It's the cardinal rule of sleep hygiene: Your bedroom should be a calming, comfortable havendesignated for sleep and sex only. The more clutter and distractions you're up against at night, the harder it will be to transition into sleep.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make in their bedrooms is they try to cram too much in there," says Gary Zammit, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York City. "They use it as an office and as an entertainment room right up until the clock strikes 10, and expect to just hit the lights and fall asleep. But the brain doesn't work that way."
Remove mental stimulants
"I made the error two years ago when I moved into my house to put a television in the bedroom," says Laura, 36, a marketing executive in Atlanta. "I'd never had a television in the bedroom before, and once you have it, it's hard to get rid of it."
Laura recently began attending cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions to help decrease her dependence on sleeping pills. "One of the behavioral modifications I'm trying to work on is not watch TV in the bedroom. My sleep specialist has made it clear that the bedroom is for two things that start with an S, not for television."
The television may be the most popular sleep disturbance in American bedrooms, but it's not the only one. You should also get rid of computers, paperwork, exercise equipmentanything that might remind you of other things you could or should be doing after you've gone to bed.
Close yourself off
If necessary, keep your door closed if you need to guard against distractions or noise from housemates or pets. Even if you're not allergic to them, allowing a cat in the bedroom can aggravate other allergies, found a 2007 European study.
In 2002, Mayo Clinic researchers found that 53% of pet owners reported disturbed sleep on a nightly basis, many of them from sharing a bed with the animal or getting up to let it out.
Eliminate time cues
You may need to remove clocks from your bedroom, as well. "We all come in and out of deep sleep every hour and a half, but if you don't actually realize you're awakeor that it's the middle of the nightyou fall right back asleep," Zammit says. "Noticing the clock can make you feel anxious and keep you up." If you need an alarm, cover it up or put it on the floor, out of sight.
Consider how sex affects your sleep
"Sleep and sex" is the standard rule, but for some people, there's an exception: Getting intimate right before bed may leave you revved up instead of relaxed (this can be especially true for women). If you notice that this is the case, you may want to consider changing your sex schedule to the mornings or early evenings, and giving yourself time to unwind afterward.