Can Your Home Help You Sleep Better?

By Drs. Whitney Austin Gray & Stephanie Timm
By delosteam 1 year ago

Meet Julie – a sleep-deprived woman

Julie turns the key to her front door and exhaustion hits her. After collapsing onto the lounge she turns on the television, responds to a few more work emails, and when the TV show ends, tells herself she deserves to relax and just one more episode can’t hurt… At 4am she wakes up on the lounge with every light on, the TV blaring and her laptop in front of her. Shuffling to the bedroom she hopes for a couple hours of restful sleep.

At 6am, Julie’s phone alarm rudely interrupts her slumber and she opens her eyes to a dark, cold room. She’s tired and hits the snooze to get 10 more minutes’ of sleep – and then hits it again – and then again. Fifteen minutes before she has to leave for work she leaps out of bed, quickly gets ready and runs out the door.

Sound familiar?

Australians are sleep deprived – does the environment play a role?

Reports reveal that 33-45 percent of adult Australians believe they get an inadequate length or quality of sleep. Almost 30 percent report they have made errors at work in the last three months due to sleep problems or sleepiness, and 20 percent reported they’ve nodded off while driving.

Traditionally, the solution to problems like these has been simple – change your behaviour. Go to bed earlier, schedule less and prioritise more. While this does seem logical, it doesn’t always work. Humans notoriously struggle with behaviour change.

In the case of inadequate sleep, scientists often point out that one of the key reasons we continue to struggle so much is that the modern environment is often working against us. Our sleep-wake cycle is largely regulated by light. Bright, blue-rich light promotes activity and alertness, while dim, warm light signals that the body should decrease energy and prepare for rest. Many of the devices we use regularly at night, including televisions, mobile phones and indoor lighting, emit blue light which can disrupt our sleep-wake cycle tremendously.

Therefore, instead of only trying to change behaviour, a more strategic approach is to change your environment first. Create a home environment that automatically transitions lighting, temperature, sound and smell into optimal ranges depending on day and time. Invest in home technologies that minimise or automate mundane tasks to extend your free time.

If Julie had made these environmental changes how might her typical night/morning routines change? Perhaps something like this:
Julie arrives home and as the sun begins to set, her lights dim and warm, automatic black-out shades lower and the television turns off based on a timer at 10pm. A soft scent of lavender drifts from her bedroom upstairs and the temperature drops, encouraging her to hop into her comfortable bed. In the morning, automatic shades slowly rise and soft lights simulating the sunrise slowly glow, gently awakening Julie in place of an alarm clock. The heater kicks in, and the natural sounds of birds softly chirping indicates it’s time to get out of bed and enjoy the fresh pot of coffee that has begun to brew.

Instead of blaming yourself for another restless, sleepless night, let your home help you wake up replenished and refreshed.

About the Authors

At Delos, Dr. Whitney Austin Gray is responsible for the oversight of health research and the development of innovative design strategies and products that seek to improve human health and wellness through building design. Prior to joining Delos, Dr. Gray served as the Health Research and Innovation Director for Cannon Design, a global healthcare design firm. Dr. Gray’s efforts have been widely published, and she is an invited presenter at national and international conferences—often speaking on topics related to health centered design in healthcare environments. Dr. Gray co-founded the NIH Health in Buildings Roundtable, and supports health and design research through the AIA, ULI, and EDRA. She received her PhD from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and her BA in Public Health Studies from The Johns Hopkins University, and was the first public health professional to become LEED AP.

Dr. Stephanie Timm is a researcher with a core interest in how design of our built environment can improve people’s lives. Her primary focus is creating and translating industry and academic research into action. Before joining Delos Dr. Timm studied and worked in five different countries. Dr. Timm has taught multiple university courses, presented at international conferences, and published her research in peer-reviewed journals. She received her Ph.D. in Regional Planning and M.S. in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her M.S. in Engineering and Masters in City and Regional Planning from California Polytechnic State University. In 2014, she was selected as U.S. Fulbright Fellow to conduct research in Singapore. She also holds both WELL AP and LEED AP BD+C credentials.

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