Transforming the bedroom may be just what the sleep doctor ordered.
It was just over a decade ago when Armella Stepan’s life changed. The former General Manager of Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica was scheduled for a routine laparoscopy and a brief inpatient stay. Instead, a life-threatening surgical mishap hospitalized her for two months. Upon her return home, things spiraled out of control. Unknowingly, Stepan had been treated with Avitan, an addictive anxiety medication, leaving her struggling to detox, and sleepless from the resulting post-traumatic stress. Desperate to recover, she heeded a friend’s advice and started researching alternative therapies and relaxation, interviewing over 30 doctors, neuroscientists, and yogis along the way.
“I had no mind-body connection before this happened,” says Stepan. Through healingmodalities that included breathwork and hypnotherapy, she nursed herself back to health and vitality. Today, she is the founder of Intentions, her line of jacquard-woven bed linens with affirmations such as “breathe”, “sleep”, and “relax.”
While Stepan’s individual story is unique, her experience with sleeplessness is not: she is one of the over 50 million people in the U.S. who, according to the National Instituteof Health, struggle with sleep issues and disorders. Experiencing anxiety related to not being able to fall asleep further compounds the problem. Another issue that frustrates many of us who do sleep through the night is that we may not wake up feeling fully refreshed.
A mindful and holistic approach to sleep preparation is an important solution to getting a good night’s rest. Research and expert opinions demonstrate that optimizing the bedroom’s features to create a serene sanctuarycan have a profound effect on sleep.
THE POWER OF FENG SHUI
Kartar Diamond, owner of Southern California’s Feng Shui Solutions, attests that the most important room in the house is the bedroom. “We spend one-third of our time in this room and it can affect us in powerful ways,” she says. Classically trained in her art, Diamond uses the homeowner’s date of birth and year of house construction to individually tailor feng shui design and stimulate positive energy flow, or Qi, throughout the home. When discussing the bedroom, she offers the following universal design principles:
– Position the foot of the bed away from the door’s path to alleviate “draining” the body’s energy out of the room.
– Avoid placing decorative mirrors by the bed as they reflect energy flow away from the bed instead of welcoming wanted energy in to the bed.
– Situate the top of the bed against a solid wallfurthest from the door and not in line with it. This is the command position in feng shui where desired energy is the strongest.
When it comes to styling, feng shui uses a common sense approach. “Surround yourself with what you like,” says Diamond. “Anything you are drawn to is going to strengthen your immune system; things you don’t like are going to create tension, which could eventually affect you negatively.” She recommends clearing the bedroom of superfluous objects. “Clutter makes a room too yin. If there is not enough ventilation, it is not good for any room because energy can’t flow.” Stagnation can be prevented by clearing piles of laundry, bills, and other distractions. Opening a window or using an air filter helps with circulation, while an essential oil diffuser relaxes with aromatherapy.
A CALMING PALETTE
Color is a simple yet powerful way to create a peaceful setting. In feng shui, color balances the energy of a room. For example, light green, blue, or lilac can have a very calming effect. “Lilac is not blue enough to be water, and not red enough to be fire. It is not going to trigger anything negative,” says Diamond.
Los Angeles-based interior designer Taylor Jacobson recommends implementing a neutral color palette in the bedroom that can be layered upon, and even changed in the future. “The trend right now is to have more neutral colors on walls and larger pieces of furniture, and to accent those with more saturated colors on throw pillows or art throughout the room.”
DIM THE LIGHTS
Light has the most significant effect on the length and quality of our sleep. Historically, human sleep cycles, or circadian rhythms, were dictated by the sun. As dusk approached, the hormone melatonin guided the body into a natural state of rest. Today, we’re confronted with multiple sources of light even throughout the night. City lights, blue light emitted by electronics, and even a neighbor’s porch light can all confuse melatonin production.
To encourage the body’s natural hormonal response, do away with blue-light-emitting devices from the bedroom or purchase blue light filters. Natural yellow light does not inhibit melatonin production, so prepare for bed by lighting the fireplace, burning candles, or dimming the lights leading up to sleep.
In the bedroom, blackout curtains — available in many styles and colors — are particularly helpful for blocking outside light. To gradually wake up, a dawn-simulating alarm clock is an effective way of increasing “morning” light. For a foolproof, yet costlier, solution, remote control-operated electric window treatments are programmable to close at bedtime and open at dawn.
“One of the most cost-effective ways to get a good night’s sleep is with the right pillow,” says pro-athlete/celebrity chiropractor and sleep science expert Dr. Raymond Hall. Since an awkward body alignment during the REM sleep can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain, Dr. Hall designed the Pillo1, which holds the neck and shoulders in a safe position, no matter how the body shifts during the night.
As for pillows in general, all-natural and non-toxic fillers are the best. Synthetic materials contain dangerous chemicals, including petroleum products whose emissions are then inhaled throughout the night. Synthetics can also interfere with regulating body temperature. For those sensitive to allergies, wool pillows that contain lanolin are highly resistant to the moisture that encourages mold and dust mite accumulation. Other non-toxic pillow fillings include natural latex, buckwheat, and kapok (a fiber from a tropical tree).
To keep the rest of the spine supported during sleep, Dr. Hall recommends a mattress with no more than three inches of sag. “The spine needs push back,” says Hall, so a medium to firm mattress with a one- to three-inch pillow top is ideal.” Standard mattresses are also full of toxic chemicals, so look for organic mattresses with fillings including wool, natural latex, pesticide-free cotton, and other natural fibers. All-natural memory foam with shock absorption can be an option if you share the bed with a restless sleeper, even though it can retain heat. Standard memory foam contains toxic chemicals, so choose all-natural carefully.
When it comes to linens, the quality of the fiber, the weight, feel, and finishing process are more important than thread count. Always go for quality, nontoxic, and organic; organic extra-long staple Egyptian cotton is soft, durable, and keeps the body cool.
REPROGRAM AND RECHARGE
Fully recovered and enjoying sound sleep once again, Stepan has stepped out of the bedroom and to the place where her life-altering experience started: she brings her affirmation-woven linens to the Volunteers of America and Los Angeles area hospitals. “My goal is to bring this idea of visualization and breathwork into the bedroom,” says Stepan. “We are so overstimulated during the day. Why wouldn’t we want something relaxing to reprogram before going to sleep?”
Truly, in an increasingly frenetic world, closing out the night in a cozy, peacefully composed bedroom may be the key to waking up fully recharged and ready to face the new day.
Is it time to replace your pillow?
– Prominent lumps or bumps in a pillow can aggravate the neck and back — it might be time to discard or recycle your pillow.
– With prolonged use, a pillow can flatten and lose its supportive cushioning. Check by folding the pillow in half and holding the fold for 30 seconds. The pillow should spring back to its original form when released; if not, replace it!
–Mold and dust mites can accumulate on old pillows, causing allergy and sinus issues. To kill dust mites and destroy mold, wash bed pillows in hot water and finish with an “extra hot” cycle in the dryer. Allergy sufferers should replace pillows every two years.
Beth Prandini is a writer and yoga teacher living in Santa Monica. Diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus with a Rheumatoid Arthritis crossover at the age of 19, Beth helped regulate its effects with yoga and has been in remission for a decade. She holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Education from Pepperdine University and is YogaWorks Certified 500RYT.