Getting the proper amount of sleep is vital to a person’s well-being and ability to thrive. However, for a variety of reasons many people do not get enough nightly sleep, and as a result keep themselves from reaping the total package of benefits that can come from exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet…
Rather than address the myriad reasons that people can’t/don’t get enough rest, let’s look at what can be done to create an environment in which it’s possible to get the most sleep possible. Realize that while guidelines call for 8 hours of sleep per night, this is just an average and that everyone has specific, genetically determined sleep needs. Determining exactly how much sleep an individual needs is a complex endeavor, however, there are some basic steps that everyone can take to help get as much sleep as is needed.
There are four factors that need to be considered in order to create this “sleep-friendly” environment: dark, quiet, cool and comfortable. Regardless of our ability to adjust to sleeping in places where it’s noisy, light, hot, etc., we still need to do everything possible to create an optimal sleeping environment.
Darkness is one of the most important – if not the most important – external influences that can affect our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are the routine changes in our mental and physical characteristics that manifest over the course of a day. Our body’s biological clock – technically called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN – controls the circadian rhythm, and is extremely sensitive to light.
Without getting technical, when it comes to sleep, dark is good. Darkness signals the brain that sleep should occur, which is why us Northeasterners get so cranky in the fall when the clocks get turned back and it gets dark at 5:00 PM. People who are totally blind typically have problems sleeping precisely because their retinas cannot detect light.
Some people may be more sensitive to light than others, and one person can sleep with the television on while the light coming from a clock radio bothers another person. For those of you who have a problem falling asleep, check to make sure that your bedroom is dark enough, and that a simple adjustment to the direction that your clock radio faces can have a positive effect on your ability to fall asleep.
Depending on where you live and the sleeping habits of your family members, noise can be a huge problem. Those of you who are single and live alone probably aren’t sleeping in an environment where noise is a problem. And even if you live in a city where there is a lot of nighttime activity, or have noisy roommates, earplugs or a fan are usually enough to block out the sounds of those things that go bump, bang and woo-woo in the night.
Parents have it a little tougher, as young kids are prone to waking up at all hours of the night and Mom and Dad need to be able to hear the pleas of their little ones. Earplugs might not be suitable for those of us who have small children, but sometimes a fan or white noise machine can block out bothersome noise and help you fall asleep while allowing you to hear your children.
When it comes to creating a sleep-friendly environment, cooler is better. While there is no hard and fast rule on the subject a temperature of approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for inducing sleep. Certainly, as in all matters related to sleeping environment, there are slight variations to all of these recommendations for creating the ideal sleep conditions, but a room that’s either too hot or too cold can make it hard to fall asleep. Being aware that the proper temperature can help you to fall asleep can help you to create the best sleeping environment possible.
The bed, the final piece of the puzzle. When you realize that you spend more time in your bed than in any other one place or position during the day, you understand the importance of having a comfortable mattress and pillow. Research has shown that people move as many as 60 times during a night of sleep, so having a mattress that’s big enough to move around in will help you stay asleep. When it comes to mattresses, size matters.
It sounds silly, but I think people underestimate the importance of having a bed and pillow that’s totally comfortable. You can be in a dark, quiet, cool room but if you feel like you are sleeping on the hood of a car you probably won’t get much sleep. So take your time and research the many different mattress types available on the market today, as there is definitely a right mattress for everyone.
Understanding that these factors – darkness, quiet, temperature and comfort – all have an impact on your ability to fall asleep can help you to develop a routine that will allow you to get the amount of sleep that’s best for you.