Decorating tips for a better night’s sleep

How well are you sleeping? According to a study by the Better Sleep Council, almost half of Americans (48 percent) say they don’t get enough sleep. And while an Ambien or a capful of NyQuil might get you on your way to dreamland, solving your sleep problems could be as simple as making a few decorating adjustments in the bedroom. After all, your bedroom is the last thing you look at before you turn out the lights and the first thing you see in the morning. So changing your sleeping environment can improve your chances of getting the zzz’s you need. 

Choose calming colors

Colors on the cooler spectrum like blue, green and gray can help calm your mind and relieve stress. While most people opt for pale shades of these colors for their bedroom, a big trend in the past few years has been toward darker hues — think navy blue or graphite gray — that, while bolder, are still soothing for the psyche. Avoid warmer tones like red and orange, which are energizing and can keep you up at night.

Don’t ‘let there be light’

Try to block as much light as you can from your bedroom, whether it’s sunlight in the morning or streetlights in the evening. Select blackout curtains, or if you have curtains you already love and don’t want to change, just add a blackout liner, which you can buy separately and then clip on to your regular curtains. An added benefit of blackout curtains is they help insulate your home to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. 

Muffle the sound

Hard surfaces, like hardwood floors and drywall, reflect sound, while soft textiles, like area rugs, curtains, pillows and bedding, absorb it. If your bedroom is large enough to accommodate them, upholstered furniture pieces such as armchairs or settees also muffle noise. In my bedroom, I upholstered the wall behind my bed. It helps reduce noise while adding a beautiful design element to the room.

Eliminate clutter

It’s difficult to feel restful when your bedroom is cluttered. You’ll feel much more at peace when shoes and clothes are picked up, and the tops of nightstands and dressers are clear of papers and ATM receipts. Also, don’t forget to close the closet doors, as you want all those clothes and other contents out of sight. Clear room, clear mind.

Sorry, no TV

Although many people like to watch television before going to bed, catching up on your favorite programs will likely stimulate your brain rather than relax you. And if you’ve ever been in the middle of a Netflix marathon at 2 in the morning saying to yourself, “Just one more episode,” you know you always regret it the next day. So keep your television in the living room or den and reserve your bedroom for sleep. The same goes for laptops, smartphones and tablets: Keep them out of the bedroom, or you may fall into the rabbit hole known as Facebook.

Update your mattress

How old is your mattress? The Better Sleep Council recommends trading in your old mattress for a new one after five to seven years, and an Oklahoma State University study shows that switching to a new mattress significantly improves sleep comfort and quality. You can also extend the life of your mattress by flipping and rotating it. And just because you have, say, a 15-year warranty doesn’t mean you’re supposed to use it for that long. A warranty is meant to protect you from product defects; it does not guarantee the mattress will be comfortable for 15 years.

Reduce allergens

One of the things that keeps many people up at night is an allergy attack. Safeguard against allergies by replacing wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood floors and encasing your mattress, pillows and comforters in dust mite covers. Also, invest in a HEPA air purifier, which can remove up to 99.97 percent of household airborne allergens and pollutants. I can’t sleep without my air purifier, not only because it cleans the air in my bedroom, but because the white noise it produces cancels out other sounds — like my snoring dogs.

Don’t sleep with pets

And speaking of dogs, here’s some common sleep advice that I’m guilty of not following: Ban pets from your bed. Pets can interfere with your sleep by taking up the whole mattress, kicking you while they sleep, making the bed uncomfortably hot, or shedding allergen-filled hairs on your clean sheets. I know I sleep much better when my two dogs are not in bed with me. But according to them, that’s just not going to happen. Well, at least I don’t have a television in my bedroom. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

‘Sleepless in America’ reveals eye-opening truth about lack of sleep

Can’t fall asleep? Not getting enough sleep? You’re not alone, and that sleep deprivation may be causing a lot more damage than you realize.

Waking up earlier, going to bed later and getting far less sleep than our bodies require not only makes us tired and unable to function, it makes us vulnerable to disease. Sleep deprivation is a serious public safety issue, too: Drowsy driving causes nearly 1,000 fatal car crashes each year. 

This epidemic of overtiredness only gets worse as we get older, according to Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley, who appears in the new documentary “Sleepless in America.” The special premieres Nov. 30 on the National Geographic Channel.

“The prevalence of insomnia increases significantly with age. Estimates suggest that at least 40 percent of the adult population over the age of 60 suffers from insomnia,” Walker told the Journal. “The strength of the 24-hour biological rhythm within the brain that helps regulate our sleep/wake cycle degrades as we get older, leading to problems with sleep at night. And the brain regions that help generate sleep, especially deep sleep, are the same that deteriorate most dramatically as we get older.”

It doesn’t help that older adults tend to have more physical pain, which can cause them to wake up throughout the night. They also need to get up to go to the bathroom more frequently, after which they can have a harder time falling asleep, he added.

Walker pointed out that it is “a common misconception that older people need less sleep. Older adults need sleep just as much as adults at other stages in life but cannot initiate or maintain sleep as effectively.” 

Studies have established links between sleep deprivation and a host of serious conditions, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and depression. Another concern is sleep apnea, infrequent or cessation of breathing during sleep. 

“Apnea fragments sleep, further decreasing the amount of deep sleep obtained,” Walker said, adding that certain other conditions can contribute to insomnia. “Chronic pain can fragment all types of sleep throughout the night. Depression can lead to abnormal sleep, including too much REM [rapid eye movement] sleep and a reduction in deep [non-REM] sleep.” 

And there’s more bad news: As “Sleepless in America” explains, cancer researcher Dr. David Gozal of the University of Chicago established that poor sleep may double the speed of cancer growth. 

The warnings are clear, but this wakeup call comes with solutions. Mark Rosekind, a fatigue expert with the National Transportation Safety Board, who has been involved in investigating accidents caused by drowsy driving and who appears in the TV special, offered some simple, practical advice. 

“Give yourself enough time to sleep,” he told the Journal. ”Have a regular bedtime and, especially, [a regular] wake time. Control your environment: temperature, noise, light. Cooler is better than warmer — 67 to 68 degrees is the perfect sleeping temperature for most people. Anything from earplugs to noise machines can be helpful. Have enough light that you can get around if you have to get up during the night, but not so much that it tricks your internal clock.

“Take the technology out of the bedroom. Not only can it be overstimulating, the light can literally change your sleep patterns as well. You can read, watch television or listen to music in bed. You just don’t want to do something that’s going to get you engaged and stimulated,” he said. So instead of watching something scary that will get your heart racing, stick to reading the tax code, he joked.

Rosekind recommends establishing regular habits and routines that train your body to prepare for sleep, and developing both physical and mental relaxation skills. “The No. 1 cause of insomnia is worrying about something. Yoga stretching, and relaxing and tensing muscles can help, and so can counting sheep, giving yourself something to focus on other than the worry in your head.”

It may help to make a written list of your worries and concerns and what you plan to do about them before you go to your bedroom, Rosekind said. “Then, when you’re in bed and something on the list comes up, you can say it’s on the list and get back to the relaxation skills.” 

His No. 1 piece of advice, however, can be the most difficult to follow, given the hectic lives so many of us lead: “Make sure to give yourself enough time for sleep, at least eight hours.”

If shut-eye still remains elusive, Walker suggests seeking out a sleep specialist “who can properly assess, diagnose and treat specific sleep disorders.” Snorers who keep their partners awake would also benefit from this help, he added. 

“Snoring is potentially indicative of sleep apnea, which is treatable, and the bed partner will also benefit markedly with treatments,” he said.

The message of “Sleepless in America” is clear, and it’s one that Walker echoes. 

“There doesn’t seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep — and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough. Sleep appears to be the third pillar of good health, together with diet and exercise,” he said. “The single most effective thing we can do each and every day to restore both brain and body health is sleep.”

New Israeli study explains coral’s pulsation

This story originally appeared on

Do you find yourself dragging; craving a nap in the late afternoon? You're not alone. Soft coral beneath the waters near the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat does the same thing.

A new study by scientists from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Technion, Israel's institute of technology, discovered that a soft coral called Heteroxenia, found in the reefs off Eilat, pulsates continually except for a period of one-half-hour just before sunset. The study does not answer the napping question, but the scientists do have a theory.

“During the day the coral uses the photosynthesis to generate its food, and during the night it goes through respiration like other animals,” Uri Shavit, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Technion in Haifa told The Media Line. “Just before sunset when the level of oxygen is very high it can take a rest without harming its metabolism.”

What the study, funded by Israel's National Science Foundation, was trying to discover was why, unlike all other species of coral, the Heteroxenia pulsates incessantly, using up valuable energy. The reason, they found, is that the level of photosynthesis, which transforms sunlight into chemical energy, is between five and eight times greater with the movement than without it.

“Corals, which are animals, are important for the ecosystem because they live in symbiosis with algae,” Maya Kremien, a graduate student at Hebrew University who worked on the study told The Media Line. “The pulsation creates the optimal conditions for the photosynthesis of the algae.”

The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States (PNAS). Kremien worked on the project for four years, developing an underwater measuring device called a particle imaging velocimeter (PIV) which measures the flow of water around the coral.

“By taking hundreds of thousands of images with the PIV, we basically have velocity vector maps,” Shavit said. “We found that the coral pulsates almost 24-hours a day. It's very beautiful. You can sit and watch it for hours.”

The study comes amid concern that the coral reef in Eilat, which is one of the most diverse in the world, has been gradually degrading. Of the nine miles of Israeli coastline along the Red Sea, less than one mile has been designated as a nature preserve. The development of the city of Eilat, sewage outflow and industrial installations have all taken a toll on the coral reefs.

In a previous study, the same group of Israeli scientists found that the motion of water is needed to increase the flow of oxygen away from the corals. This time they found that the pulsation means the coral will not be filtering the same water each time. In addition, each polyp, or coral flower, pulsates at a different rate.

The research could have some practical applications as well, in engineering or medicine.

“We are not there yet but there are a lot of interesting questions that could lead to practical use,” Shavit said. “Nature is very smart through evolution and people mimic nature in other fields. We learned to fly from birds, and to swim from fish.”

They are not sure what people can learn from coral, but they are sure it will be valuable.

Q & A With Dr. Peretz Lavie

Dr. Peretz Lavie has spent his career studying sleep and sleep disorders. The fifth-generation Israeli is head of the Technion Sleep Laboratory, which has hosted more sleep patients than any other laboratory in the world.

"We’ve had about 60,000 patients who have slept with us," he joked.

Lavie’s most recent book, "Restless Nights: Understanding Snoring and Sleep Apnea" (Yale University Press), examines the history of sleep apnea and provides advice for people suffering from this potentially life-threatening sleep disorder.

Sleep apnea is characterized by brief interruptions in breathing during sleep. Each apnea, Greek for "want of breath," can last a minute or longer and can occur as often as 20 to 30 times per hour. According the National Institutes of Health, as many as 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Risk factors include being male, overweight and over 40, snoring loudly and genetic predisposition. Untreated, the disorder can lead to cardiovascular disease.

The Journal sat down with professor Lavie during the Los Angeles stop of his American Society for Technion-sponsored tour of the United States to talk about sleep apnea and how the intifada has impacted people’s sleep.

Jewish Journal: What have you seen in the way of sleep problems since the situation began in Israel?

Peretz Lavie: If you ask people in Israel now if they sleep better or worse, probably people will say worse. But when you measure it or study it, it’s not so bad.

We studied sleep during the Gulf War when Scuds hit Israel almost nightly with objective recordings at patients’ homes and we didn’t find any effect on sleep. When we do a survey and ask people how they sleep, there was an increase in the complaints about insomnia of about three or fourfold.

JJ: What about the quality of sleep?

PL: The quality of sleep wasn’t so bad. This is true for many, many studies of what we call post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a vast disparity between how they perceive their sleep and what we find in the laboratory when you measure it objectively.

We studied people during the worst night of the Scud missile attacks on Israel. There were three missiles that fell during that night, so you could see in our recordings the time that the missile fell, the patient woke up and 10 minutes later the patient was asleep like nothing happened. That’s it.

What led me to this were studies done in London during the Blitzkrieg, how people slept in underground subway stations. No problem whatsoever. It was so easy to sleep under these conditions, but nobody believes it’s possible.

JJ: What led you to study sleep apnea?

PL: Sleep apnea is both fascinating and a very prevalent phenomenon. One in 10 men have a little bit of apnea, which is clinically significant. Sleep apnea is turning out to be one of the major risk factors for a variety of cardiovascular diseases — hypertension, myocardial infarction, arterial sclerosis, strokes. Ninety percent of the patients we see are sleep apneic.

JJ: What are the primary causes and what are the cures?

PL: Sleep apnea is a very widespread phenomenon. We do not really know what is the specific cause of sleep apnea. We know that there are several risk factors that predispose an individual to sleep apnea, and I talk about most of them in the book. Upper-body obesity, for instance, is one of the big risk factors.

The patients, when they come to us, they are not aware that they stop breathing. They are only aware of the consequences — fatigue, tiredness, etc.

It has to do with the control of the muscles of the upper airway, with the distribution of fatty tissue around the neck and it is more prevalent in men than women.

One treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP — continuous positive air pressure. It is [a device] that pushes air through the nostrils in order to keep the airway open. The problem is that compliance is 50 percent.

The other treatments are surgery — uvula-palatal pharyngoplasty, a laser removal of the uvula — and a dental device that pushes the lower jaw forward leaving a space at the back of the throat for air.

JJ: What are the warning symptoms to look for?

PL: One high-risk population is children. The second high-risk population is the obese. So the obese, as young as possible, must be studied and treated. The third group is people who develop hypertension at 23-35 for no particular reason.

JJ: Is snoring always an indication?

PL: If you are continuously snoring, you don’t have sleep apnea. Snoring of a sleep apnea patient is intermittent. The wife usually describes that her husband stops snoring for 30 seconds and she kicks him to see if he’s still alive. This is sleep apnea.

JJ: What’s next for you?

PL: We are working now on mortality. One of the findings is if you’re past the age of 60 and you have sleep apnea, you don’t have any risk of dying. I’m following patients who are 89 years old with 60 apneas per hour who don’t have any risk of dying [from sleep apnea].

JJ: What’s the difference?

PL: This is what we’re studying. What is the mechanism that allows certain individuals to live with this? We believe there are mechanisms that allow some individuals to overcome the cardiovascular results of sleep apnea.

The other issue is what happens when you start treatment at the age of 30, not with CPAP but with lipid-lowering drugs, antioxidants and vitamins.

We’re trying to understand the molecular mechanism that translates the change in oxygen to arteriosclerosis. We started working on it seven years ago and we’ve made huge progress.

JJ: Can you foresee a drug treatment?

PL: Oh, yes. I would recommend to any sleep apnea patient to be on a lipid-lowering drug even if his lipid profile is within normal levels. We’ve found lipid peroxidation in sleep apnea patients free of any cardiovascular disease, which is the backbone of the arteriosclerotic process. Free radicals attack the lipids, so if there are more lipids, there’s more substance to attack. It’s an inflammatory process. These molecules form clots, and when a clot comes to the coronary artery [and blocks blood flow] you have a heart attack.

Once you understand the process, you know how to intervene. So one of the conclusions we’ve come to is lower your lipids as much as possible.