Struggling to nod off? Understanding which direction is best for sleep might not be something you had previously considered. However, tweaking the way your bed is facing is something that ancient traditions believe can help improve the quality of those Zzz. So, if you are keen to slip off into a gentle slumber in no time and wake up feeling refreshed, then this could be something worth giving a go.
As you'll learn, scientific research into the benefits of sleeping in a particular direction is very much in its infancy. But it is a philosophy that has been a core part of people's bedtime routines for thousands of years. However, while this tried-and-tested bedtime boost could benefit you, it should by no means be considered a cure-all for sleep issues, and there are many evidence-based recommendations for good sleep hygiene to try instead. Indeed, if you are battling with anxiety or insomnia at night then it is important to seek the advice of your doctor.
But if this is something you want to explore, then we've called on an expert to explain the philosophy behind sleep directions, and will reveal what the current research has shown about whether lying north-south or east-west is best. We'll also share what else you need to know if you're trying to learn how to sleep better - which is much more than discovering the best mattress or listening to calming music (although both are important too!)...
Which direction is best for sleep?
From investing in a top-notch sleep aid to the thickness of your duvet, learning how to create the best bedtime routine is often a case of trial and error in establishing what helps you snooze soundly. If you're finding that something is still not quite right when you hit the hay, then it could be worth looking at which direction is best for sleep.
You might be skeptical, but there are many subtle factors that are known to impact on our shut-eye. "There is little doubt that environmental factors can and do have an enormous impact on the quality of our sleep," says sleep therapist Heather Darwall-Smith. "Such things as light, noise, and temperature are all key considerations. But what about the position of our bed?
"Few studies have explored preferences for the position of a bed for humans, yet, there is a significant amount of research into mammalian behavior regarding places to sleep. Humans share the same primal needs as mammals in wanting to sleep in a secure location. So it is possible that we have subconsciously designed our bedrooms to ensure that we can see the door from our bed to provide visibility of any form of threat as well as clear means to escape."
This is where ancient eastern traditions come in. "Generally, creating a sense of calm and safety throughout your home will help you to relax," explains Darwall-Smith, who is an expert at Anatomē (opens in new tab), of their inspirations. For example, the Chinese philosophy of feng shui - which literally means "wind-water" - is focused on the use of energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. "It considers how to ensure our living spaces are balanced with the natural world," she adds.
The feng shui tradition recommends, for instance, that the bed’s headboard should be up against a wall, so there can be no sense of anything being behind you as you sleep. Additionally, it suggests that the walls of your room should be painted a particular color depending on the direction they face - such as green on the east to invite creation and growth, and red on the south for power.
Tweaking the direction of your bed may be of help. However, as with many aspects of alternative medicine, the research is still in progress. Additionally, Darwall-Smith notes that for those suffering from sleep anxiety as a result of insomnia this can be yet another night time worry. Particularly if the position of your house or the structure of your room doesn't allow for you to conform to these principles. "I want to stress the importance of creating a cool, calm dark room where you can relax and feel safe," she adds. "How you choose to decorate it is up to you."
Why is south the best direction for sleeping?
If learning which direction is best for sleep in is something you want to engage with, then ancient traditions - including vatsu shastra and Ayurveda, which both originated in India - generally believe that the best direction to sleep in is towards the south. This means that when you lie in bed your head is pointed south and your feet are pointed north. "They gives particular weight to the idea that the direction in which we sleep in relation to the Earth’s magnetic field may be important," says Darwall-Smith.
This is thought to be because your body has its own north and south poles too - meaning that if it's not facing the right way then it may create tension that leads to headaches and other health problems. Scientific research has started to support this idea. "Using electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of brain wave patterns, one study led by the Lahti University of Technology (opens in new tab) looked into whether the time between the beginning of sleep and the first REM episode is affected by whether they are sleeping with their body in the north-south or east-west direction," explains Darwall-Smith.
"They showed that those sleeping in an east-west position have shorter REM sleep cycles - which is essential for emotional regulation - compared to those who sleep in a north-south direction." However, Darwall-Smith points out that the study didn’t answer whether this changed depending on whether the person was in the northern or southern hemisphere - which could make an interesting area for further research.
The positives of the south-facing direction for sleep have also been supported in a recent study published earlier this year. They found a "strong relationship" between difficulties in falling asleep with geographical directions of sleep, adding that "sleep in north-south position can be advised to improve sleep quality". It adds to previous findings, led by the University of Duisburg-Essen (opens in new tab), which discovered that animals such as cattle and deer naturally position their bodies this way when resting - meaning humans may do well to follow suit.
Can you sleep in other directions?
However, if the location or size of your room doesn't allow for a furniture shift, then fear not - further evidence has suggested other directions may be beneficial in their own way. A study by the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (opens in new tab) in Munich indicated that participants who slept in an east-west position entered REM sleep more quickly. Which is vital, since while learning how to fall asleep fast is key, you also want the quality of your snooze-time to be optimal too. However, Darwall-Smith points out that the number of participants - just 27 - is perhaps a little small for it to be statistically significant.
While the jury is still out among experts on which direction is best for sleep, what there is plenty of evidence of is the importance of good sleep hygiene. Put simply, this is taking steps to put yourself in the best situation to snooze well every night so you wake up feeling refreshed. For example, a study by the Qazvin University of Medical Sciences (opens in new tab) linked better sleep hygiene practices - which includes avoiding napping during the day and caffeine near bedtime - to higher sleep quality.
Finally, just as a reminder, getting a solid seven to nine hours' sleep as the Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab) recommends for adults is crucial for everything from brain power to mood and wards off a range of health, including heart disease and dementia. It is also important for women experiencing perimenopause and menopause symptoms, since this period of life comes with risk of insomnia due to hormonal changes.
How to improve your sleep environment
As you've learned, creating an optimal sleep environment in which to nod off and snooze soundly is key to wellbeing. "Your sleep environment needs to be somewhere that you love," says Darwall-Smith. "Many people with sleep problems have an absolute dread of entering the bedroom as the brain has linked the negative experience of not being able to sleep to their environment."
If you're wondering the best time to sleep and wake up, the answer to this will be entirely personal. "Only go to bed when sleepy," recommends Darwall-Smith. "If you sleep in cavelike darkness use a sunrise alarm clock to mimic the natural light in the morning. Your eyes will register the light before you wake and this can result in a much gentler waking than the abruptness of an alarm clock."
While understanding which direction is best for sleep and moving your furniture accordingly may be something you do or don't try, you should certainly decorate your bedroom to be a space in which you want to spend time. "If you like lots of cushions, duvets go for it - or if you like a spartan paired down room, then that might feel better," suggests Darwall-Smith.
Then it's about getting the core things right - like temperature, light and sound. "If need be, use separate duvets from your partner and if your partner moves a lot or you have different temperature needs consider a separate mattress," advises Darwall-Smith. "Use ear plugs if the external environment is noisy, or try brown noise for sleep, and blackout blinds or an eye mask to create darkness."
Ventilation also matters. "This is for both to keeping the room cool and to keep air circulating - the atmosphere can get stale due to the trapped air between the covers and body getting recirculated," explains Darwall-Smith. "A study by the Eindhoven University of Technology (opens in new tab) showed that sleeping with an open window led to better sleep with participants reporting that the air felt fresher." However, she acknowledges that for some people an open window might not be possible due to safety, allergies or even personal preference - in this case, try keeping the bedroom door open to allow some airflow.
Lauren is a freelance writer and editor with more than six years of digital and magazine experience. In addition to Womanandhome.com she has penned news and features for titles including Women's Health, The Telegraph, Stylist, Dazed, Grazia, The Sun's Fabulous, Yahoo Style UK and Get The Gloss.
While Lauren specializes in covering wellness topics—ranging from nutrition and fitness, to health conditions and mental wellbeing—she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain, interviewing Heidi Klum and joining an £18k-a-year London gym.
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