Despite the risk of stating the obvious, there’s something many of us need to hear. The primary purpose of your bedroom is to help you sleep comfortably. The central feature of any bedroom should be the bed.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t read in bed from time to time. There’s nothing illegal or even embarrassing about having a small desk along one wall or a mounted television for late-night viewing or even that exercise bike you seriously intend to use again someday.
We too often lose sight of the most central function of this room, despite the fact that its central element is boldly proclaimed in the name: “bedroom.” Literally, “room of the bed.” It would perhaps behoove us, then, to revisit some practical considerations as to how this most abused of rooms can (or even should) be designed.
Give Us This Day a Comfy Bed
There are items in the home for which you must balance a budget with style, or affordability with comfort. Your mattress is not one of these. While you certainly don’t need to spend a year’s salary on the most advanced Selecto-foam body-shaping temperature-adjusting back-massaging gold-leafed queen-sized, neither should you skimp on your mattress.
You spend around a third of your life relying on this miraculous creation to comfort, protect, and re-energize you. You throw your entire body weight on it every 24 hours, rolling about repeatedly in the middle of each night, yet you expect it to feel and behave essentially the same after five years as it did after five days.
We don’t ask that of our cars or personal computers, and they cost quite a bit more.
Take your time mattress shopping. Do some research online. Read reviews. There’s no substitute, however, for visiting several stores and trying them out. No point being shy – flop yourself down on each possibility, just as if you were turning in for the night. Turn a bit, and feel the way each mattress does or doesn’t respond to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Why is this one more expensive than that one? What sort of guarantee does this come with? What sort of feedback have you had from previous customers? Can I sleep here for a few nights and see if I really like it? (OK, maybe not that last one…)
You’ve probably noticed more and more mattresses being offered with a money-back guarantee of some sort in the first month – sometimes even longer. If you’re not in love with your mattress within a couple of weeks, you won’t be more in love with it in a couple of months. Send it back and keep trying. It’s worth the extra effort.
If you simply can’t afford the mattress you’d really like, look into bed toppers – they can be surprisingly effective, and aren’t nearly as expensive as a quality mattress. The right sheets, blanket, pillows, and comforter matter a great deal as well. It’s not about going overboard or following any particular rule for how much you should have piled on your bed or what it should all look like. It’s about being willing to experiment a little until you find something truly comfortable for you.
Which, come to think of it, is a good general rule for the rest of the house as well.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
Here’s another bit of breakthrough insight: we sleep better when it’s dark.
That’s not to say we don’t sometimes fall asleep with the TV on or with our reading light still shining on our fallen book. Some of us actually find it easier to drift off when we have such distractions; otherwise, our mind takes its own path and starts running us through the day’s worries and every possible unpleasant outcome for the next decade or two until we’re not only wide-awake, but thoroughly depressed and terrified.
But we’re simply not made to sleep with visual stimuli, well, visually stimulating us.
The human body operates with what’s called a “circadian rhythm.” It’s a 24-hour internal clock that’s perpetually running in the background of your brain and cycles between alertness and fogged-over exhaustion at more-or-less predictable times each day.
If you naturally wake up at 5:00 a.m. every morning, with or without an alarm and whether or not you were up late the night before, that’s partly because of your circadian rhythm. If you have trouble waking up before 9:00 no matter how much sleep you’ve had, it’s for the same reason. You know that lull right after lunchtime? That’s part of it. It’s also why it’s so much more difficult for most people to be fully alert at 3:00 a.m.
It’s internally regulated and, therefore, a little different for everyone, but guess what the most powerful external stimuli is for shifting you from sleepiness to wakiness or back to sleepiness again?
Yep, it’s light. And it doesn’t have to be full sunlight or light-switches-up, either. The glow from your LED clock, your charging cell phone, nightlights, or outside sources coming through the window can be enough to start poking at your hypothalamus and telling it to wake up the rest of your biology.
Consider traditional alarm clocks with a big hand a little hand – the kind which can’t double as a flashlight. If you live in town and outside light is an issue, find thicker, darker curtains that match your interior. And if you can’t make it from your bed to the bathroom without a nightlight because you’ll run into or trip over something, well, in that case, we have a different kind of problem. One we’ll get to in a moment.
You may be thinking right now that the light doesn’t bother you. Are you sure? Unless you wake up each and every day feeling energized, well-rested, revitalized, and ready to take on the world, maybe you shouldn’t be so sure. Try sleeping in darkness for a few weeks and see if you can tell a difference. THEN you can argue with science.
Welcome to the Jungle
Here’s a major factor in restfulness and bedroom design that won’t cost you a cent: Pick up your mess.
Sure, life can be complicated, and you may not live at the corner of Cleanliness Ave. and Godliness St. Whatever the rest of the house looks like, however, consider prioritizing your bedroom as somewhere to keep clutter-free.
If you can’t get the laundry put up, leave it in the laundry room until you can. If you eat in the bedroom (god forbid), make sure your dishes and trash are returned or disposed of somewhere else. There’s simply no reason for what is by nature intended to be the most peaceful room in the house look like a tornado swept through while you were asleep, and you missed it. Take a few moments and find somewhere else for your tennis rackets, those puzzle books, and all that stuff you keep meaning to return to the store.
As long as you’re at it, it probably wouldn’t hurt to vacuum. I’m just sayin’.
Plants, on the other hand, can be calming and stimulate a mild “return to nature” thing that seems to offer some sort of primal comfort to many of us, whether we think of ourselves as “outdoor types” or not. As long as they’re not between you and your destination, a small, practical plant or two might add a nice element to the room.
It’s not just about being neat or stubbing your toe in the wee hours of the morning (although that’s about as not-relaxing as you can get). It’s about an atmosphere and overall feeling of a room.
Color My World
There’s a time and a place for eclectic furniture, bold colors, daring, attention-grabbing designs. Your bedroom at night probably isn’t one of them.
Like light or sound, vibrant colors trigger certain reactions in our physiology. You’ve probably noticed how many fast food places emphasize reds, yellows, and oranges? Those colors have been shown to raise blood pressure and increase our breathing rates, which in turn promotes hunger and a craving to say things like “supersize, please.” Yellow in the home, however, tends to go badly. Some studies suggest people are more likely to lose their temper in yellow settings, and babies cry more often.
Medical facilities prefer soft colors – creams, light blues, greens, or pinks, etc. They’re presumed to be calming. Soft blues, in particular, promote lower heartrates and decreased breathing, making them an excellent bedroom color choice. Lighter greens and most pastels work as well. If you simply must have bright colors, consider fancy pillows or wacky art in the bathroom.
Baby, It’s Cold Inside
You’ve probably noticed that most of us sleep better when it’s a bit cooler, and yet we don’t like to be cold. Hence the dilemma of the covers, in which we turn down the thermostat at night, so the house is cooler, then add more blankets so we won’t be cold. The trick is to find a balance that works for everyone who happens to be in bed with you at the moment.
Some people sleep better with a fan on, although this isn’t always about the air circulation. The sound of the fan provides white noise that helps calm the mind and screen out other small but distracting noises in or around the house. There are also “sounds of nature” CDs or electronic white noise devices. Once again, it’s all about what works for you.
Our final bit of advice circles back around to the obvious. Bedrooms are for sleeping. The best way to “get sleepy” is to stop doing “wakey wakey” things.
In other words, if you know you should be getting to sleep soon, turn off your computer, your music, and the television (especially if it’s on the news). If you want to read in bed, make sure it’s not something important to remember or assigned for work or school. The thing about not going to bed mad comes into play here as well – try to save heavy discussions for earlier in the evening or the next morning.
What relaxes you? What helps you clear your mind? What brings you peace? That’s what you should be doing or thinking about before bed – at least if sleeping is your goal.
If you’re not sure what you want your bedroom to look like in order to make it more relaxing while still looking, like you – don’t be afraid to simply visit an interesting furniture store or two and see what grabs you. While there are some general guidelines to keep in mind, in the end, you have to figure out what works best for you and go with it.
If you’re not sure where to start, give us a call. We might know a place. Wait until morning, though – we’re pretty tired, and I think it’s best we turn in.