You know that feeling when you walk into a spa? The calm music, the soothing decor... it's an environment that's been carefully crafted to make you feel relaxed. And while we're not suggesting you need to spend time and money turning your home into a spa, you can take a clever cue from the intention: There are a few things you can avoid keeping in your bedroom to ensure the space is perfectly primed for both relaxation and sleep.
We talked to Dr. Heather Gunn, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and clinical psychologist with training in behavioral sleep medicine, about the items that can prevent or lessen healthy sleep.
Here are 10 things that belong nowhere near your bed, in the name of better, more comfortable sleep:
You've obviously heard this one before, but it bears repeating—phones are not good bedfellows, for a number of reasons. The blue light can mess with your circadian rhythms, the notifications can keep your brain alert, and having the phone nearby means you're much more likely to use it to aimlessly scroll through Instagram or check work emails. Ditto for tablets, computers, and other devices.
Sorry, TVs are also a pretty big nope for optimum sleep—especially if you're a binge watcher. Research from the University of Michigan and the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium in 2017 found that people who binge watch television were 98 percent more likely to suffer from poor sleep than people who did not binge watch. Ouch.
If you absolutely must keep a TV in your room, Gunn advises investing in one with a sleep timer (like this Sharp Roku TV) so Netflix doesn't stream for hours when you're trying to snooze.
(Some) essential oils
You might already be using essential oils in different ways in your home—for cleaning and just general good-smelling juju. But Amanda Lattin, a registered aromatherapist and herbalist at Terracina Aromatics and Herbals, suggests being careful about which ones you bring into the bedroom. "Some essential oils have been shown to increase focus and task performance. These essential oils might not be my first choice to diffuse at night," she says. "These include jasmine, lemon, rosemary, and peppermint."
Educating yourself on the properties of each oil you use is also key, she says: "It is important to be aware of the therapeutic uses of an essential oil before using it, so you are more likely to get the kind of result you are trying to achieve. Also, I recommend getting professional guidance before using essential oils. If you are going to diffuse essential oils, only use a few drops at a time and diffuse for about 20 minutes."
Love your exercise tracker? It may not love you back. Gunn says that exercise and sleep trackers might actually cause sleep problems, especially if you're anxious about what it shows about your sleep: "They are not always the most reliable in general and are certainly not reliable at correctly detecting sleep stages. Don't wear it during the night. If you wake up feeling rested and if you feel fine during the day, there's no reason to track your sleep with a device like this."
Your crappy old pillow
Pillows can play a huge role in your sleep quality, which you undoubtedly know if you've ever woken up with a crick in your neck from a deflated hotel pillow. So, spring for one that's high-quality and attuned to your sleep style. You can buy pillows optimized for side, back, and stomach sleepers, as well as pillows designed for specific health conditions like allergies or sleep apnea. The Purple Pillow is pretty expensive (at $99), but seems to work for almost every sleep position. If that's out of your budget, try the Xtreme Comforts memory foam pillow ($49.97) which was rated the best by The Wirecutter.
Digital display clocks (and really, any type of clock with a light) don't belong on your nightstand. The light emitted from the clocks can interfere with sleep. An analog clock might be ok, though, says Gunn—unless you are someone with insomnia or other sleep problems, as the presence of a clock could cause anxiety. If you absolutely must use a clock in your bedroom, keep it off the nightstand or away from the actual bed, so the lights and sounds don't disturb you. Bonus? Having to actually get out of bed to silence the alarm can help you get up in the morning.
Don't eat in bed. Seriously. We know a midnight snack happens from time to time, but smells, crumbs, spills, and other food residue are the enemy of rest.
It's hard to keep your bedroom entirely clutter free—after all, it's a room where debris like dirty laundry, unread magazines, and more tend to accumulate—but it's worth it. Rooms that are clean, calm, and simple promote relaxation, both mentally and physically. One 2015 study even showed a link between people at risk of hoarding disorder and sleep disturbances.
While lush duvet covers and layers of blankets may help you feel safe and comfortable, they could be inhibiting healthy sleep. We don't mean those uber-popular weighted blankets, either, but large and bulky bedding made out of materials that can make you hot, like down and wool. The optimal temperature for sleep is around 68 degrees, says Gunn, so if your bedding causes you to overheat, it can actually inhibit shuteye. Choose light bedding, in layers that can be easily removed, and focus on keeping your sleep space cool.
Anything that triggers too much thinking
Overall, Gunn advises that as much as possible, you should keep your bedroom free of distractions, as well as materials or items that can trigger intense thoughts or emotions. "Anything that triggers self-evaluation for you, like financial records, exercise equipment, work equipment like computers, these types of items should not be in your room. If any item makes you think about what you're not doing, or what you should be doing, it shouldn't be in your room. Anything that makes you feel bad about yourself should not be in your room." Got that? Positive vibes only in your sleeping space.
Of course, not everyone has enough space in their home to keep their desk or exercise equipment out of the bedroom. If you absolutely must keep any of these items in your bedroom or by your bed, you can help yourself sleep better by setting clear boundaries between your wake time and sleep time, adds Gunn. Try establishing a solid bedtime routine, transitioning away from distracting behaviors and devices.