Sometimes it takes more than being tired to fall asleep. Relaxation techniques can help you sleep more soundly, but don’t stop there. Creating the right atmosphere in your bedroom will also lead to better sleep.
The ultimate sleep setting starts with a comfortable bed — good pillows and a blanket or comforter make your bed more inviting. You also want to set the right mood to help you sleep.
The Root of Sleep Problems
People have trouble sleeping for many reasons. Barbara Phillips, MD, director of the University of Kentucky Good Samaritan Sleep Center in Lexington, speculates that sleep problems may have to do with human instinct and the need to survive.
"Difficulty sleeping is a normal reaction to stress and to an unhealthy or dangerous environment," Dr. Phillips says. This probably gave our ancestors a survival advantage when the greatest risk to their well-being was being attacked at night, whether by saber-toothed tigers or enemy tribes.
How does that affect your sleep today? "We are probably hardwired not to sleep as well when there are problems in our lives," says Phillips. "This may be part of the reason that insomnia is often associated with stress, depression, and anxiety." Being physically uncomfortable when trying to sleep can make it even harder.
How to Sleep Well: Creating Your Sleep Haven
The right sleep environment is essential to set the stage for better sleep. Give your bedroom a makeover with these tips:
- Set an appropriate noise level. Certain sounds may annoy you at night, while having your room too quiet can also affect your ability to sleep. White noise is purposeful noise — usually a steady, low-level background sound — that blocks out distracting sounds. Try running a fan at night or playing a CD of soothing sounds, like rain or ocean waves — whatever relaxes you.
- Check the temperature. It can be difficult to sleep in a room that’s too hot or too cold. The right temperature depends on your personal comfort level. Find out what makes you most comfortable in bed so that you don't wake up sweating or shivering.
- Make a comfortable bed. When you slip into bed at the end of a long day, it should feel welcoming, luxurious, and relaxing. Clean, soft sheets, blankets or a comforter, and pillows are a given. But also make sure that your mattress is in good shape and has the level of firmness you need.
- Turn out the lights. Exposure to plenty of sunlight during the day can help you sleep better at night, but you want your room as dark as possible while you sleep. Hang curtains or shades designed with a backing material that blocks outside lights and early morning sunlight, or consider sleeping with an eye mask.
- Limit bedroom activities. When you work, watch TV, or play on the computer in bed, it stimulates you and negatively affects your ability to sleep. Learning to associate your bedroom with only sleep and sex will help you fall asleep and sleep better when you’re in your bed.
- Give yourself some space. Partners, cats, and dogs can lay claim to space on your bed, snore, and generally disrupt your sleep. If your partner’s snoring interferes with your sleep, talk about solutions to get it under control. If you have pets, consider keeping them out of your bedroom at night.
Sleep is a necessity, and it should be restorative. It can also be enjoyable. Create a tranquil sleep environment so that you can sink into a deep, restful sleep easily each night.