Sleep is often overlooked in favour of those things we do during our conscious hours. We feel that we can’t control it, we desire less of it in the quest for productivity, but that mindset—says sleep scientist Matthew Walker—is killing us. “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life,” he says in his four-years-in-the-making book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.
Until recently, scientists hadn’t spent an awful lot of time researching the benefits of sleep, such is our human precondition to ignore the most restorative process our bodies and minds demand. Now, though, scientists like Walker have begun to solve the mystery that caused him to abandon research in dementia more than two decades ago: why do we sleep? Thousands of studies later, we are not asking what sleep is good for—rather whether there are any biological functions not benefited by a good night’s sleep.
“Emerging from this research renaissance is an unequivocal message,” says the professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, “sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day—Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death. Unfortunately, the real evidence that makes clear all of the dangers that befall individuals and societies when sleep becomes short have not been clearly telegraphed to the public. It is the most glaring omission in the contemporary health conversation.”
As a result of the public’s blasé attitude toward sleep, we live in a culture blind to the value of ‘Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death’. Walker believes we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” Thanks to this, we’re regularly doing things that are anti-sleep. From reading our phones and tablets in bed—blue light from devices has been proven to interfere with our body’s ability to sync with the circadian clock—to keeping our bedrooms too warm (the body needs to cool in order to sleep), our ignorance to the importance of sleep means we are actively hampering our chances of getting enough.
Of all the tools we have at our disposal to improve our sleep—meditation; a better routine; darkness to aid the release of melatonin; avoiding alcohol and caffeine; to not stay in bed awake—perhaps one of the most surprising is to look to the pages of interior design magazines for inspiration. Your bedroom decor could play a big role in helping you achieve the sleep goals Matthew Walker thinks you should be hitting to live a longer and healthier life.
Naturally, for those looking to interior design to aid them in their quest for better sleep, your bed is the first place to start. An expensive investment, most people are sleeping on woefully outdated mattresses. Should we put a price on living longer? First thing’s first: get the right size, being cramped into a small bed can increase your body temperature—look to queen mattress dimensions as a minimum. Don’t skimp, look for a manufacturer of high-quality, hand-crafted mattresses, DreamCloud for example use eight meticulously chosen layers of premium materials in achieving their 15 inches of scientifically optimised sleep-enhancing luxury—from a Cashmere polyester blend cover through to the high density memory foam foundation, each layer is another step closer to the perfect sleep.
Level are another premium mattress brand, their Level Sleep Chiropractic Partner programme meaning their patented designs are clinically proven to reduce pain and stiffness; 10 years of development, independent clinical trials, and multiple patents deliver what they call ‘the best sleep in your life.’ And it’s not just the mattress, make sure you research the right duvet and pillow for you, whilst frames like Nectar’s queen platform bed with headboard—with super soft button-tufted upholstery—help provide a solid base for your luxury mattress; and importantly add to a sense of security.
With cave-dwelling still in our DNA, a solid headboard flush to the wall and facing the door will rid us from the sense that somebody could enter the room from behind or beside you. The bed frame’s legs allow the floor to flow below the bed, another factor in creating a harmonious feng shui energy.
Next you’ll want to think about colours and textures. There is a tendency to lean toward simple, often all-white interiors, but the starkness of such design can have a negative impact upon our mood. And in turn our sleep. Think about hues like greens, blues, yellows and warm pinks; all known to foster a relaxing effect, ergo perfect for the interior design of our bedrooms. Textures too are vital—cotton, satin, or linen? What does your skin respond better to? Understanding this and considering which fabrics feel best to your skin can make for a comfier, and therefore better, night’s sleep. You might want to even think about using textured wall-coverings to add a certain cosiness; your bedroom should serve as a cocoon from the stresses of modern life.
As meditation helps declutter the mind, so too must we couple that with the physical. “Physical clutter causes mental clutter, which activates the brain and negatively impacts sleep,” says Dr. Emerson Wickwire, assistant professor of psychiatry and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “After all, think about it—would you pile dirty clothes or paperwork in your place of worship?” Equally, busy fabrics, wallpaper, or carpet and rugs can contribute to this sense of clutter. Keep it simple.
Layout and decor improved, another vital component in good sleep health is lighting—whether its the need for black-out curtains to ensure streetlights don’t keep you awake or the sun doesn’t wake you too early, or using lower lighting to create a sleepy space, in an age of darkness deprivation, you need to get lighting right. Think about adding dimmable switches or looking to table and floor lamps or wall lights over spotlights, it’s about creating the right atmosphere—one conducive to good sleep—and ambient lighting is key to keeping your circadian rhythm in tune.
Oft-overlooked in the world of interiors is the sense of smell. From lavender linen sprays that aid relaxation to scented candles that enhance the atmosphere of your bedroom, adding aroma into the mix is another way to achieve the sense of calm your space needs to help you make the most of ‘Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death’. To that extent, soothing sounds can complete the set of senses—ditch the television, leave the smartphones and tablets out of the room, and reach for the New Age sounds. If you want to keep electrics out of the room altogether, what about opting for the real thing and buying a feng shui fountain?
Bedrooms are your most personal space, a place to take refuge from the real world, overlooking its interior design for the on-show public spaces of your home is another indicator of our predisposition to belittle the benefits of sleep—as the space where we will spend our mind and body’s most important hours, bedroom design should be the most important. After all, it can help us live a longer and more enriched life. Invest in high-quality beds and mattresses, consider the importance of fabrics and textures, opt for the colours that make us feel peaceful, and don’t forget to communicate to your other senses.
Make your sleep space the best it can be, and better sleep will reward you with the countless benefits Matthew Walker extols. Interior design might be a life or death situation.