Inspired living

How to create a sleep sanctuary

Woman sleeping

Credit: iStock

Sleep is the ultimate elixir of good health. It influences everything from energy levels and appetite to mood and immunity. Yet, though we spend one-third of our lives in the land of nod, our bedrooms are usually among the most neglected rooms in the house. Apart from picking out an appealing doona cover and a few throw pillows, most of us rarely give our sleeping environment much thought. Yet ensuring that your bedroom both calms and pampers can substantially boost your quality of slumber and wellbeing.

By turning your bedroom into a sleep shrine you will enjoy sweeter dreams, better health and more rest.

According to a growing field known as neuroarchitecture, the appearance of any room, from the colour scheme to the textiles, can trigger emotions, memories and hormones that soothe or stimulate. In light of this, it’s most important that the room where you lay your head to rest each night should be an atmospheric haven without being too cluttered or busy. By turning your bedroom into a sleep shrine you will enjoy sweeter dreams, better health and more rejuvenating rest. So take a look at your bedroom with new eyes and pay attention to the important details that follow.

Décor with personality

Does your energy and mood change when you enter your bedroom? If not, you could do more to ensure the décor invokes a sense of ritual, beauty and nurture. To ensure your sleep shrine feels more inspired and inviting, consider:

Adding items of familiarity. These may include personal photographs or a little shelf to house some treasured books or objects from your travels. Your connections to these images and the memories they invoke create an unconscious sense of security and reassurance in your bedroom space, which in turn calms and elevates your mood.

Introducing some soft curves. These might come from rounded scatter pillows, curved bedposts or curved armrests on a chair. In research conducted by neuroscientist Moshe Bar, people’s brains were scanned while viewing objects of sharp angles or corners and these images triggered a mild fear response that switched on the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in the processing of fear. By contrast, curves and softer lines do not trigger this instinctive stress response and instead encourage us to more deeply relax within a space.

Installing a feature bedhead. This can create an exotic, rustic or pleasing focal point of the room, which makes your bed feel more majestic or altar-like. Eye-catching options include:

  • A pair of rustic, decorative recycled doors featuring carved panels, antique designs or an Asian aesthetic (such as shoji-style Japanese screen panels)
  • Recycled timber nailed together and left natural or painted with a milkwash
  • A bamboo blind that sits behind your bed and drapes over the top half, like a canopy
  • A pair of colourful silk tab curtains
  • A large sheet of corrugated iron
  • A beautiful Turkish rug or African printed wallhanging
  • Decorative screens featuring artwork, inlaid materials such as mother-of-pearl or a textured material, such as rattan

Maximising scatter pillows. These can introduce appealing visual focal points of colour in your bedroom. Choose a variety of textures, shapes and patterns for greater visual appeal. Contrasting colours can also be effective, as long as you don’t overdo it so they become overpowering. Just as stained glass indicates that a church is a place of reverence, these decorative touches draw the eye to beauty and create an atmosphere of luxury and occasion that says “this is an important place”.


Just as nature offers us an array of textures, from soft, velvety leaves and petals to rough bark or stones, your bedroom should also contain a range of differing textures. When choosing them, consider your personality. For example, if you are drawn to the appearance of exotic décor, keep textiles such as bed linen, curtains and scatter pillows simple and add some ornate elements via featured Turkish tiles on the wall, a few beautiful lanterns on surfaces, several small, plush, patterned Ottomans and a gorgeous Turkish rug. This will make you feel that you are retiring to a luxurious space that is a true retreat from the outside world.

Candlelight is a beautiful way to light your sleep shrine.

If, on the other hand, you lean towards all things natural, choose wooden surfaces and natural woven fabrics with splashes of colour in earthy tones such as mustard or olive green. You might even choose a monochromatic look based around a palette of neutral earthy tones and use textures — from wool and cotton to silk — to provide a subtle but very powerful visual aesthetic. Again, because this style suits your personal preferences, once you enter your room you will feel pampered and embraced by the space.

De-clutter & feel clearer

A perpetually unmade bed and pile of clothes on the chair or floor can create an atmosphere of clutter and disorganisation that impacts on your mood when you slip between the sheets at night, wake in the morning and get ready for the day. So spring-clean bedroom closets, ensure there is adequate shelving/drawers to put items away and make an effort to keep your room tidy and clean. Your bedroom will instantly become more soothing and your mind clearer and calmer.

Nature’s nurturing power

Research shows that images of waterfalls, flowers and mountains have the power to help us de-stress. This lifting of our spirits occurs both when we’re enjoying the great outdoors or simply looking at images of nature, according to research from the University of Michigan. That’s good reason to bring more of the outside world into your room. Simple strategies include:

Installing another window or a skylight. Nothing rivals the Beauty of the starry night or changing cloudscapes in the sky.

Playing CDs of natural soundscapes that feature running water and birdsong in your bedroom, even just for 10 or 15 minutes while you read in bed at night before sleep.

Displaying natural found objects. These might include shells or starfish, beautifully gnarled branches or driftwood, veined or coloured stones strewn in a pottery bowl or a large circular glass jar containing feathers and a variety of seed pods from trees. These will instantly make you feel more connected to the Earth and the seasons.

Colour connections

Just as ultraviolet light can impact on your skin, all the colours of the spectrum emit different energy frequencies that alter everything from your brain activity to your heartbeat. These effects differ according to the wavelength of the colour.

Vibrant colours such as reds and bright pinks are not the best choices for bedrooms. They are simulating and increase blood pressure and pulse rate. Softer, cooler hues such as blues, greens, aquamarines and lavenders are better bedroom choices. They are immediately more calming and help slow breathing and the autonomic nervous system.

Massage a few drops of essential oil into your temples or add some oil drops to a water sprayer and spray a light aromatic mist over a handkerchief to lie on your pillow.

To soften them further, use only on one feature wall or choose a cool colour in a wash or a pastel shade. Neutrals can also provide a lovely, peaceful backdrop to any bedroom. However, you should steer clear of crisp white whites as these can sometimes appear too sterile. Another trick is to give the ceiling a mother-of-pearl finish for a lovely reflective light or paint the ceiling in a shade that is the wall colour mixed down to 25 per cent.

Remember that dark colours make a wall recede and lighter colours make it advance. So if you only have a small, pokey bedroom space that feels cramped, choose colours accordingly and eliminate as much contrast as possible between walls and ceiling.

The right light

Bright evening light can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This can lead to delayed sleep onset. That’s good reason to ensure you have dimmer switches on your bedroom’s overhead lights and atmospheric lamps in several places within the room (keep the wattage low). Candlelight is obviously a beautiful way to light your sleep shrine as it is soft, atmospheric and muted, so place numerous candles around the room and light them at night. If you’re concerned about the safety of open flames, go for little tea lights on pretty tiles or candles in glass holders.

Some experts now believe that minimising light exposure at night is just as important to healthy weight and good energy levels as a balanced diet and regular exercise. So it’s important to banish unnecessary light from your bedroom. Put digital watches in draws, avoid using a clock radio and use a digital alarm with a cover to shut out the light from the digital clock. Avoid having devices like televisions or computers in your room; apart from giving off radiation, their presence will make you more tempted to use them while sitting in bed. If you absolutely must have them in the bedroom, don’t keep them on standby as they will emit lights that will affect your body all night long.

Even dim light in a room can be disruptive to rest and blue light may be the most harmful of all, according to studies. Harvard research shows that blue light in your bedroom suppresses melatonin for twice as long and shifts your body clock by as much as three hours. Light can also trespass into your sleep shrine from streetlights, car lights and sensor lights. Since the 1980s, research has shown that breast cancer rates in women are higher in areas where streetlights are brighter. To combat these kinds of health risks, install strong blinds or blackout curtains in your bedroom.

Maximise your comfort

The textures and surfaces you touch when you slip between your sheets can enhance your sense of nurture and comfort, improving your quality of sleep. So choose the following wisely:

If your mattress is old and has dips, lumps or a tendency to sink in the middle, you’re more likely to be restless during slumber. Experts such as chiropractors recommend that mattresses be replaced every 10 years.

When shopping for a mattress, use your nose as a guide. If it smells of chemicals it’s likely to be laden with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the form of formaldehyde, solvents and flame-retardants. A growing number of health experts believe there is a link between these chemicals and conditions such as cancer, autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue and lowered immunity. Sleep on a mattress offgassing VOCS and you will spend hours breathing in chemicals all night when your body should be doing its repair work.

Instead, choose either a futon or a natural latex mattress that is made from the sap of the rubber tree so it’s naturally resistant to mould, fungi, bacteria and insects such as dust mites,. The ticking should also be a natural material, such as organic cotton or wool.

If possible, invest in good-quality sheets in Egyptian or organic cotton, or 100 per cent cotton sheets with the highest thread count you can afford. Good-quality sheets will not only last for years to come but are less likely to make you perspire or overheat than synthetic varieties.


When you smell any kind of fragrance, the nerve endings in your nose (the olfactory membranes) directly stimulate the limbic system in your brain, impacting on your emotions and memory. Used sparingly, well-chosen scents improve both your mood and your sleep. You can introduce them to your bedroom via scented candles, oil burners or diffusers.

Alternatively, massage a few drops of essential oil into your temples or add some oil drops to a water sprayer and spray a light aromatic mist over a handkerchief to lie on your pillow. Restful aromatherapy oils include chamomile, vanilla, jasmine and lavender. They evoke emotional connections to homebaked biscuits, endless summer days and the healthy gifts of nature.

Boost your sleep quality

Having trouble getting to sleep or maintaining your slumber? Adopt the following good sleep hygiene practices:

  • Avoid exercise two hours before bedtime as this elevates your body temperature, which delays sleep onset.
  • Minimise alcohol intake, which may lead to wakefulness and dehydration later in the night.
  • Remove distractions such as pets. If you have a noisy neighbour or partner, wear earplugs.
  • Take a buteyko breathing course to address problems like snoring or asthma.
  • Dust your room regularly with a damp cloth. This can help reduce issues like dust mite, which could compromise your breathing overnight.
  • Try a bath before bedtime at a warm temperature — this can help your body temperature drop in readiness for sleep.
  • Rise and retire at the same time of day. This will help synchronise your body clock with sunlight and darkness.



Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield is an award-winning freelance health journalist. She is an advocate of nutritional medicine and specialises in all aspects of health, from exercise and disease prevention to stress, depression and women’s health issues.