This Sleep Scientist’s Stylish Home Tour Is Full of Tips for Getting Better Rest

published Feb 23, 2022

This Sleep Scientist’s Stylish Home Tour Is Full of Tips for Getting Better Rest

published Feb 23, 2022
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Name: Vanessa Hill, with husband, Kevin Allocca, and labradoodle, Luna
Location: Brooklyn, NYC
Size: 900 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years lived in: 6 months, renting

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After returning to New York City after a year away, behavioral scientist and science communicator, Vanessa Hill, and her husband settled into this apartment in a tall Brooklyn building. “I’m on a high floor with floor-to-ceiling windows, so I adore the abundance of natural light and the quietness (which are both important for sleep quality!),” she writes.

Credit: Erin Derby

Vanessa, whose research area is sleep and psychology, is the creator of BrainCraft, a popular YouTube channel that explores psychology, neuroscience, and self-development, (and has nearly 600,000 subscribers), as well as the creator of the YouTube Originals special “Sleeping with Friends,” which is a reality show aimed at improving sleep.

“I spend a lot of time sharing how people can improve their health and wellness. Sleep is as important for your health as food and physical activity, yet we don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about it,” she writes. “I aim to bridge the gap between scientific research and people’s daily well-being, and I’m passionate about creating media that promotes health, sleep, and behavior change.”

Credit: Erin Derby

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Mid-century modern meets functional WFH

Inspiration: Stunning mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs, plus every chair in the MoMA collection. I love chairs. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Favorite Element: We have a view of Manhattan from all of our windows. I love being able to see the city, but enjoy living in a quieter neighborhood. 

Biggest Challenge: Having a space where two people work from home, live, and sleep. I’ve created a separate work area with artwork, plants, and rugs. I’ve used bold wallpaper to create a different feel in the living room. I’m fastidious about tech boundaries, and try really hard to keep work and the internet out of the bedroom (it’s a constant battle). 

Credit: Erin Derby

Proudest DIY: The peel-and-stick wallpaper in the living room. I spent six hours on top of a step ladder installing it, and it was a weirdly difficult ab workout. 

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I have a collection of old tech I keep in the bedroom as sleep aids. An old TV, a Kindle, an old iPad loaded with podcasts and meditations. Basically, things that don’t connect to the internet and aren’t too visually absorbing. I use them to help me wind down, fall asleep, and fall back asleep if I wake up during the night. I also set up surround sound white noise in the bedroom, using old Google Home smart speakers. 

Outside of the bedroom, just the usual challenges of being in a NYC apartment. I use a wardrobe as a voice-over booth and a medicine cabinet to store tools and film equipment.

Credit: Erin Derby

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? After having a “digital nomad” break working remotely last year, I realized that it’s the little things that count, rather than larger furniture items. My favorite products are: 

  • Blackout blinds and a retractable curtain rod — they’ve been essential in three different apartments over five years. 
  • A variety of dimmable lamps — I have them on a timer to wind down for bed
  • And a Pilates chair — I went all in at the start of the pandemic and I’m obsessed with stretching.
Credit: Erin Derby

What are people getting wrong when it comes to designing a space that prioritizes good sleeping habits? There’s been a push for “tech-free bedrooms” to improve our sleep. Yes, tech isn’t great for sleep. But it’s such an ingrained part of our lives that it’s unrealistic to keep every piece of technology out of our bedrooms. And then when we do use devices in bed, we can experience feelings of guilt and shame — which are even worse for our health. 

The best thing you can do is re-think how you’re using technology before or in bed — is it in a passive or interactive way? Keeping your phone on your bedside table or using your phone as an alarm are interactive, distracting, and can re-engage our brain as we check social media or work emails. 

I have a phone-free bedroom, but keep an old iPad loaded with sleep meditations and podcasts by my bed, so I have something to use as a sleep aid. Watching relaxing TV (as long as you’re not binging something) can be a good strategy too. 

Credit: Erin Derby

What are essential elements people should consider incorporating when designing their bedroom for sleep? Consider light and noise — they can really affect the quality of your sleep. Blackout blinds can be easy to install (even in a rental!). A white noise machine (or smart speaker) can help disguise noise from the street, hallways, partners, or pets to minimize nighttime wake-ups. Having a dimmable lamp can allow your body to best produce the melatonin it needs to fall asleep — bright house lights can interfere with this process. A lot of advertising and marketing convinces us that we need sleep supplements, when a lot of these small behavioral changes can make a better impact. 

What about for people that REALLY have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep? If you’re having trouble falling asleep, really focus on a wind-down routine. If you don’t have one or don’t have much time, even developing a short one can help. Take a look at your caffeine intake — 50 percent of the caffeine in an afternoon coffee can still be floating around in your system 8-10 hours later. If you have trouble staying asleep, really pay attention to light and noise and try to minimize disruptions (even with an eye mask or ear plugs) so you’re not waking up as much. Meditations do exist for falling BACK to sleep (to play these use a smart speaker or old device with no social media/email apps on it). 

Credit: Erin Derby

More than anything, be kind to yourself! We all have trouble sleeping from time to time, and beating ourselves up about it doesn’t help. It’s normal. If you feel like it’s happening too much, chat to your healthcare provider. Many people don’t realize that the gold standard for treating insomnia is a type of therapy, rather than sleeping tablets. Therapy is incredible, and it works for sleep too. 

What about for people who don’t have trouble getting to sleep… are there still things that they should do to their bedroom?  Still think about sleep quality — are the hours you’re getting the best they can be? Things like physical activity or some movement during the day, the temperature in your bedroom (60-66 degrees F is ideal), and still having a wind-down routine can lead to more restorative sleep.

Bedroom Resources

Credit: Erin Derby
  • Tall Contemporary Storage Bed in Mustard Yellow Tweed — West Elm
  • Gemini 5-Drawer Dresser — West Elm
  • Gemini Night Stand — West Elm
  • Philips Smartsleep sunrise wake up alarm clock
  • Google Nest Hub 2nd Generation with sleep sensing (used for white noise)
  • When I moved to NYC I didn’t have a large budget for bedding. I bought a cheaper mattress, pillow, and blackout blinds online, and after five years everything is still so functional and comfortable.
  • Mattress — Amazon
  • Pillows — Amazon
  • Blinds — Amazon

Thanks Vanessa!

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.