As we continue to dig into this stay at home quarantine I have been taking the time to continue to increase my knowledge and skills. I have always talked about how design is influenced by psychology, that things like color theory have a basis in our thought patterns. I have been doing a great deal of continued study about the inclusion of natural elements to spaces to increase happiness. These are things like plants and how the increased oxygen and other elements increase the serotonin in our brains. My studies have continued on to include how sleep affects our moods. I have been taking a class offered by Yale called the Science of Well Being. This may seem like it has nothing to with design but the connections are huge.
In the US we are the most unhappy nation and it turns out we are also one of the most sleep deprived nations. We have this belief that the more we work, the more we push ourselves, the better we are. One of my favorite saying was always when you want it as badly as you want to breathe then you will be successful. But here is the thing, if we are constantly in the mindset that sleep is not needed and we put those who are functioning on the smallest amount of sleep on a platform are we really helping ourselves or hurting our own chances of happiness? So let’s look at some of the information we get from the studies. We have found out that anything less than 7 hours of sleep a night is sleep deprived. And once we hit only 5 hours of sleep a night we start to have negative affects on our mental and physical health. In fact, we find that negative thought patterns increase to the point where we focus on the negative more than the good with this low level of sleep. This means that simply the lack of sleep can make us less in love with our partners, can make us hate our jobs and can lead us to bad decisions. It also means that our bodies don’t get to do one of the most important functions and that is the waste removal. Without sleep you are not giving your brain the ability to remove the “trash” it doesn’t need and reorganize what it does need. This means your body starts doing things like storing fat, becoming insulin insensitive and increasing the likelihood of diabetes and heart disease. This happens for many reasons but the science backs up the fact that simply getting more sleep allows for our brains to focus on the present and the good in our lives instead of ruminating on the negative and looking at external factors to make us happy. It gives our bodies the ability to regenerate and restore.
That brings me to design. How do we design spaces that make us want to do the right things for our bodies and minds. If we incorporate science into how we design we know that we need to be getting more sleep. So let’s look at bedroom design for better sleep habits. We know through scientific studies that what is close to us and what we see regularly we will be more prone to have in our daily lives. This is as simple as if the candy is on the counter we will eat more than if the candy is in the drawer. Let’s apply this thought to bedroom design. We know that blue light before bed will hinder sleep and slow the production of melatonin. So can we create a bedroom without blue light? We know that the proper temperature in the room will allow for better sleep. What elements do we need in a room to create the proper temperature. Multi-use bedrooms take our minds away from the most important use of the room. Our brains are going to focus on what we see. This means we need to design bedrooms for sleep and intimacy only. No more designing bedrooms to also be work spaces. I also believe that our senses need to be involved in the design process. So this means that we have to incorporate the right scent for sleep in our bedrooms. So this leads me to what should we be putting in bedrooms and what should we be leaving out if we truly are using design for the health and well-being of our clients?
To truly design bedrooms in this manner it means removing televisions and electronics. Creating a zen environment. This is a great time to use textures and dimension on walls to highlight natural light. This frees up space on dressers and large walls for pieces of art, plants and other items that allow us to ruminate on the positive things in our lives.
If we aren’t focused on creating spaces centered on TV we can center the space on the actual user. We can focus on social connections and inner-connections over a fascination on electronics. We make bedrooms a no electronic space. With this change we increase melatonin production, we decrease exposure to blue light, we help our brains make the right decision and we start to change our client’s health.
Temperature, is a huge element to sleep. The optimal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. So how do we achieve this? First, let’s look at how we control the temperature. Are we allowing tons of heat into the room throughout the day because we didn’t incorporate window treatments? Or if you are in a cold climate is the room too cold because there is nothing on the windows to hold the cold out? Do we have a thermostat that allows for regulation of certain rooms? Do we have fans or properly spaced vents? Do we have season appropriate bedding?
So often we design a space and forget that it is a living space. Seasons change and we need to make sure that the space continues to change and be functional with the seasons. Designing with the health and well being of our clients in mind means that we have to be thinking of how the space is used throughout the year not just at that current moment. This also allows for the ability to have a refresh and change up the space throughout the year. In science we have found that out brains actually stop seeing what is constantly in front of us. So even if we love something we get so used to it we actually forget that we love it. Designing for seasons allows our brains to get small breaks and remember how much we love each of the seasons and each of the designs for that season. It is training our brain to be happier. Think about it this way. Have you ever gone away on a great vacation? You stayed in amazing, beautiful hotels, but when you walked through your own door to your bedroom you were so happy to see your own bed and room? This is in part because you gave your mind a break from something you really loved but had gotten complacent about because you saw it every day. So when we design for the season we can have a better control of the temperature of the room but also we trigger the part in our brains that got complacent about the design that we loved in the very beginning.
Scent is so important in design. It is something we don’t always think about in interior design but it is driving so much more than we know. Retail has learned this lesson and has been creating signature scents for a long time. Aberocrombie was one of the first retailers to really take hold of this idea and saw sales skyrocket. Now a days you can’t go anywhere on the internet and not see people talking about essential oils, their uses and how to diffuse them. But sleep products and designs have had these elements for years without realizing how important they really are. We know that if we can slow down breathing and create a more meditative state we can increase mental and physical health. We also know that this is required for good restorative sleep. So what scents promote better sleep? The top four scents for better sleep are lavender, jasmine, ylang-ylang and bergamot. Lavender has been proven to significantly inhibit anxiety and depression like behaviors. In fact, in studies, lavender oil actually produces similar results to anti-anxiety/anti-depression medications. Read that again. Simply smelling lavender oil for 7 days produces the same result as taking an anti-depression medication. Want to know more check out the studies by Gellar and Vogel. Bergamot oil has been proven to reduce blood pressure, inflammation and anxiety while boosting cognitive function. This means that simply diffusing bergamot oil in the air can help the physical health of our clients.
Candles, diffusers, and aromatherapy pillows are all great ways to incorporate scent into the bedroom. Pillow and sheet sprays are also great ways to have the right scent in your mind as you fall asleep. My personal favorites are bergamot, lavender and eucalyptus. For me, these scents allow for better mediation and deeper sleep.
So when it comes to design we need to stop thinking just about how it will look in a space but also how it affects our clients on the whole. We can no longer just design to design. We need to take into account the entire well being of our client, educate ourselves and provide a product that is truly the best product for all aspects. No longer can we separate physical space from mental and physical health. We must design for better health!