Sleep problems in later life

Bedroom and environment for sleep

The people we spoke to had many different ideas about how their bedrooms should be laid out, and what they should have in their rooms to provide the best environment for sleeping. People ranged from believing the bedroom was only for sleeping and having nothing to distract them in it, to having all sorts of equipment such as televisions, computers, CD players and so on.
 
Ventilation
Nearly everyone we spoke to believed that it was important to have good ventilation in a bedroom, with most people having their windows open in the night and curtains drawn. They might have their windows open a little bit in the winter, or if it was cold, but would generally open them more in the summer to get as much air circulating as possible. People who weren’t able to open their windows kept their bedroom door open.
 
Beds and Bedding
Some people believed having a comfortable bed was very important for getting a good night’s sleep, as well as having the right kind of pillows. Daniel and his wife had recently bought a very expensive new bed and pillows and had noticed they were both sleeping a bit better. Several people told us how important their pillows were to them, with some having several large pillows on their beds, whereas others only had one or two thin pillows. Having the right kind of pillow was often seen as very important for a good night’s sleep, with a few people even taking them away with them if they can. Mary has a special softer German pillow which is better for her neck.
Radios, TV’s and Computers
Not everyone saw their bedroom as just somewhere to sleep, for some it also acted as an office and an entertainment centre. People had electrical equipment in their bedrooms, such as computers, DVD players, as well as televisions and radios. Several people did their emails on the computers in their bedrooms, and others used their bed as a desk.
However, other people felt the best environment for sleeping was to have a bedroom free of televisions, radios or music equipment in case it stopped them from sleeping. If they did have this equipment in their bedroom they would never have any of it on when it was time to go to bed.
Whilst some people said they definitely would not have a television or radio in their bedroom, others found them very comforting, and that they even helped them get to sleep. Occasionally, people told us they would fall asleep either listening to the television or the radio. Those who lived on their own found that the television was a form of company and they enjoyed falling asleep listening to it. Others said that it helped to cope with not being able to sleep in the middle of the night, so that people would get up and watch TV, or go onto the computer to while away the time until they felt drowsy again. Mary has a radio in her bedroom so that she can listen to the World Service if she wakes in the night, which she says is more soothing than watching the television which tends to keep her awake. (See 'Strategies for good sleep').
Alarm clocks
Most people told us they had alarm clocks in their bedrooms. Some people carried on setting their alarms for the morning, even after they retired, so they wouldn’t feel they were wasting time in bed in the morning. Others set their alarms when they had a specific appointment to get up for, but otherwise would let themselves wake up naturally. However, the majority of the people we spoke to found that they would automatically wake at the time they needed to get up, and usually just before the alarm clock went off, if they had set it.
Alarm clocks also functioned as radios and sometimes as lights in a bedroom, so that some people told us they didn’t use them as alarms, but would listen to the radio whilst dozing in bed.
 
Light
For some people having a light on in the room or nearby was very important for many different reasons. Some needed the light to see what the time was so they knew if they should try and go back to sleep, go to the toilet, or give up trying to sleep and get up. Others needed to have enough light to find their way to the toilet. Juliet, who has rheumatoid arthritis, always keeps on a low lamp near her because when she wakes up in the night to go to the toilet she is a bit wobbly on her feet. Some people told us they have a small light on so that if they wake up in the night they can read.

Frank didn’t draw his curtains at all in the night, because he liked the light to stream into his bedroom, and he enjoyed looking at his garden the minute he woke up. Several people kept their curtains slightly apart because they liked to wake up to the morning light. Having the correct amount of light in their bedroom influenced people’s choice of curtains, while some people found light curtains helped them to sleep, others needed heavyweight or blackout curtains or blinds. Needing different amounts of light in the bedroom than their partners to sleep means that some people find it difficult to go to sleep when they want to.
Heat
Several people told us that being too hot or too cold in their bedroom affected how they slept. Mary lives on her own and sleeps in a double bed, so when she gets hot in the night, she can roll over onto the other side of the bed where it is much cooler. If Mary is too hot it makes her toss and turn, and she has to sleep with the window open, or if she is too cold she cannot get to sleep at all. A few people told us they changed their bedding according to the seasons, with some of them finding they hated being too hot, so would only have a light duvet or even just a blanket. Others told us they couldn’t sleep because they were too cold, and found different ways to deal with this, such as having heavy blankets and sheets instead of a duvet to keep them warm, or making hot water bottles in the night.

Reading
Whilst several people did read books, newspapers or magazines in their living rooms, many also liked to read in their bedrooms before settling down for the night either in bed, or sitting in their bedroom. Most people told us they fell asleep very quickly if they read before turning the light out and found they were reading only a few pages each night, although others found they could read for an hour or so before feeling tired. People also tended to read in bed in the night if they woke up, but usually only if they didn’t have a partner who may be disturbed by the light. (See 'Strategies for good sleep')

Last reviewed September 2015.

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