Maximizing Your Sleep

For many of us, sleep is the “margin” in our day; everyone and everything that needs more time usually sucks it out of our sleep time.  It’s not supposed to be that way, but until you can put a lock on your sleep time, there are ways to maximize the hours you do get.

There are several critical and some helpful factors in maximizing sleep: air, light and noise.

Air: Of course, you can’t sleep well when you can’t breathe well.  Spending 7+ hours in one room of your house with the intention of “recharging” your body, deserves a hard look at your sleep environment and what you are breathing in.  Here’s the facts, some of which are from the The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA):

  • Keep pets out of the bedroom
  • Wash bedding once a week in water that is at least 130 deg. F
  • Use bedding that is hypoallergenic, such as organic cotton and silk for sheets, and synthetics such as memory foam, latex and polyester fiber for durables like pillows, mattress toppers and mattresses.  See our related posts on The Matrix of Mattresses and Bedding for Better Sleep.
  • Encase the mattress and pillows in hypoallergenic casings to protect from dust mites and allergens infestation. Vacuum the bedroom floor and mattress weekly with a HEPA vacuum cleaner (see our recommendations on Vacuums)
  • Shower and put on clean nightclothes every night if possible, to remove pollen.  If you don’t shower every night, you can do a quick wash with a wet washcloth.   Cover or wash your hair at night.  (Using shampoo every day is not good either, but you can try a quick “rinse” with or without conditioner, to remove most of the pollen.)  
  • Remove wet or damp clothing to another room (but don’t let it pile up anywhere!)
  • Replace your mattress every 10 years, and pillows every 2 years, to reduce allergens in bedding and air
  • Off-gas (air out) new furniture in another room (see our FAQ about Off-gassing)
  • Remove scented candles and potpourri
  • Use a certified air cleaner (HypoAir has not been certified by the AAFA, but our units definitely reduce allergens and VOCs, as proven in numerous studies).
  • If you have a connected bathroom: 
    • Run a bathroom fan at least 15-20 minutes after showering
    • Fix leaks
    • Clean the shower, sink and tub often to prevent mold (see our related post on non-toxic cleaners)

Darkness:  No matter what the sun is doing outside, our bodies need darkness to enter into the “sleep mode” of our circadian rhythm.  Darkness also cues our pineal gland to produce melatonin, an important sleep-inducing chemical.

The sun’s light during the day is a very powerful, intense light (estimated at up to 10,000 lux, which is a measure of light intensity).  This is way more intense than office lighting (around 500 lux), or artificial lighting at home.  However, even just a little light can disrupt our circadian rhythm, so it’s best to sleep with as little light as possible.  Try to leave electronic devices that emit light (phones, tablets, televisions) out of the bedroom so that these don’t delay dim light melatonin onset (DLMO), the time when your body starts to produce melatonin.

There are many products that help us avoid light in the few hours before and during sleep:

  • Use blue light filtering glasses in the hours before sleep:
  • Replace white light bulbs with red or amber ones in the lights you may use at night, such as in the bathroom or hall nightlights, because red and amber light does not cause disruption in the sleep cycle.
  • Using a sleep mask that’s comfortable will eliminate residual light because just closing your eyes is not enough, unless your room is pitch dark.  This study showed that light transmitted through the eyelids reduces melatonin production significantly, and also delays the timing of DLMO.  Sleep masks used to be a one-size fits all, flimsy device that ended up on the floor or around your neck; I know because I have used them for a long time!  However, there are some great ones out there now that:
    • Are weighted to provide gentle pressure around the eyes
    • Have contoured eye cups to allow eyes to move during sleep
    • Are large and stay on better than other masks

Noise:  It’s tempting to listen to music at night to “wind down”, but it actually has the opposite effect, and surprisingly, instrumental music (without lyrics) interrupts sleep the most!  "Almost everyone thought music improves their sleep, but we found those who listened to more music slept worse," Scullin said. "What was really surprising was that instrumental music led to worse sleep quality -- instrumental music leads to about twice as many earworms." (Michael Scullin, Ph. D, in his study on how earworms, those songs that replay in your head even when the music stops, affect sleep).  

Being a “light sleeper”, college dormitory rooms were crushing my ability as a late teen to sleep deeply.  That’s when I discovered ear plugs.  The right ear plugs do not block out fire alarms or even loud cell phone rings, but dampen noise just enough to allow your body to get that sleep it so desperately needs.  Many people claim they cannot stand something in their ears while sleeping, but like sleep masks, earplugs have evolved too!  Here are some choices beyond the usual foam inserts:

  • Happy Ears, designed in Sweden, come in different sizes so you can find the right size for you.
  • This mask/ear muff combo is good for those who don’t want anything in their ears during sleep.
  • Taking the combo a step further, this comfy mask offers 3 levels of white noise in the ear section to cancel outside noise.

So, we've got the basics: air, light and noise.  Check out our posts on The Matrix of Mattresses and Bedding for Better Sleep to keep maximizing your sleep.