Where the magic happens: Having better habits to create a better sleep environment

Everyone sleeps differently, so be comfortable and find a solution that works for you when you're looking to make your bedroom more conducive for sleep.

The one rule everyone should follow, says sleep specialist Colleen Carney, is to leave the cell phone in another room.

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The one rule everyone should follow, says sleep specialist Colleen Carney, is to leave the cell phone in another room.

Be comfortable and find a solution that works for you. That’s the biggest piece of advice Colleen Carney, director of Ryerson University’s Sleep and Depression lab, can provide to people looking to make their bedrooms more conducive for sleep.

Everyone sleeps differently, and humans are able to get shut eye in a variety of different environments — even loud and bright ones, she says.

If watching a bit of TV before bed helps you fall asleep, she says go for it (but remember to put the TV on a timer, lest it wake you up with loud noise). The same goes with the light levels in rooms: if nightlights are useful, the people should use nightlights. Beds should be comfortable — and there’s no magic formula to finding something that works for everyone. The Canadian Sleep Society concurs, offering only that bedrooms should be comfortable, with limited distractions from noise and light, and temperatures set at whatever is optimal for the sleeper.

What’s important is not to stress about your sleep environment Carney says. “When it’s an overly dark room, my concern is someone tried to artificially create that. A lot of my patients will buy black-out blinds thinking light is the cause [of their insomnia]. But really, we’re adaptable beings. And we can sleep in a variety of situations.”

The risk, she says, is that people will over-focus on their environment. When they have a bad night’s sleep, they often begin to associate that stress with their environment, trying to solve the problems they perceive to be the root cause by making the room quieter or darker. When that doesn’t work, they often try more extreme measure, reinforcing the idea that the room is to blame.

“That’s at the crux of their insomnia,” Carney adds. “They’ll have whales singing. They'll get alarm clocks that wake up them gradually with light. They’ll block out all blue light. They’ll kick out their spouses.”

But instead of being preoccupied with their bedrooms, everyone should work on developing better sleep habits overall, such as being active during the day and maintaining consistent bed and wake-up times.

People with insomnia should avoid stimuli in their bedrooms — including TVs — and the bed should be kept strictly for sleep and sex, she adds.

But for the rest of the population — those who have normal sleep, generally quiet rooms without bright lights, all at a comfortable temperature and a comfy bed, are sufficient.

The one rule everyone should follow, however: leave the cell phone in the other room. If you need it because it’s an alarm, put it on airplane mode overnight and keep it out of easy reach.

“If you wake up and check your phone, people can’t resist checking what [else] is happening,” she says. “Your brain orients itself to notifications — so even if we’re not aware we’re paying attention, our brain pays attention and that wakes us up.”

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