makes LED light twice as harmful to nighttime melatonin release as the warm yellow light from incandescent bulbs.”
This is why staring at an LED-powered laptop screen, smartphone, or tablet each night before bed is so harmful. The LED light is tricking your brain into thinking it’s daytime, so your body can’t prepare for sleep.
So, if you’re thinking, “It’s ok. I just use my iPad to read before bed. It’s just like reading a paperback anyway,” you’re super wrong.
In a study that compared reading a book on an iPad for several hours before bed and reading a printed book for several hours before bed, “reading on an iPad suppressed melatonin release by over 50% at night.” iPad readers’ melatonin peak didn’t occur until the early-morning hours, when it should peak around midnight.
Not only does screen use before bed delay the onset of sleep, it reduces sleep quality. Those who read on their iPad before bed had significantly less REM sleep, woke up less rested, and stayed sleepier throughout the day.
Walker also cites “a recent survey of over 15 hundred American adults found that 90% of individuals regularly used some form of portable electronic device 60 minutes before bedtime.”
I’m guessing you’re in the 90% of people who use screens before bed. I know I am. So, if we want to improve our sleep, we need to break the electronic habit before bed. It might be time to reintroduce ourselves to printed books.
A comfortable mattress and pillow are must-haves for a good night’s sleep. Between your mattress and pillow, you need to make sure you have the right amount of firmness and support for your sleep style—back, side, or stomach sleeper.
Remember, the most important thing is to keep your spine aligned while you sleep. Here’s a quick reference for your sleeping style:
Back Sleepers – Use a Medium Firm to Firm mattresses with light to moderate contouring.
Side Sleepers – Use a Medium Soft to Medium Firm mattresses to support shoulders and hips. And might I suggest a Pillow Cube for optimal spine alignment.
Stomach Sleepers – Use a Firm mattresses to avoid pressure on the lower back.
We spend a third of our lives sleeping, so it makes sense that we have a room in our homes dedicated to sleeping. But too often we treat our bedrooms like living rooms, gyms, offices, libraries, etc. It’s time to reclaim your bedroom as a place for sleep and get rid of all the other distractions.
Looking for more tips to improve your sleep? Here are past posts in our “12 Tips for Better Sleep” series:
Part 2—Exercise at the Right Time
Part 3—Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
Part 4—Avoid Drinking Alcohol
Part 7—Don’t Take Late Nap
Part 8—Relax Before BedPart 9—Take a Hot Bath or Shower