Nothing rejuvenates the mind and body like a good night's sleep -- but it's not always easy to catch some Zs or even a quick catnap without tossing and turning under the covers.
In addition to the stresses that accompany our busy routines, our environment plays a major role in keeping us from nodding off for a restful snooze, according to sleep experts.
Consider taking stock of your bedroom. Better sleep should follow if you find ways to make it a peaceful retreat rather than a room filled with reminders of tasks not finished, colors that clash or lights and sounds that disrupt peaceful rhythms.
If revamping your bedroom just sounds like another chore, target your efforts on the following five points and you might find yourself feeling restful and ready for more challenges.
Get the right light
Paul Gigler, of Wildwood Interiors, Oakmont, believes proper lighting is essential to a stress-free bedroom. He prefers floor lamps and chandeliers with silk shades and soft illumination rather than an overhead fixture that causes glare when someone is lying in bed. People should take into consideration in which compass direction their bedroom faces, he says. If the windows face the west, deeper and darker shades are required to achieve a calm feeling when the sun goes down. If the room faces east, soft colors effectively meet the rising sun.
A room free from distractions is one of the keys to sleeping well.
Jon Delach, senior designer for Today's Home in Ross Township, says he had to change his routine to find some downtime at home.
"When I'd finish eating dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, I used to gather all my magazines and papers, head straight to my bedroom and turn on the TV," he says. "When I finally shut off the lights and TV, I couldn't go to sleep." Now he spends his after-dinner hours on his living room sofa until it's time for bed, and "when I go upstairs, I go to bed to sleep."
Delach says he advises clients not to have a television set in their bedrooms, and if they insist, they should hide it inside an armoire and restrict its use.
Consider peaceful colors
Color also is important for creating a restful environment -- but not necessarily pastels and soft colors.
"Some people prefer deep jeweled tones like dark blue or green," Delach says. "It makes them feel secure, womb-like and comforted. Another person might feel suffocated by those shades."
Interior designer Christine Haught, of Sewickley, says: "I generally do extensive interviews with the clients to get a sense of what they are comfortable or not so comfortable living with."
Consider images you find peaceful, relaxing and restful and draw inspiration from there. For example, for one of her clients, Haught is creating a bedroom that reflects the couple's vacation home in Greece. She has chosen Mediterranean colors of gold, blue and touches of terra cotta that she says work well with an existing antique carpet. Accents include their religious icons, an upholstered wood and leather sleigh bed and blue-and-gold velvet toile window treatment.
Beth Sammarone, an interior designer from Murrysville, says one goal of creating a serene bedroom should be to "make it feel spa-like," with simple, soft colors and different textures.
Explore ancient ideas
Susan Merkner, an interior designer and certified feng shui practitioner, of Feng Shui Consulting of Greater Pittsburgh, Kilbuck Township, uses principles of the ancient Chinese philosophy in her design work. She believes the bedroom should be a place to revitalize.
"If you don't get a good night's sleep, it affects all areas of your life," Merkner says.
She believes a bed should be positioned so the person sleeping in it has a view of the door and doesn't subconsciously feel vulnerable or threatened from outside forces. But the bed should not be placed "so your feet are directly facing the door because your feet are a very sensitive area. Facing the door will make you feel very susceptible."
Choose accessories carefully
Haught chooses artwork with great thought, so as not to select "a piece of art that is frightening to wake up or go to sleep to." Her own bedroom includes a torchiere that once sat in her grandmother's living room, along with family photos on her nightstand.
Accessories should be peaceful and serene, according to Merkner. "It's not a place to put wind chimes," she says. A person looking for love might choose a pair of lovebirds or pairs of pillows. Pairs of accent pieces tend to create a feeling of balance, she says.
Sammarone says "the main thing is to keep it as streamlined as possible," she says, "with not a lot of reminders of the day. You want to have a getaway place, where you can close the door and escape from the world. You should make it look as good as it feels."
A Healthy Perspective to Sleep
Timothy H. Monk, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, thinks people should make sleeping more of a priority in their lives.
"We spend one-third of our life doing it, but we don't take it as seriously as we should," he says. "It's what we do when we're done doing all the things we want to do."
As a result, they don't pay attention to some of the details that can make their restful hours more peaceful -- like splurging on top-quality bedding.
"We should have comfortable pillows and mattresses," Monk says. "We'll spend money on a nice car, but we don't pamper ourselves in the bedroom."
He also advocates replacing an alarm clock or clock radio with an iPod or CD player that plays relaxation tapes or CDs.
"I would rather wake up to the sounds of birds singing or waves at the seashore than a car salesman shouting at me with his latest deal," the professor says.
Monk says research shows that proper sleep leads to more productivity, increased resistance to infections and better overall health.
By toning down bedroom lighting, people can realize physical benefits as well, according to Monk.
"The human biological clock is sensitive to light," he says. "The brain makes high levels of the hormone melatonin at night. In bright lights, melatonin levels go down, and we don't feel as sleepy." Melatonin is thought to control cycles of sleep and wakefulness.
Dr. Bharat Jain, medical director of the Excela Health Frick and Westmoreland Regional Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Mt. Pleasant and Greensburg, says one of the first suggestions he offers patients who have trouble sleeping is to lower the temperature and control the amount of light that enters the bedroom.
Lifestyle changes such as listening to relaxing music, having a glass of milk, refraining from heavy meals four to five hours before bed and abstaining from alcohol, caffeine and smoking, which are all stimulants, can help promote sleep, he says.
"You have to make the changes slowly," he says, "but you'll be surprised at how much better you feel."