In these chaotic times, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear you’ve been having trouble sleeping (same here). If you’ve tried everything and anything to improve your sleep quality with no luck, you might want to consider taking some time to get smart about your bedroom design. Quitting coffee after lunchtime and abandoning your phone in another room before bed are great hacks for making it easier to fall asleep at a decent hour, and a dedicated wind-down routine or a little meditation in the evenings can help put you in the right relaxed mood. But no matter how much you set yourself up for some good shuteye beforehand, if your bedroom isn’t conducive to sleep, you may still find yourself tossing and turning.
“Your bedroom, the arrangement of your space, and everything in your space has a huge impact on your sleep quality,” says Anjie Cho, an interior architect and feng shui designer. “If you’re not in control of your bedroom space when you’re sleeping, everything that’s in your space absolutely can affect you, from the mundane aspects like the light quality to the electronics.”
You may be in a passive state, Cho explains, but your brain is by no means turned off when you’re asleep. Your subconscious mind can still process external stimuli and thus be affected by your surroundings.
Want a bedroom that will help you sleep better? Here’s how to arrange your bedroom, according to interior designers:
1Position your bed wisely.
“The most important element in designing your bedroom space when it comes to sleep quality is the position of your bed,” Cho says. Essentially, you want to place the bed in a position where you’re facing the door and have a clear view of anything or anyone who may enter the space. That way, you can’t be caught off-guard. At the same time, you don’t want to be directly in line with the door, such that you’d be in harm’s way if something dangerous did come inside. You’ll also want your headboard to be securely against a wall so that you know nothing could come up from behind or above you.
Even if we’re not consciously aware of these concerns—you might sleep in a fairly secure house where you’ve never really thought about the possibility of an intruder—our minds still have a subconscious awareness of their surroundings, and they’re more likely to stay alert if they feel vulnerable as you’re drifting off. “Your old mind, your reptilian mind—especially when you’re sleeping—all it knows is fight or flight,” Cho explains. “All it knows is that if you’re in a place where the bed is not facing the door or you’re directly in line with the door, you’re in a dangerous space. You’re in the most dangerous position in the bedroom.”
Giving yourself a clear view of the entire bedroom—including having any windows within your line of sight as well—allows your mind to recognize it’s in the most advantageous spot in the room and thus lower its guard. “Your subconscious mind can relax, and your adrenals are not activated as much when you can sleep with your subconscious mind knowing that it can see what may be coming towards you,” Cho says. “That provides that level of security, and when your mind is relaxed and secure, then you can sleep better.”
2Don’t store anything under your bed.
Feng shui philosophy holds that our spatial surroundings and the objects around us have or create energy, and that energy affects us. With that in mind, Cho recommends storing nothing underneath the bed—having that chaotic energy beneath you can disturb you while you’re trying to get to a state of stillness. In particular, she says to avoid keeping items that have very active or even negative energy around them, such as shoes (which are associated with movement, walking, and the outside world), dangerous objects, or mementos from the past that carry heavy or difficult memories. Trying to sleep with these types of items beneath you can subconsciously keep you in a state of unease, she explains.
“You want to ideally have nothing under your bed so the air and the chi and the energy can flow all around you very easily. That’s the most ideal,” she says. “If you have to have some storage under the bed, it’s best to stick with sleep-related items like pillows and blankets and very soft things.”
3Keep books out of the bedroom.
By the same token, consider moving your book collection to another place in the house, Cho says. “Books actually have a lot of active energy. I’m not talking about having the book that you have on your nightstand that you read that helps you fall asleep. I’m talking about having a whole bookshelf and a lot of books that represent knowledge that you want to obtain and all these books that you meant to read. That can be a lot of energy in your bedroom that can keep you from having restful sleep.”
Surrounding yourself with a source of stimulation or perhaps a representation of work you haven’t accomplished yet may make it difficult for your mind to feel comfortable resting.
4Surround yourself with natural forms.
Natural forms—or “harmonic forms,” as architectural and interior designer Carolyn DiCarlo calls them—are those basic shapes that occur in nature, shapes with soft edges and lines and that aren’t large, extreme, or threatening.
“You don’t want to have a bedroom where you have this maybe harsh angle pointing in at you,” DiCarlo explains. “That would be an extreme form. That’s a non-harmonic form, where you almost feel like it’s slicing at you.” Other potentially non-harmonic shapes might include complicated technology with a lot of visible wiring or sharp parts, or even dramatic art.
“Form has an effect on you and your consciousness,” she says. “Something as simple as the art that we have on our walls. What does that signify on an emotional level? If you have some kind of bloody modern art thing, some kind of really hostile thing or overly mechanized thing, those forms are going to affect you. So if you view those forms from almost like an emotional or psychological form, what do you get?”
Express yourself however you want in the living room, but for the bedroom, try some plants instead.
5Stick to pale, neural, or natural colors.
Both DiCarlo and Cho emphasize the importance of choosing soft, soothing colors that don’t alarm the mind. Reds, oranges, and other bright colors tell the mind to be alert, whereas neutral tones like white, light blue, or earthy tones can calm the mind—or at least, they won’t actively demand its attention.
6Yes, you should declutter.
Marie Kondo is onto something, DiCarlo says. “[For] a lot of people who can’t sleep, it’s because their minds are spinning, and the more things you have around you in your room, the more things you’re going to think about. It literally has an effect on your mind. That’s why this whole big decluttering phenomenon is occurring because people are finding that when you clear stuff out of your space, it energetically clears out of your mind too,” DiCarlo explains. “It’s a more peaceful surrounding. It literally can be as simple as fewer objects for your eyes to get distracted on when trying to fall asleep.”
7Ban technology from your sleep space.
Many studies have found that the blue light coming from our screens can seriously affect our sleep by confusing our brains, which process that light as an indicator of daytime. Staring at a screen before bed essentially disrupts our natural sleep-wake cycle—aka our circadian rhythm, which is essentially our body’s internal clock—by making our brains think it’s not yet nighttime and therefore not yet time to sleep. Thus, we stay awake later.
Our smartphones and laptops are also often a symbol of more work that needs to be done, DiCarlo adds, and then there’s also all the notifications, texts from friends, and endless content to scroll through that keeps our minds stimulated.
“You really basically shouldn’t have electronics in your bedroom if you can at all avoid it,” DiCarlo says. For those of us living in small spaces where it may not be possible to totally ban all tech from the bedroom, power everything off—totally off. No small lights, no whirring sounds, no processing work happening behind a black screen next to your head. Part of this goes back to minimizing chaotic and active energy, she says, but the other part of it is truly psychological: You need to tell your mind that it, like everything else around it, needs to shut down now.
8As much as possible, maintain natural light cycles.
Contrary to what we might think, the sun can be our friend when it comes to improving our sleep quality. Our circadian rhythm mirrors the natural light patterns of the day: The sun’s rising tells our body it’s time to rise, and the darkness tells our bodies it’s time to rest. But artificial lighting has disrupted that pattern; instead of needing to go to sleep when the sun goes down at 6 p.m. (or, like, 4:30 p.m. in the winter), we can just turn on the lights and stay awake until midnight if we choose.
Restoring your natural sleep cycle isn’t easy in a world where we’re expected to rise before the sun’s up and stay awake long after it’s gone down, but according to DiCarlo, one way to start realigning your body with the natural light cycle is to simply make sure to use heavy drapes over your windows at night that block out any lights from cars, streetlights, and neighbors. In the morning, open those drapes and let the sun in. Let your body become reacquainted with the day’s natural light patterns so that it begins to associate light with wakefulness and darkness with slumber. Over time, you can train your body to naturally feel tired once the sun has gone down, which will make getting to sleep on time easier.
A good set of drapes—and clean, plentiful windows that let the sun in—are a good place to start.
Not sure if all these rules are possible for you?
Maybe the shape of your room makes it tough to position the bed far away from the door, or maybe your apartment is just so tiny that you really need that under-the-bed storage space. Don’t sweat it, DiCarlo says. Figure out which of these room arrangement changes are feasible for you and that really tap into what you suspect is at the heart of your sleep problems, and focus your energy there.