After reading a snippet about feng shui in a teen magazine, my daughter entered her bedroom with the dictum she had read in mind: Keep only what you love. She systematically removed everything she didn't love! The result is a gem of a room -- all her own and perfect in every way for her unique self.
Ask yourself: What do you love? What do you want to keep in your bedroom? What brings you a sense of calm? Which fabrics feel good to you? How do you want to decorate?
Including earth's elements in the bedroom environment enhances the space considerably. Do you like to sleep with fresh air? There is a joke in my family that my mother can't sleep unless she has a gale-force wind blowing through her bedroom. She could never sleep with closed windows. For many of us, stuffy rooms don't feel as good as rooms full of fresh air, so provide as much fresh air as you can and as the weather permits.
The earth element in the bedroom is a key component of restful sleep. I like having all natural bedding that comes from the land and not from a factory, and I want my bed to rest on a wooden floor. It makes me feel like I am grounded when I sleep.
The emotional watery element of dreams and intuition has a place in the bedroom too, and dream journals help to foster a connection to this world. And fire, of course, represents passion, light, and heat. Be sure to have all four elements included in your bedroom for the most peaceful rest and restorative sleep.
Pleasing the Senses
The general premise of the bedroom is that you want as little in it as possible, and you want what you have there to be natural and clean.
Renovate or paint only when you can have the windows open for enough time to fully air out the room from paint and chemical smells, and sleep elsewhere in the meantime. You'll spend one-third of your life in your bedroom, so focus your attention on making the room pleasurable.
What you smell when you sleep really matters. It makes the difference between rest and restlessness. Most synthetic chemicals intrude on your sleep by stimulating the central nervous system, often interrupting your rest with tension and agitation. It's better to have a tranquil sleep with soothing smells, such as fresh air from an open window or pure air from a clean, simply furnished room accented with natural materials.
Smells to avoid in the bedroom can include synthetic mattresses; carpet, paint, or stain; cleaning products such as furniture polish; clothes that have been dry-cleaned; moth balls; and anything else with a strong smell. Synthetic smells from mattresses can be subtle, but they can have a powerful impact with their blend of fire retardants, stain-resistant solvents, and pesticides.
Dry-cleaned clothes can be a serious hazard in the bedroom. The cleaning solvents used can waft through your bedroom, exposing you to powerful neurotoxins while you sleep. My advice is to purchase natural-fiber clothing that doesn't require dry-cleaning, of course. That may not always be possible though, so switch to having your clothes wet cleaned, or hang the newly dry-cleaned clothes outside for a few days before bringing them into a bedroom closet.
If you'd like to be especially vigilant, never bring dry-cleaned clothes into a bedroom; hang them, instead, in a closet far away from the sleeping areas. I personally never dry-clean anything; the solvents are terrible for the earth, for those who work in dry-cleaning establishments, and for humans and pets.
Even the natural materials in your bedroom are best if they are as inert as possible. For example, fresh pine has a smell that could interfere with restful sleep, as can a houseplant if the soil is a bit mildewed or waterlogged.
Smells that interfere with a relaxing sleep may seem so commonplace that you may not think about them, like the fragrance from a perfume bottle or the scented detergent that lingers on your sheets. It's best to wash laundry with an unscented detergent. The less you smell when you sleep, the better.
Some smells in the bedroom don't originate there. For example, fumes in the air may be a result of pesticides used elsewhere or may mean your oil burner needs tuning. Take the appropriate steps to avoid or clear away sources of pollution.
Natural noises are welcome to many of us. Going to sleep in August with the racket of crickets or waking up at dawn to the call of a wood thrush is something that's comforting to me, but it may bother you. The bird song before dawn in the summer in New York's Hudson Valley is enough to wake the dead, and many complain about it.
One family I know has fans in each room so the entire family can drown out nature. "It sounds like a jet engine going through the house," the father of four noted to me. Each to their own choices! Even fans whirling or sirens and traffic in New York City can be harmonious if it is what you like and are used to.
I feel that you should turn off technological noise (white noise) when you go to sleep. White noise is any random noise that contains an equal amount of energy per frequency band and is generated by computers, TVs, and even white noisemakers. In simple terms, you could identify white noise as a drone or hum. Turn off the TV or the computer if either is in your bedroom. White noise can entrain your own rhythms, and that is not what you would want for deep, restful, healing sleep.
I like surrounding my sleeping environment with as much natural sound as I can manage. An indoor water fountain is one way to add harmonious, soothing, natural sounds to your nights. Water falling is a medley of tone colors and natural harmonies, and it can keep out unwelcome sounds, such as traffic and pedestrian noise. Compare that with a computer droning incessantly with no variation in tone or pitch.
The sound of your alarm clock is often the first sound you hear in the morning. I have been looking for a mellow-sounding alarm clock -- something that will wake me up with crashing ocean waves or quiet music; instead, I have one that sounds as if the fire alarm is going off.
A pleasant-sounding alarm clock can help start off your day with more equilibrium. A radio alarm clock that awakens me to the news is not for me simply because the news is so often sensationalist and geared toward provoking fear. That's not a way that I want to start my day.
Our natural circadian body rhythm is determined by the light of day and the dark of night. Some people have trouble sleeping because they don't receive enough natural light during the day, and consequently, their systems don't turn off at night. Others don't get enough true darkness at night to fully activate their body rhythms, an increasing problem for those who live in well-lit cities like New York.
Managing these light issues, as well as coordinating the light we receive with the sleep we need, is something most of us have to think through at some point. What parent of a young child hasn't contemplated long and hard the value of window shades when their young child wakes up with the first light of dawn?
When you invest in window treatments, find a type that doesn't collect dust (like swags), and choose a simple, clean look with materials that are easily cleaned. Blinds are now made from untreated natural products, such as natural grasses, bamboo, and woods, and can be cleaned easily with a damp cloth. Natural-fiber curtains may appeal to you. Just make sure your window treatments don't have an odor.
I live in the country, without streetlights or surrounding buildings, and I find that I get the sleep I need regardless of the natural light. As a result, I don't have any curtains at all because I don't need them for privacy. This minimalist approach works even for my teenage daughter.
Color is a treat for the eye, and the color of your bedroom should feel restful and conducive to harmony and quiet. The bedroom is also an intimate room, and you want it to be pleasing.
Blue is often chosen for bedrooms and meditation rooms because blue's cool energy is calming, restful, peaceful, and spiritual. Blue helps inspire quiet meditation and soothes you to sleep. Color therapy with blue has been found to reduce blood pressure.
Green might be a good second choice for a bedroom color because it is naturally restful (imagine the landscape in early spring as the trees are budding). It also has a vibrancy about it, so if you go with green, make sure it is a light green.
Some red touches add sensuality, but don't overdo red in the bedroom because it can be exhausting and too energizing. I recommend white ceilings because they reflect light and brighten any room.
Lighting has a few important purposes in the bedroom -- for reading in bed, for finding clothes in a closet, and for giving you a sense of safety and security. I like sleeping in the deep dark, my daughter likes to have her door open and the bathroom light on to banish any images from her imagination, and my elderly mother always needs a night light to help her feel confident that she won't fall.
While light for sleeping is an individual matter, be sure there is good lighting for reading in bed. Reading before sleep is a genuine pleasure, and good lighting lessens the strain on your eyes.
The amount of enjoyment we get from our skin touching the covers is determined by the sensual, soft feel of our bedding fabrics. Clean, soft, and even silky sheets are as seductive against the skin as anything man-made could ever be. Feather beds -- cloudlike cushions that are placed on the mattress under the bottom sheet -- are heavenly.
The ideal bedroom temperature for deep sleep is between 55º and 68ºF. During the winter, place hot water bottles in the bed before crawling under the covers to make the bed a welcoming, cozy place. My friend Pat places a hot water bottle in her kids' beds when they're sick. To me, that one small gesture shows how loving and nurturing a mother she is!
Being cool in the summer is just as important as being warm in the winter. Sleeping with moisture-absorbing sheets in the summer helps to keep you from feeling clammy from perspiration during the night. Light flax linen is a particularly cool and inviting fabric for summer, although it is expensive (try saving money by finding used linen sheets at estate sales).
How important is your choice of fabric for bedding? Very important! I recall reading about a study that compared the heart rates of those sleeping under wool versus polyester, and they reported that the heart rate is lower when sleeping under wool.
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being wonderful), rate how you feel in the morning when you wake up. Keep improving your bedroom environment until you have a full 10.
Your Sixth Sense:
Once you have accomplished many of the tasks required to have a nontoxic and uncluttered bedroom, take some time to sit in there and absorb how it feels. Open your intuitive mind to give you information about the room's comfort level.
Author Annie B. Bond is considered an authoritative voice on the natural lifestyle. In her work and her books, she offers advice for creating a home that is in harmony with the earth. Her insight and wisdom are a result of her struggles with the aftereffects of two chemical poisoning accidents that left her unable to function in the world as she knew it.
Annie's experience with chemical sensitivity has been a catalyst for change on two fronts -- in her own life as she learned to create a healthy home without toxins and in the lives of those whom she inspires to eliminate synthetic chemicals, off-gassing products, and indoor air pollution in their homes.
Her journey toward health led to her first bestseller, Clean & Green, and then to The Green Kitchen Handbook and Better Basics for the Home. Annie is also an intuitive energy healer and dowser. She is the executive producer of Care2.com's Healthy Living channel, editing six free e-newsletters that are sent to 1.8 million subscribers; and she hosts Annie's Healthy Living Network in Care2Connect, where she also posts a blog. Annie is also a columnist for Body+Soul magazine. Visit her Web site.