As we head deeper into winter here in the northern hemisphere, the daylight hours seem to pass in the blink of an eye. Before we know it, the sun disappears over the horizon and in its place, a peaceful darkness fills the sky.
These months are nature’s way of taking a rest. Trees slow down and lose their leaves. Mammals go into hibernation.
We, too, are mammals. And our ancient ancestors, who woke and slept with the rise and fall of the sun, used these months for deep rest and reflection.
My family abides by these natural rhythms as well, and we’ve come to love the winter… largely because we love our bedrooms, and feel like they love us back.
It didn’t just happen that way. I had to make friends with my bedroom (and sleep in general). But first, I had to understand a basic fact or two about my body and brain.
Did you know that your body has a built-in circadian rhythm or “internal clock” that cycles you through periods of rest and wakefulness? Though everyone’s circadian rhythms are slightly different, we are all pretty much “synced up” with daylight and darkness, and our bodies know instinctively when it’s time to rest. If we try to ignore our circadian rhythms or override them with stimulants and excessive activity, we run the grave risk of getting less sleep than we need.
Why is getting too little sleep such a serious problem? There are so many reasons, but here’s a big one. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s fight-or-flight response to things around you becomes activated much more easily, which leads to more stress. This, in turn, makes it even harder for you to sleep, which creates even more stress, and so on… a difficult cycle to break once you’re in its grip.
So, to fully enjoy your downtime and optimize your health…
Here are 4 secrets that will turn your bedroom into a personal sanctuary of deep rest, relaxation and intimacy!
#1 Getting Your Light Right
To optimize my sleep, one of the biggest things I needed to learn about was how different types of light affect your body. For example, bright artificial light tends to intensify emotions, whereas low or muted light generally helps to keep us on an even keel.
Exposure to blue wavelengths of artificial light at night is the enemy of sleep. Blue light reduces the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that gets you feeling sleepy. And that is one of many reasons why a cell phone in the bedroom does not a sanctuary make!
According to a Harvard research study, looking at your cell phone in bed (or at any time during the hour or two before you turn in for the night) will not only make it harder for you to fall asleep, it will interfere with the type of sleep you get after you drift away. Specifically, nighttime exposure to cell phones has been shown to decrease REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is your deepest dreaming state. The result of losing REM sleep is that you feel more fatigued and your thinking is a little foggier all day long.
Cell phone light at night also messes with your circadian rhythm, which can lead to a variety of health issues.
So my first principle for creating my bedroom sanctuary is: Keep it easy on the eyes. Remove all screens from the room, including cell phone, TV, and computer. And no harsh bright lights; keep the lighting soft and muted.
Though my bedroom has an overhead light, I never use it. I prefer to just use my bedside lamp and occasionally the one on the dresser. These lights are unobtrusive; and calming.
#2 The Feng Shui of Zzzzz
Simplifying the space is another principle that goes hand in hand with “easy on the eyes.” I keep the floor of my bedroom clear and I don’t pile stuff on the dresser either, not even papers or books. When I see stuff piled up, it subtly (or not so subtly) reminds me of things I have to do, or intend to do, during the day. It quickens my pulse ever so slightly.
In her book, The Magic Art of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advises us to clear our houses of any objects that do not “spark joy.” I think this is particularly good guidance for the bedroom. Remove anything that doesn’t afford you some measure of comfort or joy when you look at it.
Make sure your bedroom walls are painted a pleasing color. Keep electrical cords and wires tucked away out of your line of sight. Don’t let clothes pile up on a chair in a corner.
From the vantage point of your pillow, keep things simple and grand and nourishing to your eyeballs! Your view should only land on items that please your heart, such as photographs of people you love, or artwork that uplifts you.
The bedside table is key. It’s the trickiest area for me because in addition to what I call the “maintenance principles” above, an essential component of creating my bedroom sanctuary is…
#3 Making it a zone of pleasurable sensations
Some say the bedroom should be strictly for sleep and for making love (and, presumably, for getting dressed). I respectfully disagree. I want my bedroom to be a place that welcomes me in a myriad of ways – not overstimulating me, but gently nourishing me in a way that enriches and restores.
For example, I like the room to smell good, so I usually keep lavender essential oil by my bedside. Sometimes I want to hear meditative music before I drift off, so I have a little mp3 player that lives atop my dresser.
In addition to my go-to sleep potions, you’ll also find a book or two on my nightstand. (I love to read in bed. To me, it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures.)
Not everyone favors reading at night. Some feel that it can be overstimulating and might even hinder you from falling asleep. For myself, I’ve found it to have the exact opposite effect.
Reading a book is not like looking at a cell phone. The cell phone screen does indeed keep me awake. Reading a book, on the other hand, when I’m sleepy, makes me even sleepier. It quickly shows me just how ready for bed I really am.
Scientific research bears this out too: Studies show that reading a real paper book at night reduces stress, improves the quality of your sleep, and can even help you fall asleep faster. Reading (paper books) has other amazing benefits too according to the research, like lowering your cortisol levels, sharpening your cognitive functioning, and even expanding your ability to empathize with others.
But I do find it’s important to rotate the books on my night table so that they don’t gather dust, and this brings me to my fourth and final principle for making a bedroom into a sanctuary. This one is the bottom line, the prime factor, the most commonsensical of all, and the one principle that is absolutely necessary for all the others to activate…
#4 Keep it clean
Make sure the floor is swept or vacuumed. Wipe all surfaces free of dust on a daily basis. Don’t let dirt or dust (or, worse yet, objects) accumulate under the bed.
Wash your sheets before they get sweaty and uncomfortable. Wash your blankets too.
You won’t find deep pleasure in your bedroom if it isn’t clean. It won’t be easy on your eyes or simple on your soul. Cleanliness will calm you and support you. Cleanliness is the best way to honor your bedroom sanctuary, and yourself.
Off the cuff, it may seem like a daunting project, but it really doesn’t take that much effort to create a sanctuary out of your bedroom. And the payoffs are tremendous: You will reap more energy, clarity, and overall health. AND it feels really REALLY good!
Sanctifying your bedroom could be the best time investment you make all year.
Host of Healing Kitchen: Let Food Be Thy Medicine
& Founder of The Sacred Science