Sleep is critical for your brain and for your health. According to the Time Magazine article “Power of Sleep”, "Getting the recommended seven to eight hours each night can improve concentration, sharpen planning and memory skills and maintain the fat-burning system that regulates our weight. If every one of us slept as much as we’re supposed to, we’d all be lighter, less prone to developing Type 2 diabetes and most likely better equipped to battle depression and anxiety. We might even lower our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and cancer."
Getting enough sleep is equal to finding the fountain of youth. We all know it but most of us just can’t get it right. There is the Hong Kong ‘work hard play hard’ lifestyle, the many electronic distractions we go to bed with, light pollution and noisy neighbors. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, which is why the built-environment has a profound impact on our health and well-being. Hence, it's pretty clear that your bedroom is the most important room in your home. It should be a refuge that promotes total renewal and deep sleep. So if there is only one place you should start to turn your home into a healthier living environment it's the bedroom. Here are some great areas to begin with:
1. BREATHE CLEAN AIR
Ensure that the air you breath when you are asleep is clean and fresh. Follow the recommendations in our White Paper on 'Breathing Clean Air in Hong Kong'. We could all leave the window open at night but considering Hong Kong's air, sound and light pollution this is unfortunately only possible for a lucky few . The White Paper shows how you can practice source control and what air purifiers to go for. Use only green non-polluting building materials and furniture and avoid carcinogens, like VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) & Formaldehyde. The latter chemicals are often hiding in paints, glues, cabinetry and furniture. If you want to know for sure, consider an air test. To find out more, check out our White Paper.
2. SLEEP IN TOTAL DARKNESS
Humans evolved in a 24-hour light-dark cycle known as the circadian clock. This is why any light after dusk is unnatural. Any exposure to light leads your body to inhibit the sleep hormone Melatonin. Closing your eyes alone does not help because even your skin can detect artificial light. Bright lights make our bodies think it’s daytime. Our brain and heart are working faster, we become more alert and production of melatonin is suppressed. This disruption is also associated with higher rates of cancer. The Hong Kong night sky is a 1000 times brighter than it would be without artificial light. According to the SCMP our urban light pollution can create a mini jetlag.
Here some tips for how to tackle this in your bedroom:
- Install a circadian mood lighting system. Light can nudge you towards or away from sleeping. Your bathroom and bedroom lighting should have different settings for the morning and evening. In the morning the light should be bright with a greater amount of blue color and in the evening it should be softer and nudge you towards sleeping. If a mood lighting system is out of the question, try a natural wake-up alarm clock like the Philips Wake-up Light, the Withings Aura, or a self-dimming light bulb (Drift Light). These gadgets provide a gentle wake-up by mimicking a natural sunrise and make you feel less out of sync in the morning.
- Put in blackout shades and eliminate all sources of light. Cover any displays that you cannot turn off. Yes, also your clock. When you glance at the clock in the wee hours of the night, your sleep will suffer. Ban blue light in the bedroom. Use anti-blue light screen protectors from SleepShield for your phone and iPad. And for computers you can use f.lux.
- Try to remove all electronic devices from your bedroom. Despite the lack of any long term studies, some evidence suggests that electromagnetic fields can negatively impact your health and sleep. Not too long ago we were cave women and men and did not wake up next to a mobile phone. If you use your phone as an alarm put it on airplane mode. Unplug unused electronic devices and do not charge any devices in the bedroom.
- Consider using a sleep mask. And yes, there are 'smart' versions as well like neuro:on. The sleep mask allows you to modify your sleep patterns with light therapy.
3. ERADICATE NOISE POLLUTION
If you renovate install double glazed windows and use soundproofing materials.
- White noise machines combine sounds of different frequencies to block out noise.
4. CHOOSE THE RIGHT BEDDING
Go for organic mattresses and hypoallergenic bedding. Your mattress should not contain petroleum-based polyester, nylon or polyurethane foam. These emit VOCs and can contain toxic flame retardants. Avoid memory foam. Look for organic cotton, natural latex, wool, cashmere, bamboo, organic cotton or silk. Down and feather pillows discourage dust mites and can be molded easily. A pillow should help keep the spine as straight as possible. In Hong Kong you can find these products at Okooko, Hastens, Bamboa and Burnt Oringe. Don't worry about what is too hard or too soft. Get a mattress that is comfortable and supportive.
Wash your sheets once a week. If possible use hot water (55-65 °C) and a hot dryer cycle to kill all germs. Vacuum your mattress every six months and rotate it head to toe every six months as well. Pillows can be a great breeding ground for fungi and dust mites. Wash them every three to six months using the gentle cycle on your machine, run the rinse cycle twice and put them in the dryer.
5. YOUR BEDROOM SHOULD BE COOL
- Sleep in cool temperatures around 18-22 C. Imagine your bedroom as a cave. It should be cool, quiet and pitch dark. Like our circadian clock, our body temperatures follow a natural pattern of highs and lows during a 24-hour period as well. A person's peak temperature occurs in the late afternoon and the lowest at around 5 a.m. The ability to shed heat and feel cool has a profound impact on how well you sleep. Studies have shown that cooler body temperatures lead to more deep sleep. Deep sleep is important, not only for feeling refreshed in the morning, but also for athletic recovery. Read this Huffington Post article about choosing the best temperature for sleep to more information.
- Consider using a passive gel mat. These cover your mattress and cool you down when you try to fall asleep. ChillGel and Cool Gelmat are two options. The ChiliPad is the luxury alternative that offers lasting temperature control. It also comes with different temperature zones for couples.
6. BRING NATURE INTO YOUR BEDROOM
- We have an inherent inclination to affiliate with nature. Exposure to nature can relieve stress, relax muscles, lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels, mitigate pain and speed up illness recovery. This theory is called Biophilia. Unfortunately most Hong Kong hospitals completely ignore this. You can bring nature into your bedroom with house plants. Some plants, like snake plants, have the added benefit of improving air quality while you sleep. You can also display artwork depicting nature which works as well as the real thing.
- Decorate your bedroom with soothing, tranquil colors. Earth tones and neutrals are great and bright, stimulating colors, such as orange and red should be avoided. Bright colors can make it difficult to relax and rest at the end of the day. If you want to keep your red feature wall consider other colors in your bedroom to tone it down.
- Avoid carpet in the bedroom and go for hardwood flooring instead. Carpets harbor allergens that can trigger asthma and other respiratory diseases. Carpets trap dust mites, pollen and mold spores. They are more difficult to clean than hard-surface flooring. Vacuuming can make these allergens airborne.
The bedroom is the most important room in your home. So if you decide to splurge a bit of money on a renovation, this is where you should spend most of it. I know, it's tempting to invest in a great kitchen, the latest Dornbracht rain shower or a top notch home entertainment system. But, remember that no space is as important to your health as your bedroom.
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