How to Sleep Better: Create a Healthy Sleep Environment

You can learn how to sleep better using these helpful tips, includes information on sleep factors of light, noise, temperature and the bed.

| November/December 2003

Carol Venolia shares how to sleep better by improving your sleep environment.

Carol Venolia shares how to sleep better by improving your sleep environment.

By Mother Earth Living staff

Learn how to sleep better by creating a bedroom environment conducive to good sleep.

Before the electric lightbulb, people generally went to bed after dark and rose with the sun. If they stayed up after sundown, it was by the light of the fire, candle, or oil lamp—a low, warm light that eased their transition to sleep. But with the advent of electricity, light in our homes no longer matches what’s best for our bodies.

Most Americans now sleep an hour and a half less each night than they did a century ago, at great cost to health and safety, writes William Dement, M.D., Ph.D., of the Stanford University Sleep Research Center in The Promise of Sleep (Delacorte Press, 1999).

For the sake of productivity, people now treat sleep as a disposable commodity; fewer than 35 percent of American adults regularly get the seven to eight hours per night that researchers consider necessary. The irony is that burning the midnight oil actually lowers productivity by causing memory lapse, increased error rates, slower reflexes, lack of motivation, and short tempers. Driver fatigue contributes to more than half the vehicle collisions in this country, and sleep deprivation played a role in the Exxon Valdez grounding, the 1986 space shuttle explosion, and the nuclear incidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, Dement points out.

Chronic sleep loss also affects our health because it contributes to lowered immune function, elevated stress hormone levels, slowed metabolism, and increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, certain malignancies, and diabetes. Shift workers, whose sleep cycles are continually disrupted, live an average of ten years less than others. Is all this enough to convince us there’s something to the notion of living in harmony with nature?

When we sleep, our brains consolidate the day’s experiences into memory while our bodies re-energize our muscles and organs and regenerate cells. Researchers have identified several phases of brain-wave activity needed to experience the full benefits of slumber, yet it’s increasingly common for people to miss out on some of these stages.

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