“That heaven upon earth to the weary head”. – Thomas Hood
We have heard it said that nearly 1/3 of our lives are spent in bed. That statistic may seem hard to believe when most of us feel there are not enough hours in a day. But the one thing all human beings need is sleep and time spent in slumber can have huge impact on everything from mood to physical appearance and overall well- being. Deficits in sleep can affect our performance at work or school and even impact relationships.
The importance of sleep has been studied from all angles. Sleep researchers examine sleep patterns, sleep interruption and brain activity. Mattress manufacturers apply technology to maximize the comfort of the surfaces we sleep on. Even the pharmaceutical companies are there when all else fails, to lull us into precious sleep with a plethora of over the counter sleep aids. So much emphasis is put on the physical act of sleep that we forget to indulge in the experience of going to bed.
Anyone who has ever spent the night at my home knows there is no higher compliment I can be paid than guests sleeping late. Even early risers comment in disbelief that they’ve slept well past the break of day. My secret? Comfortably appointed beds, soothing décor and comfy robes and slippers that prepare for slumber. Preparing for slumber transitions the body and mind from the breakneck pace of the day to the restful, rejuvenate world of sleep. Creating an environment that feels snuggly and secure, and maybe even a little indulgent, has great impact on how we feel as we are readying for asleep and how we feel when we awaken.
How can we have the expectation of great sleep when we do nothing to prepare the environment for the experience?
The National Sleep Foundation did a survey to find out what people considered important to getting a good nights sleep. Not surprisingly, 93% rated the comfort of their mattress as key. I’ve actually been thinking that the mattress and/or boxspring that make up our beds might just be the most important piece of furniture in our homes. Think about all the experiences we have in a bed – sleeping, cuddling, quiet reading, television watching and being intimate. It’s also the only place we want to be when we’re not feeling well. It is the place we yearn for after a long day or when we need some alone time. Given this, I’d contend that our beds, more than any other purchase we make, directly impacts the physical and mental states we find ourselves in the rest of the day. It stands to reason that this should be a quality purchase.
And no bed is complete without good quality pillows. These filled sacks cradle our precious heads and necks and it’s a job that should not be entrusted to a case stuffed with shredded foam. Ideally, a mix of soft and firmer pillows, whether down or synthetic fill, allows for support while reading, watching television or putting out the zzzz’s. Some even like the look and plush feel of additional decorative pillows. They are also easily switched out seasonally or on a whim to change the bed experience.
Sheets are also a huge part of our experience in bed, as they touch our skin and provide a tactile experience. Many people get hung up on thread count, which is a specification of threads per square inch. A misconception is that a higher thread count is indicative of better quality and comfort, but that’s actually not the case. Personally, I find a100% cotton fabric content and a mid range thread count (about 350-400) to be ideal. I can still remember with vivid detail a miserable night spent at the home of a friend who used sheets made of synthetic fibers. The sheets weren’t able to wick away moisture and body heat and the processed fabric was very scratchy. That was over 20 years ago and I still remember yearning to be in my own bed.
An end table is also part of the pre-bedtime routine because if it’s proximity to the bed. Typically, it holds things we may need while lying in bed, i.e. a good bedside lamp, remote controls, reading glasses or paper and pen. It may also hold the items needed for falling asleep or waking, like an alarm clock or a sound machine. Bedside tables don’t need knick-knacks or other items not related to sleep. These extraneous items can leave the area around the bed cluttered and detract from the feeling of calm and relaxation needed to get a good nights sleep.
Stepping in and out of the bed is also something to consider. The first and last thing we feel when entering or exiting bed is the floor beneath our feet. Since the transition from the horizontal non-weight bearing position of slumber to the full weight bearing position of standing erect happens on feet full of nerve endings, the experience is a tactile one. I have some clients that love the stimulating feel of sisal underfoot and others still that love a plush, velvety feel. Whatever you choose, make sure it is a sensation that feels pleasing to your piggies.
Another variable to the experience of going to bed is not a physical item at all. It is the temperature setting in the room. Some, like myself, prefer a room that feels like an icebox, making the warmth under the blankets that much more enveloping. Others prefer full pajamas, a down comforter and a thermostat set to that of an August heat wave. The presence or absence of light coming into the room may also send signals to the brain about whether it is time to sleep or wake. For those that are light sensitive a room darkening shade or black out lining may be the answer to controlling the light that can hamper or interrupt precious sleep.
Last, but perhaps of most importance, is the need to have our bedrooms be clean and free of dust and clutter. Clothes should be put away or in the hamper so the eye has little to stop and ponder. When that happens the brains starts to stress and kick into gear, which is the last thing we want when preparing for rest. Bed linens should always be fresh and ready to envelop the body and starting to lull you into the relaxing and rejuvenating dimension of sleep.
Since sleep is so critical to our health and well being we should all make the environment in which we do so a big priority. Unlike the Vegas slogan, what happens in bed doesn’t stay in bed. Our relationship to sleep is directly related to ho we feel in our waking state. That feeling of being tired or refreshed colors all of the tasks and interactions we encounter in the course of a day. It determines whether we can tap into the brain function needed to pay attention, perform tasks or creatively solve problems.
Taking time to prepare and enjoy the process of going to bed is one of the kindest and most nurturing thing you can do for yourself…and others.