We get the best, deepest and most nourishing sleep when we don’t need to worry about a thing and everything feels just about right. So the first one on my ”how to get the bedroom right for a sensitive sleeper” list is not about light, noise or softness of bed lines. It’s something else, something much more important.
1. Make your bedroom safe
Feeling safe is the first prerequisite for sleeping (at all). Make sure you don’t need to fear in your own house or bedroom. Besides doing the obvious, we can also identify the root causes and work on our fears. I have observed that when fears overtake me, quality of sleep deteriorates. I wake up feeling knackered regardless of the amount of sleeping hours. My analysis is that when we fear we don’t dive into deep sleep properly but stay on lighter levels – in an alert state ready to take immediate actions.
Fears overtook my sleep big time last summer. I live in two countries and spend long summers in Finland. Our family grew with one more member, Väinö, early this year and things got a bit more complicated. My biggest hesitation (for having a dog) was the massive tick problem in the Finnish archipelago (where we stay). Quite literally, it’s full of them and many of my dear friends and relatives have suffered with Lyme Disease. I figured we can be ultra careful and so Väinö joined us. Summer came and because of the inflexibility of the house, he slept in our bedroom. Unsurprisingly to other dog owners, he jumped into bed during the small hours. This scared the s** out of me – I felt the ticks everywhere, armies of them slowly running on my skin and hair. Regardless of the preventive actions, he was full of ticks (attached too) all the time. In September I noticed a bullseye mark on my right leg. My worst fear came true. Sometimes I think this is exactly how it goes – what we most fear always happens. Lucky me I got the bullseye mark (only 50% do, the rest get no marks) so I got meds and the outlook is very promising. But what about next summer…Need to figure out something for sure! (and tame my fears…)
2. Get black-outs and remove smart phones
Light – in any form – is not for sensitive sleepers. Light stimulates cells in the retina, the area at the back of the eye that transmits messages to the brain. The light-sensitive cells inform our body what time it is, explains Dr Meadows. ‘This controls the release of the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy, and the waking hormone, cortisol.’
All artificial light is thought to inhibit the release of melatonin, keeping us awake longer. But light from mobiles may have even greater effect.
Professor Debra Skene, a neuroendocrinologist at the University of Surrey says: “We know that because of a pigment called melanopsin, the cells in the retina are most sensitive to blue light.”
Conclusion: Learn your path to toilet in the darkness.
3. Enjoy books
Learning to love books (writing and/or reading) before going to sleep can be a useful habit. I was never a diary-girl. But now this silent moment when I wrap up my day and read a bit has become precious indeed. Gadgets are always engaging as they link us to the (often disturbing) outside world. However, our brains don’t need activation at 11 pm, just the opposite. Creating a peaceful moment (and learning to love it) is a good routine for a sensitive sleeper. Finding the peace inside means that there’s no need for an external “aid”.
The current sleep norm (sleeping ~8 hours in one block) is a very recent and unusual expectation. Just over 100 years ago people woke up in the middle of night, did some household work, snacked a bit and told stories to each other – even up to 2 hours. And then they slept a bit more. As they didn’t have artificial light and candles were expensive, dark nights were very long and they simply needed to kill time.
When I first read and wrote about it on this website something clicked inside. I felt more in peace. So it’s not just me being a bit of a nutter! It’s how we human beings have slept thousands of years. This habit of waking up is built into our bodies and bodies do remember. I simply stopped getting angry or frustrated at night. I put a book next to bedside table and whenever I feel like reading or writing a bit (even if it’s in the middle of night) I simply do it. I know this is a contradiction to point 2 but my nights don’t get disturbed if light is used scarcely (book lights diminish the artificial light to minimum.) My trick is to do it only for a short spell, concentrate on slow breathing and dive into another imaginary world. Then I speak myself gently back to sleep (by repeating comforting and simple sentences like “everything is ok” or “I jus rest a bit”.) My trick is never to get angry any more.
4. Get a big bed
Most people actually wake between 10-15 times per night but without recollecting it. But if a restless spouse, dog or child is disturbing your sleep another 15 times you can bet that the sleep is disturbed for that night. A big bed (or your own bed) is the best choice for sensitive sleepers who just can’t build a tough skin for a sensitivity that is fundamentally, or at least to some extent, part of them. Personally I am ready to sacrifice bedside tables (and replace with other things) just to make space for the biggest possible bed. It also makes sense to have separate mattresses and blankets. Small things do matter.
5. Sleep in silence
I have a love hate relationship with earplugs (these are my absolute favourites, and yes, I have tested plenty). When I was having my worst insomnia bout I couldn’t tolerate any noise. Not even a dog barking miles away. I needed ear plugs for all night and if I forgot them when travelling I immediately bought new ones. My ears were itching and sore but I was hooked. I started to detox at some point so that I didn’t use them during the first part of night. As my sleep improved (for many reasons) I gradually used them less and less. I still have them next to my bed but I don’t feel dependent on them any more. The key is to change habits gradually and not being too demanding to yourself.
It’s of course also important to keep your bedroom cool. However, there’s a caveat with this one. While it’s nice to sleep in a cool bedroom (18-20C) it’s also super-important to feel warm under the blankets. Feeling cold, even a wee bit, is a sleep killer. I always keep a hot water bottle next to my legs. It’s a double-whammy, warms nicely and keeps cramps away. I might be trying out a heated top mattress this winter too. I have heard it’s super-lovely.
Some experts swear by neutral, earthy colours in bedrooms. Personally, I love to change the vibe once in a while. Some of my favourite bed linens are very colourful and perky. As long as we feel safe and happy in our beds we typically sleep better (and restoring positive connection to bedroom should be our mission!).
Show me a picture of your dream bedroom! Here’s my favourite bed linen. Marimekko is yours too if you like big shapes, originality and bold colours!
Good days lead to good night!
Yours sensitive sleeper,