|with Dr. Thanuja Hamilton|
In our quest for better slumber, a lot of us want a simple answer. You want to sleep better—but how?
Not to worry! Dr. Thanuja Hamilton, a board-certified sleep doctor on our Sleep Advisory Board, is here to walk us through the simplest route to better sleep:
Limit your bedroom to sleep and sex
“Right now, everyone is doing everything in bed,” Dr. Hamilton says. “Watching TV, looking at their phones, eating, Netflix-binging. People are living in their beds and that’s become a problem.”
All of these things—from screens to work email—impact our body’s actual ability to fall asleep. These electronics have blue light emissions that prevent your brain from releasing the sleepy hormone melatonin—which is secreted in response to dim light.
But is using screens in my bedroom really bad?
Splitting up with our screens is no easy feat. What do you really gain?
“Sometimes people mistake distraction for relaxation,” Hamilton says. “They say ‘I need my TV to fall asleep, I can’t fall asleep without it.’ But really, that’s just a distraction. If you went to sleep with the TV on, your body was crying mercy—it was so tired it fell asleep. What this tells me is you simply aren’t getting enough sleep, or the sleep you’re getting isn’t good sleep.”
Ok, so I want to stop using screens, but it’s hard to stop. What do you recommend?
Hamilton suggests using a bedtime alarm on your phone that goes off a half-hour before bed. “Let this be your trigger—it’s time to wind down. Do your last check of emails, texts, scrolling.” She says this sets the tone of relaxation before sleep—consistently winding down and unplugging from your day.
And how about that other S of the bedroom...
Is sex good for sleep?
“It can absolutely help,” Hamilton says. “Sex releases endorphins. It relaxes the body and relieves stress. Dopamine and prolactin are increased.”
On the flip side, sleep is good for sex too. Dr. Hamilton points to a research study that showed women who slept better had an improved sex life. At the same time, better sleep quality for men meant higher levels of testosterone. “Testosterone is actually secreted during sleep,” Hamilton says.
But you don’t have to think of only having sex when it’s bedtime. Quite the opposite, in fact, says Hamilton: “Have sex whenever you want to—day or night. No limits.”
Well alright then, sleep doctor’s orders!
That’s it? Just use your bed for sleep and sex?
For many people, creating this protective blanket around your bedroom will noticeably move the needle on your sleep quality. Yes, there will still be some folks with underlying sleep disorders for whom getting better sleep is far more complex (and we highly recommend they see a certified sleep physician like Dr. Hamilton). But that sacred space around your bedroom is a solid step no matter who you are.
“It’s a big factor. Good sleep derives from so many things, but if you’re using your bed properly, that’s the vehicle to getting good sleep.”
How long will it take to notice a difference?
“Conditioning can take awhile for people,” Dr. Hamilton says. For some people she works with, she moves them to a schedule gradually—she might cut off one screen at a time.
“But everyone is different. Personally, I’m a cold turkey person.”
It’s important to remember this conditioning is really building habits. Habits can take some time—but once you’ve built them, they tend to stick.
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OK, last question. What about reading?
For anyone with an adjustable bed, one of the best features is sitting up at the touch of a button, a position which allows you to read comfortably. But that doesn’t really jive with the two s’s of the bedroom—so is it ok to read in bed? What if you have a reading position with your adjustable base and then you move to a flat position to sleep?
“If you’re going to read in bed, that’s a great idea. It’s that same conditioning thing,” Hamilton says.
“You’re partially positioned up in bed reading, and once you put that book down, turn that light off (avoid excessively bright light), and feel your bed coming back down from your reclining position, yeah, that would probably trigger good sleep too.” Hamilton says. “It’s about building these strong associations in a physical way.”
It’s not quite as clean or alliterative as the two S’s, but limiting your bedroom to "sleep, sex, and reading non-electronic books in a reclining position on a Reverie bed” has a nice ring to it too.