Mahatma Gandhi once said: “When I wake up, I am reborn.” If you sleep poorly, you’re more likely to feel strain and fatigue. I’m sure you can all relate. Inadequate sleep and its consequences plague 33–45 per cent of adult Australians, according to a 2016 health report by the University of Adelaide and the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health.
Stress, health issues such as sleep apnea and a growing tendency to use screens at night certainly play their part. However, poor bedroom design also has a powerful role.
Anthony Ashworth, a holistic interior and building design expert, says it’s well worth putting in the effort to create a bedroom that supports sleep. “Deep rest and good sleep are the foundation for a good life,” he says. Without it you’re more susceptible to mental, psychological and physical disease. You’re less efficient, less productive and less able to engage socially. And, he adds, when you’re tired, you have less energy for that other function of the bedroom: the primary relationship between couples, including sexuality.
Creating a yin haven
Rather than the latest interior design fads, focus on design concepts that support the overarching function of the bedroom. “More than anywhere else in the home, the bedroom is really about rest and revitalising oneself,” Anthony says. From a feng shui perspective, your bedroom should ideally be quite nurturing and yin— the feminine principle of the universe.
“The quality of yin is lack of movement,” he explains. “It’s quiet, it’s soft, it’s round, it’s darker, whereas yang is masculine, colourful, expansive and louder. Yin is the inward quality that sends you into yourself, so it’s ideal for good sleep.”
Position, position, position
According to the ancient design principles of Chinese feng shui and Indian vastu shastra, the master bedroom is best placed in the south-west of your home, considered the relationship sector. More importantly, though, all bedrooms should ideally be placed towards the rear of the property. “We’re literally looking to be away from the distractions of the street, be that dogs, cars or street lights, noise or trucks first thing in the morning,” Anthony says.
The master bedroom is particularly important: it supports those responsible for the family and earning income. “As you get older, you tend to sleep less well,” Anthony adds. He suggests those unable to change the positioning of their rooms (for example, those who are renting) try screening the front yard with removable fences, hedges or plants.
From a noise and energetic perspective, it’s also better not to have your bedroom against a bathroom wall, or above or beneath the busiest rooms of the house. If you do have an en suite in your bedroom, keep the door shut.
Creating snug spaces
“In modern architecture there’s a predilection to make bedrooms bigger and bigger, with lovely views and big windows,” Anthony says. “That’s not what you want from a bedroom.” Instead, foster a space that’s snug, private and tucked away. “You don’t want a big space, high ceilings or lots of glass,” he adds.
Avoid over-furnishing the room. Alternatively, you don’t want a stark bedroom. “It should be a place that brings forth a certain feeling of nurturing, of being held,” he says. To promote this feeling, position your bed in front of a solid wall with the door as far from the bed as possible. Also try not to have the bed on the same wall as the door or too close to a window. Sleeping too close to either can make you feel psychologically less secure in bed, he says.
However, you don’t necessarily want the bed pushed off to one side of the room, either. “Somewhere in your brain you prefer a certain level of symmetry,” Anthony says. Matching bedside tables either side of the bed can create symmetry and are also said to anchor and ground you. But keep the clutter off.
“All doors should be able to be opened 90 degrees,” he adds. “Even though it’s a quiet room, you don’t want it to become stagnant, either.” Also do your best to avoid too much going on in the ceilings. “Try not to have cathedral ceilings and avoid beams, particularly in bedrooms,” he says. In feng shui, protruding, angular surfaces are said to create negative energy called “poison arrows”.
Soften hard edges and introduce femininity with more rounded furniture and flowing curtains rather than hard venetians. “A lot of modern architecture and interior design is really stark,” Anthony says. “It’s taken from what they believe to be the Zen movement but it has been misappropriated. Zen is about not having too much stuff, but it’s not about having everything hard-edged and completely minimal, particularly in the bedroom.”
Having a bed-head and bed-foot can help conjure cosiness. “The closer you can come to being in the womb, to feeling protected and wrapped up, the better off you are,” he says.
Balancing light and dark
Use thick, light-blocking curtains to shield out artificial light (streetlights, car headlights and house lights), but also the natural kind like the sun and moon. Darkness is essential for your body to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin. However, melatonin performs many roles beyond regulating the body clock. In recent years, low production of the hormone (often linked with shift work) has been associated with increased risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as endocrine, neurological and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.
Avoid nightlights and lamps to preserve the healthful benefits of darkness. Choose soft, amber-coloured globes such as those of incandescents, or the golden glow of a candle, over fluorescents and energy-saving bulbs. The latter emit blue-spectrum light, which suppresses melatonin. Likewise, keep anything that emits or flashes light out of your bedroom at night.
Keep it natural
Because you spend so much time there, it’s important to avoid toxic materials in the bedroom. Choose cotton, wool, timber, bamboo, paper and jute over nylon, acrylic, plastic and other synthetic materials. From a subtle energy perspective, natural substances are more supportive of the human condition, Anthony says. For example, Austrian research shows that sleeping in a stone pine bed improves sleep and reduces heart rate.
Hard and soft furnishings, including mattresses and wood composite bedheads and wardrobes can contain formaldehyde and other harmful toxins. These outgas at greater rates when you heat your home or on hot, humid days.Organic mattresses and manchester are available through specialty suppliers. Also, be wary of introducing toxins through cleaning chemicals, floor treatments, insect sprays, paint, adhesives and light fittings.
Naturalise your bedroom by adding a degree of texture with throws and hand-knitted and crocheted blankets. Nature isn’t all smooth, Anthony says. “Texture creates that yin feeling and absorbs sound well.” Additionally, reference the soothing qualities of nature with pictures and fabric prints.
Cleanliness = sleepiness
Keeping your bedroom clean, tidy and freshly scented can help you sleep better, according to a US study. Those who changed their sheets every day were 19 per cent more likely to report good sleep than people who didn’t. Good hygiene habits can also reduce dust mites, which thrive in mattresses, blankets, pillows, fabric-covered furniture, carpet and dust. Those sensitive to dust mites can purchase dust mite covers for pillows and mattresses.
“There’s a lot of mythology around mirrors creating spaces on the other side that psychic energies can come through,” Anthony mentions.“Whether you believe that or not, somewhere deep down inside us we kind of do. It’s said to set up a subtle vibration in the room. If you have to have mirrors in the bedroom, it’s essential that you at least can’t see the mirror when you’re in bed.” If you can’t move it, paint it or cover the mirror.
Also be aware of the kind of imagery you have. Make it appropriately restful and avoid images of water or the sea. “Pictures of movement bring forth a subtle movement in the room itself, so it disturbs your quietude,” Anthony says.
Ditch the tech
Here, the rule is to simply keep it out. “You don’t want anything that has that electrical yang energy in your bedroom,” Anthony says. “Again it’s a quietude thing.” This applies to small and big screens, including TVs. “You’re not wanting to invite the whole world into your bedroom, which brings forth a whole lot of stress and anxiety, murder and mayhem and chaos. It also creates a social divide in the family. People go to this electronic entertainment rather than interact with each other. It’s also about your brain being able to switch off.”
The LCD screens that light modern TVs, computers, tablets and phones emit blue-spectrum light, which disrupts your internal biological clock. And, like other electronic devices, they’re a source of EMR (electro-magnetic radiation). “Where you spend the most time it’s important to make sure those areas are correct,” Anthony recommends. “You spend about a third of your life in that space.”
Tone it down
Likewise, the colours in the bedrooms of both adults and children should be nurturing and quiet, Anthony says. Avoid vibrant, bright colours like fire-engine red in preference to muted pinks, burgundy, green and anything earthy. “You shouldn’t use bright white — it’s too hard and clinical. Black is a bit over the top and depressing; greys can create depression.” He recommends colours similar to skin tones — anything from off-white to dark caramel. “These bring forth feelings of your mother and human contact.”
From a feng shui point of view, purple in bedrooms is said to psychically open you up. In fact, a study of 2000 people by UK hotel chain Travelodge found Britons slept worst in a bedroom painted purple. Red, grey and brown also produced poorer sleep. Certain shades of blue, yellow, pink, orange and silver were associated with the best sleep.
Also tone down that other sense: sound. Ensure your bed and door don’t creak, use materials that absorb sound — like rugs — and keep anything that makes noise out of the room.
Hot and cold
Artificial heating and cooling can be another source of unwanted noise. “It dries out your nose and throat because it dehumidifies the air radically,” Anthony says. “A fan is better, but it creates a lot of movement, which is not good for sleep.” If you do have a fan, avoid having it directly over the bed. Remember that poison arrow effect? In summer, if you’re able, use the natural ventilation of your window.
Electrical blankets, which emit EMR, are another no-no. If you insist on having one, turn it off and unplug it before you go to bed.Temperature issues are a common reason for insomnia. Blankets and throws that can be pulled on or off according to comfort are a good idea.
Don’t make it about work
Ideally, you don’t want your work stuff, desk or gym equipment in your bedroom. “From a psychological and subtle energy perspective, if that’sin the same room as you it’s going to badger you,” Anthony warns. Those without any other option (again, if you’re renting or living with your parents) should keep such zones neat and tidy and at least have a way of getting it out of their psyches and sight.
“Have something like a roll-top desk to shut it off, or at least throw a sarong or blanket over the whole lot and put it to sleep,” he says. Screens can be a useful strategy. “The more you can make it into its own separate room, the better.
“It’s OK to have a little lounge chair with a side table that you can have some quiet time in. You can multi-purpose the bedroom, but don’t it make it about work.”
Fish tanks, water fountains, pets and even pot plants can disturb the quietude of the bedroom. While introducing natural elements through biophilic (nature-based) design is desirable, plants and water tend to have too much yang life-force, Anthony says.
Other energy disrupters include clutter, washing baskets and bookcases. “It’s not a place to be storing things,” he says. “A few books if reading at night is OK.” The edges of shelving are also said to create poison arrows.
Also avoid items hanging over the bed, such as pictures. “On a subtle psychic level, you tend to worry it’s going to fall and hit you,” he says. If you must have something, make it a soft tapestry or similar.
First published on wellbeing.com.au