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10 ways to set up your bedroom for sleep

BY DR. PANCH PAUL, MD*

Many of us are homebound these days due to the coronavirus epidemic. Staying at home all day has some adverse side effects. One of them is insomnia.

About two-thirds of all the patients I treat suffer from sleep problems, half of the medications I prescribe are related to sleep, and one-third of my time with the patient is spent on educating him/her on healthy sleep habits. Each person’s insomnia has different reasons. Some are psychological, some physical, and some are environmental. I have found that it is much easier and quicker to modify the environment around you than modify your mental or physical condition.

Humans, like other animals, thrive when they have a set routine and habits. The body has an unconscious brain that is influenced by the environmental cues, and the body will respond to those stimuli without any conscious interference. For example, the aroma of your favorite dish will have you salivating even before you taste the food. Similarly, the sight of your loved ones will bring tender feelings in your mind, which is why we value family pictures. Likewise, one can set up the bedroom in such a way that as soon as you lay on the bed, the body will crave sleep.

Here are ten ways to set up your bedroom for sleep.

Sanctuary: Treat your bedroom as a sacred sleep sanctuary. If you have the option, stay outside your bedroom. Whatever work you have to do, do it in the living room, or outside, or anywhere other than the bedroom. Do not sit on the bed or lie down on the bed during the day. Keep your bedroom clean. If possible, try to eliminate as much stuff as possible from the bedroom.

Journaling: When the time comes to sleep, and you go to the bedroom, your mind should be blank; free of all the thoughts—the only thing allowed is a notebook and pen. If you have recurring thoughts, write them down, if you want to plan for the next day, write them down. If you are grieving about past trauma, write down the lessons learned. If you feel too much negativity, make a list of positive things in your life, and count your blessings and express gratitude. Write them down. In the past, I have recommended journaling can be done on bed. Now I do not, as the writing on the bed will interfere with sleep response. Do your journaling in the bedroom, but out of bed- may be sitting on a chair or floor. Use the bed only for sleep, massage, and love.

Time: Get in your bed about 30 minutes before you plan to sleep. As you lay in bed, relax and get your body accustomed to sleep. It’s better to use an evening alarm to remind you that it’s time to go to bed. Try avoiding sleeping too late at night as it will disrupt your hormones and make you age faster. The body needs to be in a deep sleep in the middle of the night around 12 PM -4 AM as its the time for the release of testosterone, melatonin, prolactin, growth, and thyroid hormones. Ideally, if your goal is to sleep eight hours at night, and you plan to leave for work at 8 AM, and then you need to be in your bedroom by 10 PM.

Lighting: Avoid all white light, blue light, fluorescent lights in the bedroom. Red incandescent lights are ideal as they will not interfere with circadian rhythm. You can get them through Amazon. If not, drape a red fabric around the lamp. Do not do any prolonged reading or writing on the bed. Ideally, make the room pitch dark within 30 minutes of getting into the bed. You can use eclipse curtains, which blocks 100 percent light to make your room totally dark.

Breathing: Always breathe through the nose. When we breathe through the mouth, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which disrupts sleep. Inhale in four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale in eight counts. This slow exhalation will calm the brain and activate the parasympathetic system, which will promote sleep. You can also visualize yourself standing on top and climbing down the stairs with each breath as you go down and deep in a state of somnolence. 

Temperature: There is no ideal temperature for sleep. However, the bedroom temperature should be lower than the daytime temperature. If your office blasts high air-conditioning during the summer days, then you have to ensure that your bedroom remains as cold, if not colder. Most US houses are temperature controlled. Whatever you use, ensure the bedroom remains cooler.

Sound: Many people sleep better with ambient noise. The options are to use a white noise device or play the noise through your phone. However, if you use your phone, ensure it is in the airplane mode to minimize radiation. I use a table fan near my head. Not only does it keep air circulating, but it also provides a constant noise. Some find playing relaxing music aid them in sleep. Playing music through the phone in bed is a big no because invariably, you will be tempted to check your email or Facebook. You can use relaxing instrumental music at a low volume, but make sure no light is coming out from the device, and it’s better if it turns off automatically in an hour. I prefer white noise over music.

Belongings: Avoid all work inside the bedroom if you have other space. Do not keep your computer, laptop, phone inside the bedroom- nothing that reminds you of work. Flowers, nature-paintings, family photos are excellent. In case the bedroom is also your only private place, workspace, gym, or home office- then you need to plan differently. Avoid any work from the bed. Get down on the floor or use a desk. Hopefully, all errands are over by 8 PM. Now prepare the space for sleep. Shut down all electronic devices. Unplug them. Use a storage bin or the drawers and put all your stuff hidden from plain sight. Out of sight, out of mind. All work-related books and journals should be stowed away appropriately.

Cleanliness: The bedsheets and pillows should be comfortable. Use clean sheets and clean clothes at night. I prefer light natural colors like white, sky-blue, light green, light brown, which has a soothing and calming effect. Take a brief cold shower before bed to lower your body temperature as you get ready for sleep. Make sure there’s nothing on the bed like a book, paper, toy, mobile, etc. Make sure nothing is on the floor as it interferes with the energy flow at night. Make it a habit to clean and organize at least your bedroom every night before sleep.

Aroma: Pleasing and relaxing smells are good for sleep. You have to try different fragrances and see which suits you better. Lavender, lemon, sandalwood, frankincense, valerian are good options. I got a small piece of sandalwood from India that my mother gave to me. I smell it sometimes as I reminisce about my childhood in India.

In summary, you can condition your body to feel sleepy as you enter the bedroom. Thus, one can bypass the obsessive and anxious circuits in the brain, which keeps one awake at night.  I try to follow them personally. But over time, break a few rules here and there, and after a few days, sleep problems ensue. The best way to make it a habit is to write them down and stick on your bedroom wall, preferably at a corner. Check the list every evening, and only hit the bed when the bedroom is ready for sleep.


*Dr. Panchajanya ‘Panch’ Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA – is triple Board certified – Child, Adult, and Holistic Psychiatrist; and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Panch Paul is the medical director of the Southern Live Oak Wellness, and Atlanta Recovery Center. Dr. Paul holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University, University of Georgia, and the University of Central Florida. He has authored several articles, research, and two books – Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon. To schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul – call 678-250-8883 or email panchpaulmd@gmail.com.

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