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Home Tips for Better Sleep

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A Full Plate is a column about family life and the home by contributing writer Laura Fenton, who explores the intersection of sustainable living and home design through a mother’s eyes.


As a parent, I’ve had my fair share of sleepless nights, but it wasn’t until this past year that I experienced actual bouts of insomnia (thanks, COVID). I suspect I’m not alone in this struggle. But we all know that a lack of sleep can negatively impact just about everything, so I want to share a few things that are helping me sleep better: Chief among them, I have found that my physical surroundings can make a real and positive difference in how well I rest.

During the early sleepless years of parenting, I read many baby sleep books, and while they didn’t turn my baby into a good sleeper, those books taught me a few things about setting my home up for optimal rest. Meanwhile, the past ten months have gotten me to refine my home’s set-up to help calm my racing mind. Here are 10 things that have helped my family get our forty winks (or thereabouts):

1. Hang blackout curtains in the bedrooms

True darkness = better sleep. In New York City, blackout curtains are vital to keep out the streetlights, and in summer, they help our son sleep later in the morning. If you’re looking to buy some, know that not all blackout curtains are created equal: Many products labeled “blackout” barely do the job of dimming the outdoor light. The ones we have were purchased in a moment of desperation in the newborn days: They are a not-pretty navy polyester (they’re hidden behind nicer shades in my bedroom), but they are incredibly effective.

2. Use warm light bulbs

Blue light is notorious for making us wakeful, so I’ve gotten super-picky about the temperature of my light bulbs. I am still struggling to find the perfect LED bulb (if anyone has found it, please comment below!), but I have found that I prefer ones that have a rating of 2,500+ Kelvin, which are warmer in tone. And if you’ve got old CFLs in any of your fixtures, consider replacing them with something more soothing!

3. Put dimmers on every light

I’ve always been a fan of a dimmer for the soft, flattering light they offer. When I renovated my current home, I was finally able to wire all the overheads on dimmers, which let’s me create a super-restful vibe come nighttime. For the rest of our lighting, including most of our table lamps, I use plug-in dimmers. (Pssst… Be sure to buy a dimmer that will work with your lightbulb and vice-versa.)

4. Tidy your spaces to soothe yourself

I’m committed to a nightly tidy-up at home. Even on the days when I just want to go to bed as soon as I have my kid down (I also tidy up his room; for a little kid a messy room can be a scary room in the middle of the night), I make sure to pick up the living room and do all the dishes. Seeing my home put back together offers me a kind of soothing feeling, and that tidying time is a welcome quiet time for my mind: You can’t doom-scroll and wash dishes at the same time!

5. Consider a bathroom nightlight

We added a bathroom nightlight for our son, and I have discovered that I actually like it myself. There’s less fumbling in the dark but not so much light that it makes you alert.

6. Employ white noise where you need it

At the suggestion of pretty much every baby sleep book, our son sleeps to the soft whirr of an artificial fan from a white noise machine (the LectroFan). This blocks out the noise my husband and I make in the evening and also occasionally our noisy neighbors upstairs. I’m so committed to this sleep gadget that I bought one for the guest room in my parents’ home too!

7. Keep screens out of the bedrooms

This is a pretty hard and fast rule in our house: We don’t look at our phones or computers in either bedroom—ever. If we had a different layout, I might be stuck working in my bedroom, but since it’s not a necessity, I try to avoid screens in the bedroom even when I am just scrolling Instagram for leisure. If you can’t keep screens away from your sleeping place all day, at least kick them out an hour before bed.

8. Put work away for the night

Even though I don’t work in my bedroom, I make an effort to put my work away at the end of the “work day” or at the very least, before we go to bed. I find having the laptop and papers out of site is a subtle but significant cue to my mind to wind down. My desk closes shut, but you could also just put your work things in a basket or bin each night.

9. Clear the clutter

Our bedroom is tiny, so there’s not a ton of places for clutter to build up, but even just a few items on our two nightstands can make the room feel messy (and therefore less restful). I’ve been trying to completely clear off my nightstand every morning, so it is calm and open when I head to bed.

10. Deal with your insomnia elsewhere

On the nights when I really can’t sleep (and there have been a few), I get out of my bedroom and read on my couch (paper not a screen!), so I don’t start to associate my bedroom with sleeplessness. Should I need to wait out my wakeful mind, a reading light helps me see in the wee hours without lighting up the whole house, and I always have a cozy throw blanket at the ready.

What tips can you share for better sleep habits? We could all use them right now!

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