The Anatomy of the Perfect Bedroom, According to Sleep Experts

published Jul 26, 2021
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The Healthy Home Issue is an Apartment Therapy package dedicated to wellness where you live. We spoke with therapists, medical doctors, fitness experts, and more to put together a slew of health-focused tips and resources — find more feel-great insights here. 

Strong sleep hygiene means engaging in practices that encourage consistent, uninterrupted snoozing. And Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, and Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that includes how you design — and what you do inside — your bedroom. “Sleep is a performance activity, much like running, and if you run in your new shoes, with the right gear and music, you will likely perform better,” he explains. “The same holds true with sleep; if you have the right equipment and the right environment, you will probably sleep better.” 

So make no mistake: Your bedroom can have a huge impact on how well you sleep at night. “Creating a peaceful and calming sleep environment … helps you to get that deeper, more quality sleep that we all strive for,” says physician and certified sleep specialist Angela Holliday-Bell, M.D. “And [it] makes it easier to make the transition from sleep to wakefulness.” 

Curious what elements are essential to an excellent environment for ZZZs? From tips for keeping distracting lights at bay to cooling bedding ideas and more, here’s how experts say you can create the ideal bedroom for a good night’s sleep.

Credit: Lana Kenney

Keep It Light-Free

Whether it’s morning sunlight streaming in from your windows or the blue light from your smartphone screen, Dr. Holliday-Bell says too much light in your bedroom can wreak havoc on your slumber schedule. “Part of the way that our bodies prepare us for sleep is by releasing melatonin, which is a naturally occurring hormone produced in our brain to signal to our bodies that it’s time for sleep and allow us to make the transition from wakefulness,” she explains. “The blue wavelength of light has a significant effect on our natural melatonin by suppressing the release, sometimes by hours, making it much more difficult to transition to sleep when it’s time.” 

To ensure your room stays as dark as possible throughout the night, Dr. Holliday-Bell recommends hanging blackout curtains in your windows to help keep sunlight from streaming into your bedroom, and wearing a blackout sleep mask to bed to help block out any ambient light coming from inside the room.

“It’s also important to avoid all electronics, including television, smartphones, and laptops, one hour prior to bedtime, so that the blue light emitted from these electronics isn’t interfering with your melatonin release,” she says. “You can also use blue light filtering glasses one to two hours before bedtime, and many smartphones now come with a built-in blue light filter that can be programmed to turn on at a certain time.”

Soundproof the Room

If you live on a busy street, close to a train, or have a loud roommate who stays up late, Dr. Breus says that incorporating sound-quelling elements into your bedroom can help you score more restful sleep at night. “Whether it’s background noise or a snoring bed partner, sound can disrupt sleep,” he explains. “A white noise machine can help block out loud noises and create a quiet and peaceful sleep environment.” 

To reduce the amount of outside noise that enters your bedroom, start by sealing off any gaps or cracks around your windows with good old-fashioned weather tape. You can also insulate your walls with sound-absorbing acoustic panels, upholstered wallpaper, or large bookcases to help soften loud noises and vibrations so you can sleep more soundly. 

Lower the Temps (Just Enough)

You don’t want your bedroom to be too hot and humid or too frigid. Obviously preferences vary by person; the Cleveland Clinic and the Sleep Foundation both cite 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit as the ideal sleep temp range for adults.

No air conditioning in your bedroom? No problem. Cooling floor fans and portable AC units are surprisingly affordable and easy to come by. “You can also use cooling pillows to help keep your body temp down,” Dr. Holliday-Bell says.  

Spring for a Comfortable Mattress

According to the Sleep Foundation, using a mattress that provides enough comfort and support is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep.  While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the perfect mattress for your unique shuteye needs, Dr. Holliday-Bell says your preferred sleeping position can play a big part. “Generally speaking, if you’re a stomach sleeper, you should generally go for a firmer feel so that you don’t sink in and put too much pressure on your lower back,” she explains. “If you’re a back sleeper, you should go for a medium firm feel so that the back is supported enough without putting too much tension on the upper back and shoulders. Side sleepers tend to do better with medium soft mattresses as the softness helps to relieve the pressure points from the shoulders and hips.” 

If you have a bed mate who tends to toss and turn in their sleep, Dr. Holliday-Bell says you should also keep that in mind when shopping for a mattress. “You may want to consider a motion isolation mattress if the movement bothers you,” she explains. “And if you find yourself needing to sleep on multiple pillows at night, you might want a mattress that allows you to adjust angles such as the head and foot of the bed.”

Credit: Jill Ruzicka

Use Cushy Bed Coverings 

Few things send you off to slumberland faster than a bed dressed in buttery smooth bed linens, which is why Dr. Holliday-Bell says it’s important to invest in bedding that’s soft and comfortable to sleep in. “Generally speaking, when it comes to bedsheets, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheets,” she says. However, a sky-high thread count doesn’t necessarily translate to sky-high quality, and Dr. Holliday-Bell points out that “thread counts that are too high can actually make you hot, so it is recommended to stay somewhere between a 400 to 600 thread count.”  

Beyond the thread count, Dr. Holliday-Bell says you should take into account the materials your bed coverings are made of, especially if you run hot or cold while you sleep. “If you tend to run hot, then a light, breathable fabric such as cotton or linen would be more ideal,” she says. “If you tend to run cool, you can consider ones composed of denser weaves, like satin.” 

Cut Down on Clutter 

Messy bedrooms can trigger feelings of alertness and anxiety, so Salma Patel, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine recommends keeping your sleep space as clean and organized as possible. “Piles of unfinished laundry, visible to-do lists, and other forms of clutter can be stimulating,” she warns. “They remind you of work that needs to be done, which can make it harder to fall asleep.”

To free your bedroom of unnecessary visual clutter and create a more serene sleeping space, start by clearing all the surfaces of decorative items, like artwork, candles, lamps, pictures, and trinket trays. Then, only add back pieces that provide a specific function or purpose. This way, your bedroom will still supply pops of visual interest without hindering your sleep quality. 

Maintain a Designated Shuteye Space

Whether you’re eating dinner or working from home in bed, Dr. Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor says using your bedroom for non-snooze-related purposes can make it harder to fall asleep. “Keep work out of the bedroom or at least sequestered to a specific area,” she advises. “The idea is to feel relieved and pleased to get to go to bed, and being reminded of daytime activities while you’re in your bedroom can make it harder to get into sleep mode.” 

If your bedroom doubles as a home office, or you live in an open studio apartment, consider sectioning off your bed zone with a room divider or ceiling-mounted curtains to indicate a dedicated sleeping space. Other division options include canopy bed curtains, folding screens, and tall bookcases with open shelves. 

Apartment Therapy’s Healthy Home Issue was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Dyson.