This isn't just advice for those messy teenagers with wet towels on their bedroom floors, unmade beds, collections of soiled dishes, and mounds of dirty laundry in direct contact with the space where they sleep.
Even though recent studies suggest that teenagers may have problems with sleep thanks to the smells coming from their bedrooms, the problem of messy, unkempt sleep spaces is not limited only to people in their age bracket.
How we keep our bedrooms has a direct impact on the quality of sleep we can expect at night. The three main areas of concern for any bedroom center on comfort, clutter, and sanitation.
Comfort matters. If we are uncomfortable, we can't relax, and if we can't relax, sleep will be hard to come by. Don't shortchange yourself basic comfort at the end of the day. It's not really optional, much in the same way sleep is not optional.
- Have you ever noticed... an unmade bed is not comfortable to climb into at the end of a very long day. A made bed is inviting, smooth, and enveloping. Show yourself five minutes of self-love in the morning by making your bed. You will thank yourself after a long, hard day.
- Flat pillows that are no longer "plumpable" need to be replaced, not only because they are no longer comfortable, but because they can contribute to neck and shoulder pain and problems with breathing. They can also harbor microorganisms if they are not cleaned properly. You can simplify this by bagging your pillows with washable liners before placing them into cases.
- Mattresses that are lumpy, caving in at the center, missing their bounce, damaged by fluids, or which have springs poking through the surface need to be replaced. Most mattresses last about 10 years. Again, this is not only a comfort measure (which still counts as good sleep hygiene) but also critical to avoiding back and hip problems. Pain is the enemy of sleep; don't let your bed be the reason you can't sleep!
- Room temperature is much more critical to good sleep hygiene than you might think. A cooler room not only means it will be less stuffy, but it means your body will be better prepared for sleep. The body's thermostat makes important changes during the sleeping period that are a reflection of the circadian system. Too warm a room can mean your core body temperature is not cool enough to allow for quality sleep. Lower your thermostat and add more blankets in layers that you can adjust throughout the night if you find it hard to sleep in a cool room.
There's plenty of discussion these days about how to keep up with clutter, how to deep clean personal spaces, and why decluttering is good for your overall mental health. This definitely relates to the bedroom as much as to the more active living spaces in your home.
- If you take work with you to bed, the chances are high you have a nearby mess of pens, papers, folders, electronics, notepads, or paperwork that is cluttering the space. This clutter can not only get in the way of sleeping (literally), but it's also an unpleasant reminder of work "still to do." It's quiet presence alone can fuel racing thoughts at bedtime and prevent sleep onset. Also, waking up to reminders of unfinished work is not exactly a good way to rise and shine. Best practice: Don't take your work to bed with you.
- General clutter has been shown to negatively alter important cognitive functions and mood (as well as serve as a dust magnet!—See Sanitation below). Is this how you want to wake up in the morning? How you want to go to bed at night? Think about it. Television's popular home improvement shows frequently describe how the bedroom should be a "sanctuary," and they are right on. Your bedroom should be a welcoming space, not one that you dread going to or waking up in.
- Do you use your bedroom as a storage space to make other rooms in your home more accessible? You might want to rethink this habit, not only for the purposes of "preserving your sanctuary," but because a bedroom's main purpose is for sleep and intimate time with your partner. The clear delineation between your sleeping space and your living space is not accidental; living space is for living, sleeping space is for sleeping. When these two purposes collide, anxiety enters the picture and messes with both the sleep and wake portions of your daily life.
This is the most obvious reason to keep your bedroom clean, but it bears repeating. We all get busy and don't always make housekeeping the priority. Here are some reminders why getting out the vacuum and the window cleaner are not only investments in your home, but also in your health.
- If you don't vacuum or dust regularly, all those particulates in the carpets, the bedding, the air, and collecting along the woodwork can worsen air quality and lead to congestion, allergies, and all the other upper respiratory problems we normally attribute to air pollution. Make sure any air intakes or filters are regularly cleaned (or filters changed) to improve air quality.
- The same goes for clean sheets and pillowcases: your body sheds skin cells and bodily fluids at night even if you don't notice them. These can create an environment for bacteria as well as leave odors and contribute to allergies. Anyway, clean linens smell great and feel great!
- Dirty laundry smells just as bad in an adult's bedroom as it does in a teen's room. The term "nose-blind" seems appropriate to use here (see also "Why can't you smell your own home?"). It describes our inability to note the odors in our own personal living spaces even as strangers entering the house may notice them right away. This isn't a missive on aromatherapeutics, however. Spraying a fragrance does not fix the underlying problem. Odors you don't notice in your own sleeping space still introduce bacteria in the airspace and become part of "room air," which you breathe all night long.
- Recycled air in a bedroom, even when the laundry isn't allowed to pile up, becomes less "aerobic" when the windows are sealed shut all the time. Anaerobic means that the amount of oxygen available to you as "room air" is not adequate for good health in the long term: it contains less oxygen, which your bloodstream requires for sustaining the body's myriad functions. "Room air" is measured normally as 21 percent of any space's atmosphere (that is to say, 21 percent of the atmosphere you breathe is composed of oxygen). The less aerobic the air in your bedroom means your body, over time, will need to compensate in other ways—such as by altering the respiratory rate—so that you can maintain a healthy oxygen balance in your bloodstream. (Read this interesting discussion of what happens to a human locked in an airtight room for some ideas about why.) But the solution is pretty simple: Most homes are meant to "gas off" to help achieve a healthy, balanced atmosphere; briefly opening the windows, even in winter for just a few minutes, can make all the difference.
- Check your windows for mold patches and any mildew formed around the frames or inside the mesh screens. These can enter your airspace and lead to disease. Wipe windows, frames, and screens regularly—frequently if you have windows that leak air or water. Moisture and/or oxygen in a warm space can provide the breeding ground for microorganisms, which can detract from your bedroom's air quality.