Sleep is essential to our overall well-being, growth, and productivity. Our health, mood, and cognitive abilities can suffer without adequate sleep. While many factors can affect sleep quality, our five senses significantly influence how we sleep each night. Good sleep habits rely on our five senses, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, each playing a unique role. In this article, we’ll explore how your five senses impact your sleep quality and what you can do to improve your rest.
Scientists are still working on understanding sleep’s crucial role in the human body and brain. However, a substantial amount of research is already available on the subject, including the link between sleep and the senses. The relationship between sleep and the senses is complex. Not only can poor sleep affect the sharpness of our senses, but our senses can also contribute to sleep troubles. However, with some careful planning, we can enhance our sleep quality by utilising our senses.
Sleep and the Sense of Sight
Our sense of sight, also known as vision, is an important way for us to understand our environment and take in information. Our sense of sight is a remarkable ability that allows us to perceive the world in incredible detail. From the colourful hues of a breathtaking sunset to the tiny letters on a page we read, our sight enables us to experience life to the fullest. The complex process of sight involves the eyes receiving and focusing light onto the retina, where cells send signals to the brain to be interpreted as images. This remarkable feat of nature allows us to easily distinguish between shapes, colours, and details.
The link between light and sleep is evident in the circadian rhythm, a biological process that regulates your daily activities based on environmental cues. Your body has an internal “clock” (circadian rhythm) which is regulated by light exposure. The amount of light you are exposed to during the day affects how alert and energised you feel. Conversely, the darkness of nightfall tells your body it’s time for sleep.
Let There Be Darkness
Light exposure can affect your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, and avoiding artificial light exposure before bed can help you sleep more easily. The body releases melatonin as the world gets darker, but unnatural sources of light other can disrupt this process. Closing the blinds and using candles (or ordinary light bulbs with a warmer, rather than cooler tone) can also promote relaxation before bed. Using blackout curtains or a quality eye mask can block external light for a more restful night.
Banish the Blues
Blue light emitted from personal technology devices can have a significant impact on sleep. Research indicates that long-term screen use, bringing gadgets too close to the face, and exposure to blue light after sundown are particularly associated with sleep disruptions. This is because blue light inhibits melatonin production, a vital hormone in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. To mitigate this problem, avoiding screens for two to three hours before bedtime is recommended. If a night light is required, using a dim, red light may help, as red light has minimal effect on melatonin secretion. Wearing blue light blocking glasses during the day or in the evening before bed has been shown to relieve insomnia.
Sense of Sight Sleep Hacks
- Turn off the lights before you go to sleep.
- Eliminate light pollution from the street outside or electronics. Window shades or blackout curtains can help with this.
- Avoid bright artificial lights an hour before bedtime. Candles can help create a soothing environment.
- Avoid blue light from device screens where possible during the day, but especially in the evening. Use night screen settings on your devices or lower the brightness. Even better, ditch the devices for an hour before sleep time.
- Wear blue-blocking glasses during the afternoon and evening.
- Use a light-blocking sleep mask to give your eyes a rest.
- Use calming colours in your bedroom decor. Muted blues, greens and neutrals are soothing shades. According to a study by the University of Sussex, dark blue is considered the most relaxing colour.
- Guided imagery is a fantastic method of relaxing the mind at bedtime to induce sleep. To try it, recall positive images that you find calming and soothing from your memory bank. Popular examples include beaches and forests, but the critical factor is that the scenario is peaceful and comforting to you.
Our top sense of sight sleep aids:
Sleep and the Sense of Hearing
The sense of hearing is one of our most valuable senses, allowing us to communicate and navigate the world around us. Our ears pick up sound waves and translate them into electrical signals that are sent to our brains for interpretation. Hearing even the slightest sounds can be crucial for personal safety and survival. It’s amazing to think about all the different sounds we can recognise, from birds chirping to the hum of a car engine. The sense of hearing also contributes greatly to our enjoyment of music and other forms of entertainment.
Outside noises are often blamed for keeping us awaking or waking us up during the night. Unlike the sense of sight, our hearing continues while we are asleep, which can be useful in an emergency or when a wake-up alarm has been set. Contrary to popular belief, it is not sound itself that wakes us up during the night, but rather sudden changes in your sound environment. Everyone’s threshold for sound tolerance during sleep differs and even sounds that don’t fully wake you can affect sleep quality.
Silence is Golden
While silence is often considered optimal for sleep, preferences regarding environmental noise can vary based on personal experiences and the conditions our ears have come to associate with rest. If complete silence is not your thing (or not possible,) ensuring noises are constant, have little variation and are low-pitched will help with sleep. For instance, the continuous hum of traffic can help you dose off, but if an emergency vehicle passes with its siren, it will interrupt your sleep.
Earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones can help reduce disruptive noises, while white noise can mask disruptive sounds. Soundproofing a room or turning off sources of noise like an air conditioning unit can also be helpful.
Certain types of sound can significantly improve your sleep by helping your body drift off or stay asleep. This is because sound has a profound impact on your brain, and mood and can increase or decrease certain hormones, such as cortisol, calming you down in your pre-sleep relaxation phase. Explore various types of sounds to discover what suits your preferences.
Music for Sleep
Music can be soothing, helping to reduce activity in the brain. Texture, tempo, and dynamics all affect how we perceive music. Studies have shown that classical music, in particular, is helpful for sleep induction and relaxation. Lighter instrumentation, like piano or strings, can be used to create soft background sounds that invoke feelings of tranquillity. High-pitched noises are associated with alertness, as is fast paced music, so low, slow music is recommended for sleep. Experimenting with different types of music can help you find something that works best for you.
If you are using a playlist of songs, ensuring there is no gap between the songs will help your mind remain relaxed. Continuity is vital for calming the mind.
White Noise for Sleep
White noise is a type of sound that can mask other disruptive noises and help create an overall calming atmosphere. It is effective for sleep promotion, particularly in those with hypersensitivity to environmental sounds. The low-level hum of white noise can reduce the chances of being startled by louder sudden noises, providing a psychological effect that promotes restful sleep. White noise machines, or apps on your devices, are great for creating this ambient environment.
Pink noise is another option that emphasises lower frequencies and creates a deeper sound that is especially comforting.
Binaural Beats for Sleep
Binaural beat recordings may aid relaxation and improve sleep quality by inducing various psychological states that are correlated with specific brainwave states. By providing a different frequency to each ear, an “illusory auditory stimulus” is created that the brain tries to synchronise with, leading to a mental or emotional state associated with sleep. Always listen to binaural beats with headphones or a surround sound system to get the full effect.
Soundscapes for Sleep
Environmental soundscapes, or the combination of background noise created by nature and city life, can be just as calming as music. The sound of rain falling on leaves, waves crashing against a shoreline, or a chorus of birds in a rainforest can be used to create a harmonious atmosphere that’s perfect for sleep. Depending on your environment and personal preferences regarding environmental sound, you might find that one type of soundscape works better than another. Experimenting with different combinations can help you determine what works best for you.
Guided sleep talk-downs have become increasingly popular for helping to induce sleep. For this purpose, we are including all meditation, hypnosis, affirmations, bedtime stories and guided imagery as a sleep talk down. While all these processes can be done silently on your own, adding auditory elements to this process can be helpful and reduce distractions. A guided sleep talk-down can provide a sense of security and comfort, allowing you to feel present in the moment and drift into a peaceful sleep. There are plenty of free sleep talkdowns on YouTube or via various apps.
Sense of Hearing Sleep Hacks
- Reduce the sounds you can hear in your bedroom as much as possible. Turn off the TV before you go to sleep.
- Use earplugs or noise-
cancelling headphones if the noises are out of your control.
- Listen to white noise or a constant soothing soundscape like rainfall or waves.
- Gentle music or a calming guided sleep talk down (like meditation or hypnosis) are brilliant ways to calm an overactive mind.
Our top sense of hearing sleep aids:
Sleep and the Sense of Touch
Our sense of touch is truly unique. It allows us to feel the world around us through a complex network of nerve endings spread across our skin. Whether you’re stroking a furry pet or holding onto a loved one’s hand, the sense of touch plays a vital role in our everyday experiences. It can help us detect temperature, texture, and pressure changes and even allow us to perceive pain and pleasure. Without our sense of touch, we would struggle to navigate the world and connect with others.
Your sense of touch can make it nearly impossible to focus on anything besides discomfort when you’re too cold, too hot, itchy or in pain. Therefore, embracing comfort in your sleep space is the best way to influence your sense of touch. In recent years, researchers have been looking into how certain types of tactile stimulation can be used to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. For example, studies have found that weighted blankets may reduce stress and anxiety, leading to increased comfort and improved sleep efficiency.
Having the ideal pillow, mattress, and bedding is crucial to maintain an optimal sleep environment, as these factors affect how well you sleep at night. Temperature, bedding material, mattress support and contouring, and pillow loft are all important. If you find yourself frequently shifting positions while sleeping, it could be a sign that your sleeping arrangement is causing sleep issues.
Keep Your Cool
Temperature is a crucial factor in sleep quality, with a range between 15.6 to 20 degrees Celsius recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. People generally sleep better when feeling cool and comfortable, which can be achieved through air conditioning or using lightweight bedding in warmer climates.
Breathable bedding, pyjamas, pillows and mattresses materials can help the body regulate its temperature. Natural fibre blends are best to prevent overheating, while synthetic fabrics can trap body heat. Lightweight cotton pyjamas are a good option. Comfortable bedding can also contribute to overall comfort in the sleeping environment.
Your Mattress and Pillow Matters
Your mattress and pillow are the foundation of your sleep comfort, so selecting ones that support good posture and provide adequate cushioning is important. While personal preferences can vary widely, a general rule of thumb is to choose a mattress with enough firmness for spinal alignment but enough softness for comfort. Pillows should be selected according to size, shape, and firmness preferences. Ultimately, what matters most is finding the combination that works best for you. With the right mattress and pillow in place, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another day!
For some people, particularly those with anxiety, weighted blankets provide a notable benefit. The pressure sensation of weight on your body can be calming, helping you both fall and stay asleep. Weighted blankets provide gentle, soothing pressure that can promote relaxation and sleep. This type of tactile stimulation has been found to reduce stress levels by providing a feeling of security and comfort. Weighted blankets are available in various sizes, weights, and materials for different needs. For best results, selecting the correct weight based on individual size and preference is crucial. If deep touch pressure appeals to you, you may also like to try a weighted eye mask or plush toy.
Sharing Your Bed
While a loved one’s touch can make us feel content and secure, sharing a bed with another person, pet, or child for eight hours may lead to sensory overload. Changes in position can disrupt sleep, leaving us feeling tired and resentful the following day. If you are sharing the bed, ensure everyone has enough space to move without disturbing one another.
Earthing (also called grounding) is a method of connecting to the Earth’s natural energy. It involves direct contact with the surface of the Earth, like walking barefoot on grass or sand. This connection releases electrons from the Earth’s surface that are known to be beneficial for health and wellness. Studies have found that earthing can reduce stress and inflammation in the body and improve sleep quality by reducing stress hormones and improving melatonin production. Natural earthing or using an earthing mat is an easy way to provide your body with this powerful calming effect that helps you drift off into restful sleep each night.
Sense of Touch Sleep Hacks
- Keep your room cool (not cold). The Sleep Foundation recommends having your bedroom between 15.6 to 20 degrees Celsius for sleep.
- Use comfortable, breathable, natural bedding and sleepwear fabrics like cotton, linen, silk and wool.
- Try a weighted blanket; it’s like sleeping in a warm hug.
- Use the right pillow and mattress for you. It should feel comfortable and support the spine.
- Try gentle self-massage on your feet or temples. Use a fragranced oil to tie in your sense of smell.
- Try some of our parasympathetic nervous system hacks.
- Ground yourself to the Earth or use an Earthing device.
Our top sense of touch sleep aids:
Sleep and the Sense of Taste
Taste is our perception of flavour and is one reason we derive so much pleasure from eating. We taste food thanks to the taste buds on our tongues, which pick up on different flavours; sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. These sensations are then sent to the brain, which combines them to create the flavour we experience. Our sense of taste is a complex and intricate system that plays an important role in our daily lives.
What to Eat Before Sleep
Eating nutritious meals throughout the day is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes making sure to eat properly before bed. Eating a large meal late at night can leave you feeling uncomfortable and make it difficult to fall asleep, so it’s best to avoid this.
Incorporating a variety of sleep-promoting foods can also be beneficial. Foods like bananas, cherries, and yogurt contain sleep-regulating nutrients like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and tryptophan. Almonds provide healthy fats that may help improve melatonin production, while oats are high in carbohydrates, making you feel more relaxed before bed.
If you want to get the best quality sleep possible, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime is highly recommended. Caffeine and alcohol both have a significant impact on your sleep patterns, making it harder for your body to settle into a restful state. Caffeine acts as a stimulant, making you feel more awake and alert. Alcohol can have a sedative effect, making you feel drowsy initially but ultimately interrupting your sleep cycle.
Herbal teas are an excellent choice if you want to avoid caffeine, and they can also help you relax before going to bed. Chamomile is a popular bedtime tea, but many other herbal teas contain calming ingredients like lavender, valerian root, and lemon balm. Choose one that suits your tastes and sip it slowly while listening to relaxing music or reading a book.
Sense of Taste Sleep Hacks
- Brushing your teeth will make your mouth feel clean and fresh. This can help you relax and make it easier to fall asleep.
- Avoid heavy meals just before bed. Try to have dinner at least 3 hours before your sleep time.
- Drink herbal tea. Check out our round-up of the Best Sleep Teas.
- Eat more sleep-friendly foods such as bananas, cherries, oats, almonds and walnuts.
Our top sense of taste sleep aids:
Sleep and the Sense of Smell
Our sense of smell is often underrated, but it plays a crucial role in our daily lives. From detecting the scent of our favourite food to identifying potential danger through the smell of smoke, our sense of smell helps us navigate the world around us. But how exactly does it work? Our sense of smell relies on specialised cells in our nose that detect odour molecules and send signals to our brains. Interestingly, these cells can recognise thousands of different odours with incredible accuracy.
Smell, one of our most powerful senses, plays an influential role in our memory, mood and energy levels. It can even be used to induce sleep! While scents can help promote sleep, it’s best to make calculated and minor changes to avoid overload. It’s also important to consider potential allergens if you’re prone to allergic reactions.
Smell the Roses Lavender
Improve your sleep with the power of aromatherapy. Using essential oils like lavender, chamomile, eucalyptus, and clary sage can help calm your mind and even reduce snoring. You can easily incorporate aromatherapy into your sleep routine through products like essential oil diffusers, candles, and pillow sprays. By exposing yourself to calming smells before bedtime, you can unwind and reduce stress, which may help you stay asleep throughout the night. Research indicates that keeping a diffuser on all night could be beneficial. Remember to check for allergies or sensitivities to certain scents before use.
Therapeutic qualities of some smells have less to do with their universal power over the human brain and more with our socialisation. Scents like vanilla, rose, and cucumber are commonly associated with relaxation because of their cultural association with calming activities like massages, beauty salons, and candlelit baths.
The scent of lavender is a popular choice when it comes to sleep aids. One study on the use of aromatherapy for sleep found that lavender can provide a sense of stability and make your body feel heavy, leading to significantly improved sleep quality. Beyond this, studies have highlighted various potential positive effects, including reduced stress, pain, anxiety, fatigue, and even depression. Check out our Essential Oils for Sleep article to find other sleepy flavours. It is advisable to avoid scents that can make you feel more alert, such as citrus or peppermint fragrances.
Breathe in the Fresh Air
Getting enough fresh air is key for a good night’s sleep. Our bodies need to be balanced with both oxygen-rich air and oxygen-poor air to rest soundly. Pollutants, such as dust, pollen, and smoke, can hamper breathing, preventing us from getting the quality sleep we need. People with asthma may experience nighttime flare-ups, as certain odours can cause nasal passages to swell. When the nasal passage swells, breathing from the mouth worsens snoring, making sleep challenging. Open windows or use an air purifier to ensure that your bedroom is filled with clean and refreshing air throughout the night.
Potted plants are an excellent addition to any bedroom. Plants offer a perfect partnership with humans because we breathe oxygen and release carbon dioxide, which they require for photosynthesis. By filtering pollutants and giving off oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide, plants can help us breathe easier, thus improving sleep quality. The natural humidity given off by plants can also help to prevent dryness in the nose and throat during the night, providing added sleep comfort. It is vital to choose the right type of greenery, though, as some plants can irritate the nasal passages. Check out our article on creating a sleep-friendly bedroom, which includes a list of the best plants for the bedroom.
Sense of Smell Sleep Hacks
- Use essential oils in a diffuser or massage them into your skin. Some scents perfect for sleep are lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus (for clearer breathing.) Essential oils can also be used to make a calming sleep spray for your pillow and sheets. See our recipe here.
- Make sure your bedroom air is fresh. If having the window open during the night is not practical due to climate, pollution, or outside noises, have it open for a bit during the day to rid your room of stale air. Alternatively, an air purifier and some potted plants could help you breathe easily.
Our top sense of smell sleep aids:
Our five senses are critical factors in ensuring quality sleep. Taking simple measures and being aware of our surroundings can significantly improve sleep quality, so you wake feeling revitalised and ready to take on the day ahead. A little care for our senses goes a long way toward a more restful and energising slumber.
Please note: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you have any questions about your sleep health, speak to your doctor. This post may contain affiliate links.