Nature can help us sleep: bringing biophilic design into our bedrooms

This past weekend I spent an hour or so deep-cleaning my bedroom, removing clutter, and exploring ways to bring more nature indoors. Although I’m immensely grateful to have a wooded view outside of our bedroom windows, recently I’ve realized that I need to turn the volume WAY up on my self-care.

Now, more than ever before, we can all benefit from basic sleep hygiene recommendations (and if you’ve struggled with sleep issues for a long time, you might consider seeking help). Even if sleep isn’t a problem, consider giving your nightly routine an additional “nature boost” by incorporating repeated elements of biophilic design, which “emphasizes human adaptations to the natural world that over evolutionary time have proven instrumental in advancing people’s health, fitness, and wellbeing.” A few suggestions:

  • Bring in calming, nature-inspired colors. Think neutral tones, or shades of blue and green. I’m not advocating for more sleep-deprived Amazon purchases – instead, what can you use within your current means? Hang up a soothing shaded sheet over the window or wall, or turn that loud comforter over to its neutral side. If you’re really ambitious, invest in a gallon of paint and your walls a color makeover.
  • Re-claim the space closest to your bed – if you have a nightstand, does it communicate calm, stress, or chaos? Experiment with throwing everything into a box or drawer to be sorted later. What’s the most essential items you need to begin your pre-sleep countdown – and can you include elements of nature? For me, it’s lavender + only one or two extra books (and one is a collection of poems about nature). IMG_20200427_084533_491
  • Speaking of aromatherapy, if essential oils or potpourri are your thing – and whoever shares your bed has no objections, play with soothing aromas. Another idea? Maybe it’s time to start those indoor herbs, so you can place a fresh herb bouquet by your bed.
  • Create an indoor “green cart,” an idea I came across recently courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Nature & Wellness page. This was one sweet find, and you can make your own version with anything from a window sill to a box top to a repurposed table or chair. Here’s how I dressed up an old tea cart that I bought on Craig’s List over fifteen years ago. It used to hold a blanket for our old cat to sleep on (and watch birds), before she passed this spring – now, my cart includes a peace lily I’ve had for years, more dried lavender from my garden (surprise, surprise), some garden art, a mason jar of freshly picked mint + rosemary + lilac blooms from my garden, a few gardening books (including one of my favorites, A Tapestry Garden), and a collection of found nature things. It’s the first thing my eyes are drawn to when I enter the room, and the last that I see before I close my eyes. 20200430_101041
  • Do you live in the inner city or lack windows in your bedroom? Tape up pictures you’ve printed from the Internet or torn from a magazine to paper a wall near your bed. Create your own nature view. In my last house, several of our windows looked into our neighbor’s bedroom! Close those blinds and hang up beads, a string of dried flowers or leaves – anything that reminds you of nature.
  • Nature sounds really exploded in the eighties and were even featured humorously in a number of movies. Tree frogs in the Amazon might not be your thing (hello, Carrie), but soundtracks for oceans, waterfalls, or birds can calm. Our family uses several white noise machines along our sleeping hallway but big box fans can also work. They almost sound like the surf – remember the ocean, before quarantine?

Get creative! Research shows that exposure to nature offers so many health benefits, from stress reduction to lowered blood pressure to improved immune system functioning. Even engagement with virtual nature has value.