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The Machinery of Sleep: 5 Ways to Create a Night Haven

Have you ever really thought about the saying, “I slept like a baby”? We all know what this means: it’s an expression of deep satisfaction from a night well slept. And it’s a universally understood way of expressing sleep-derived happiness. But what exactly does it mean, and why — in this one area of our lives, sleepy time — are we so happy to be like a baby?

If you’ve ever struggled even a little bit with sleep you know exactly why. You toss and you turn and your mind runs in circles as it begins to dawn on you, oh no, I’m not falling to sleep. Suddenly you feel you are under the spell of something very unbaby-like, a deadline. As the moments then minutes and finally the hours begin ticking by, the clock in your head goes into panic mode: I have to sleep, tomorrow is coming (or tomorrow is here). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep nightly; according to Consumer Reports poll, 60 million are full blown insomniacs, while a 164 million struggle with sleep at least once a week.

What it means to sleep like a baby is to sleep in utter peace. If you’ve ever been in a room with a sleeping baby, it feels like you’ve entered a magic kingdom of a sort — a quiet happy place full of softness, safety, and dreams. So let’s take a few tips from the little ones and explore ways to make our bedrooms into our own peaceful kingdoms of sleep. And like a baby, we are going to keep things simple: it’s about all five senses.

Seeing Sleep

We are way more sensitive to light than most of us realize. Sanctuaries don’t have florescent lights; jails do. So in the hours before bed, begin a slow fade — avoid bright lights when possible, and maybe even get old fashioned and spend the last few hours before bed with some candlelight or dispersed, soft light of some kind. The National Sleep Foundation found that 95 percent of people use a computer, cell phone, or video game in the hour before bed; those blue lights (in the 460-nanometer range of the electromagnetic spectrum) tell your brain to stay awake. So wean yourself off late night light, and if you have trouble sleeping, consider more drastic measures, such as no electronics in the bedroom. Also think about the colors and the clutter in your bedroom. Calming colors like dark-gray-blue might help you better feel the onset of sleep, and the less stimulation of any kind — be it clothes strewn about or bills on your bedside table — the more harmonious you feel and the fewer triggers there will be to anything but simple happy sleep. 

Tasting Sleep

This is just common sense. First of all, don’t eat right before sleep and thus engage your digestive system. And what you have for dinner or late night snacks will have an impact. Some foods help sleep, other hinder it. We all know turkey contains tryptophan, which promotes sleep, but other things do, too — chicken, fish, and nuts, in particular — and carbohydrates help make this sleepy chemical more available to your brain. So wheat toast and a little peanut butter ( a nice baby snack) might help you snooze. 

Smelling Sleep

This might be the most simple but least considered sense-aspect of sleep. What are you smelling? Some smells are more sleepy than other. The National Sleep Foundation has found that clean sheets are among the most important factors in creating a healthful sleep environment. And there are other ways to make your bedroom more sleep-conducive, nose-wise — natural oils, especially lavender, have been shown to lower heart rates and create a more relaxed mental state. Consider a diffuser for the bedroom. 

Hearing Sleep

We keep hearing even as we sleep. Silence is ideal, so consider the location of your bed. Is it near a window with traffic outside, or near a wall with noise on the other side? Silence is also largely impossible — maybe your mate snores, or there’s a kid (notoriously not silent) or even a road nearby. The main thing is you don’t want to hear unexpected sounds, which rouse your half-sleeping brain. Many people effectively use masking sounds: the sound of static, or moving water, or music. Some people use white noise machines. Assess your aural sleep environment and administer your preferred solutions. 

Touching Sleep

Having a good mattress matters. So do sheets and pillows and all the accoutrements of sleep. Different people have very different preferences when it comes to creating the perfect vehicle for sleep, largely due to the varying ways we sleep. Are you a side sleeper? A belly sleeper? Does your back love to sink in to a mattress or feel firmness underneath? Really consider the physical aspects of your bed and bedding. The main thing is to understand what brings you maximum comfort, and mattress-up accordingly. All beds are not created equally. And sheets are way more vital than they are usually given credit for — you need warmth, but you also need dryness (read: no sweat absorption), and softness. In other words, as any baby knows, get yourself the right blanket, hole up in a mighty fine crib, and tumble off into dreamland.


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