Sleep is vital to you and your child’s health. Without it, you are staggering zombies at best, chronically ill at worst. As we spend a third of our lives asleep (assuming you’re getting your 8 hours), it’s a major part of our lifestyle.
So, if you’re committed to green living, how are you embracing sustainability in your child’s sleep practices? Going greener can help them get their optimal rest while reducing your environmental impact — allowing you to (literally) sleep better at night.
Here’s what may be holding you and your children back from your best sleep and how to fix it with eco-friendly alternatives.
You probably know that “sleep hygiene” can help you get a better night’s rest. That typically involves avoiding food and alcohol late at night, sleeping in a dark, silent room (no TV or music), using white-noise machines, and keeping the room cool and comfortable.
But are you reducing your children’s exposure to blue light?
Although there are plenty of “natural daylight” lamps on the market, they’re all artificial. And while you may be able to tell the difference, your brain thinks otherwise. Light is a highly complex pattern of energy waves. The wavelengths, along with color temperature, determine how we perceive the light. Measured in Kelvins, a higher color temperature makes the light appear bright, with a blue-ish hue (like natural daylight) The short wavelengths allow it to easily penetrate the cornea with greater energy.
Lower color temperatures of about 1000K to 4000k make light look orange, yellow, or even red. This type of light has longer wavelengths.
Blue and green light, measuring about 5000K to 7000K, is what we perceive at daybreak. Because we’re diurnal creatures, that’s what signals our bodies to get up and go. Those wavelengths trigger the release of cortisol, resetting our circadian clock and telling up to wake up and get active (and potentially be ready to outrun a tiger). Those short bursts of energy actively stimulate your eyes.
However, many artificial sources of light, including LEDs, electronic screens, and even your soft bedroom lamp produce blue light. So, if you or your children are bathed in it late at night, your brain is getting the signal to “go!” right as you’re trying to wind down.
Tips for Reducing Blue Light
Use blue-light filters. If you wear glasses, you may be able to get special lenses that filter blue light. The company Viva Rays also produces orange- and red-tinted shades that mimic the look of firelight — what our ancestors fell asleep to.
Turn on night mode on your device. Many computers, smartphones, and tablets now come with a “night mode” that changes the screen’s color temperature. It will typically look oranger or yellower rather than the bright blue-ish light. IF you must use your device before bed, turn on this feature.
Your Bedroom’s Air Quality and Temperature
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an enormous factor in your families overall health. From Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released from air fresheners or paint to potential mold spores floating around, you and your children may be breathing in some nasty toxins at night. The good news is that our breathing does slow down as we sleep. However, we still spend a third of our lives asleep. And because our bedrooms are often poorly circulated, we may be getting a higher concentration of stale, particulate-filled air.
Also, many air quality issues, such as fungal spores and VOCs, can impair breathing, which can disrupt your sleep or contribute to disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.
In sum, you definitely want to improve your IAQ as much as possible to get your best sleep.
Tips for Boosting Indoor Air Quality
Invest in HEPA filters. HEPA technology allows HVAC filter screens and vacuum cleaners to capture more particulate matter, including spores, microbes, allergens, and VOCs. The more you can filter out, the easier you’ll breathe.
Reduce humidity. We sweat a lot as we sleep (or do other bedroom activities). That, especially when our bedrooms go unoccupied during the day, makes them prone to humidity buildup. Our bedding traps a lot of moisture, too. All these factors contribute to mold growth. Use a dehumidifier to help dry out your bedroom’s air.
Most people also sleep better when they’re cool. However, you’re likely conscientious about your use of the air conditioner and its energy footprint. If you’re wrestling with the choice between turning your AC down to Arctic temperatures or trying to sleep in a warm room, there may be a solution.
Tips for Sustainable Cooling
Use a fan. Your standard oscillating or ceiling fan uses anywhere from 40 to 80 watts per hour, while your central AC uses anywhere from 3000 to 3500 watts per hour. That usage increases the longer it runs. As it’s cooler at night anyway, consider turning your AC up (or off) and letting your fan do the work.
Skip the polyester sheets. In a moment, we’ll discuss bedding materials, but it’s worth noting that many synthetic fabrics, such as microfiber and fleece, retain heat. To stay cool, opt for cotton, linen, or eucalyptus sheets.
Toxic Mattress and Bedding Materials
You may be surprised to learn that mattresses are among the most chemically treated objects in your home. After many tragedies from mattress fires, as well as concerns about allergens and parasites, mattress manufacturers began dousing their products with flame retardants
Their intentions were good, but the effects are worse. All those chemicals, such as brominated diphenyl ether, have been linked to serious health risks. While there are natural ways to reduce flammability or allergen buildup, those chemicals soak our bodies in toxins while we sleep.
Plus, their construction is anything but eco-friendly. Memory foam, polyester cases, and waterproof covers are all derived from petroleum, further supporting our dependence on fossil fuels.
Our bedding is another problem, as it’s often made from microfiber or synthetic material. In addition to being yet another plastic, microfiber releases tiny plastic particles that come out in the wash, polluting our waterways and harming coral reefs.
It’s hard to sleep soundly knowing that your bedding is harming both your health and the planet.
Tips for Eco-Friendly Bedding
Invest in an organic mattress. There are plenty of toxin-free organic mattresses on the market that use natural materials such as wool, which is innately flame retardant and mite-proof. As a bonus, they’re super comfortable.
Buy cotton, linen, hemp, eucalyptus, or bamboo sheets. Made from highly sustainable crops, these materials make for cool, comfortable bedding with a minimal environmental impact.
Your home’s electromagnetic spectrum
Our sleep is also impacted by all the electronic devices in our surroundings, which generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The electromagnetic spectrum includes everything from power lines to radio stations to Wi-Fi networks. While the former two likely won’t disrupt your sleep too much, your Wi-Fi router very well may.
Throughout our evolution, our bodies have become attained to the Earth’s frequency, which hums at the Schumann resonances of about 7-20 Hertz as lightning storms continually “charge” the globe. Some people call this Mother Earth’s heartbeat. When we enter deep, dreamless sleep, our brains go into delta waves — a mere 0.5 to 4 Hertz. In other words, we sleep at an even slower hum than the planet itself.
That’s a bit challenging, though, when we have devices emitting anywhere from 300 Hz to 100kHz (computers) to 2.5-5GHz. A frequency of 1 Hertz is 1 cycle per second; 5GHz is 5 billion cycles per second. As our brains like to resonate with nearby frequencies, we could be inadvertently stimulating brain waves associated with wakefulness.
Tips for Reducing EMF Noise
Turn off your router at night. You’re not using it anyway, and it may reduce the high-frequency EMF. Plus, it will save you a bit of electricity.
Power down all computers, TVs, and other devices. Again, this will lower your energy bill and turn off many of your overlapping EMFs.
Quality sleep is hard to come by these nights, especially in our modern society filled with artificial lights and constantly beeping devices. Take it from our ancestors: it was much easier to sleep in a quiet, cool place illuminated by firelight and on natural, soft materials. The products we’ve been sold to improve our sleep, from waterproof mattresses to AI-powered sleep aids, might be making things worse.
To sleep better — and greener — keep it simple. Minimal electronics, a nice fan, organic sheets, and clean air go a long way toward a good night’s sleep. Plus, you’ll rest assured that you’re making the best choices for you and your children’s health, and the planet.
This article is inspired by an interview with functional nutritionist, certified health coach, and sleep specialist Angie Nicolucci.