Of the 8,760 hours in any given year, each must be dispersed amongst a fairly standard set of categories: Social Affairs, Business, Pleasure, Philanthropy, Other, and, of course, Sleep.
Alas, no matter how you choose to arrange your priorities, that last one remains a requirement; sleep is a prerequisite for functionality. And while many of us do, in fact, find slumber to be a decidedly pleasurable pastime, according to a 2016 survey, nearly 68% of Americans — I among them — have regular trouble falling or staying asleep.
There is, of course, a stock explanation here: Our screen dependencies make it near impossible to turn ourselves off (technology is to blame etc. etc.), especially in an era that places a high-stakes premium on productivity. Not to mention, stress and anxiety may also contribute to sleep disorders.
On the other hand, the catalog of professed sleep solutions is quite lengthy. CBD was last year’s buzziest acronym, direct-to-consumer mattress brands are trending, and boutique vitamin distributors promise more restful nights — in addition to the roster of prescription medications and OTC supplements available. And yet, for all the recent market growth in the sleep sector, plenty of us continue to lie awake at night. So perhaps, alongside the next seed-funded cannabinoid-melatonin startup, we should also consider something old-school — historic, even.
Enter: feng shui.
Sometimes called “geomancy,” feng shui is an ancient, philosophical Chinese practice based around the maintenance of natural energy flow by way of interior design. Translating directly to “wind and water,” it’s built on the idea that our spaces should be curated in order to support the movement of our inherent chi, or energy. All that healthy energy flow creates a sense of harmony between us and our environments, which, in turn, creates a sense of internal harmony (i.e. we’ll ideally be calmer, happier, more grounded, and so on).
The rules of feng shui are not fixed. Like most iterations of self-care, they shift according to the person in question and the era at hand. “There’s Eastern philosophy tied in here,” says Anjie Cho, a feng shui architect and interior designer, “but more importantly, the rules are based on your own personal wisdom and experience. The concepts are adapted for every new generation, every geographic location.”
Ahead, we've partnered with Bed, Bath & Beyond to outline everything you need to know to give feng shui a try.
Reconfigure Your Space To Promote Relaxation
According to Cho, your bed should be in “commanding position” — which is to say, as far as possible from the door, while still keeping the doorway in full view. That distance will prevent your energy from “leaking out” through the exit, while the orientation will ensure you have a full-range view of both the door and the room at large. From here, you can view any approaching “danger” at a safe distance. “When in bed, we’re in a passive state, which can often make us feel vulnerable,” Cho explains. “The subtle anxiety that comes from facing away from the door will almost certainly keep you up at night. But when your unconscious brain feels in control of the environment, there’s a much greater sense of comfort and security.” Sure, in small apartments, full creative freedom is rarely a possibility from an interior design end, but at the very least, Cho advises that we ensure our doorways are well within our lines of vision.
The same is true of your windows: Keeping them in full view will help quell that face-of-danger anxiety. Of course, this may be tough in a small room, but Cho says all is well so long as no windows fall behind your head (making you supremely vulnerable).
Moreover, she advises that you keep those windows open throughout the day. Natural light will help recharge your space (even when you're out and about), and the circulation of fresh air will cleanse it of impurities, leaving the room both clean and balanced. For those without limitless access to fresh, crisp air (aka folks in major cities), Cho recommends investing in a standard, run-of-the-mill air purifier and a diffuser in a soothing scent like lavender.
Will LeStrange, an international feng shui consultant for the last 25 years, also emphasizes the importance of keeping mirrors away from the bed (or out of the room entirely), as energy “bounces off of them,” disturbing the experience of softness in the room. “Harsh reflective surfaces are reminiscent of other distinct spaces in our lives — kitchens and bathrooms — where we would never sleep,” he says. If you can't remove them entirely, try covering them with scarves or towels before bed.
Use Light & Color To Reflect Principles Of Nature
It’s unlikely that you’d opt for a primary red or a neon yellow for your bedroom walls, but there’s logic here beyond mere intuition (or, well, taste).
According to Master Pun-Yin, one of few classically trained Chinese feng shui Masters practicing in the west, both light and color are central to the way we interact with a space. Having worked alongside her father, Master Tin-Sun, to introduce feng shui to urban planning projects in New York City (think: the revitalization of Times Square and Columbus Circle), she’s more than familiar with the ways we can utilize principles of nature to enhance urban spaces. And in the bedroom, that means opting for neutral tones that can, in fact, be found outdoors: skin tones, mossy greens, warm whites. “Stay away from patterns or wallpapers as they are distracting to the mind,” she says. “And if you are going to hang art, make it simple, and keep the colors neutral.”
In the same realm, Master Pun-Yin also advises sticking to organic mattresses and all natural bedding, in the hopes of bringing you as close to the earth (and as far from synthetic dyes and fabrics) as possible.
LeStrange echoes this sentiment, harping specifically on the importance of natural light. “Since we want to mimic natural cycles,” he explains, “we want blue light in the mornings and warm light in the evenings like a sunset.” Primally, our brains are trained to respond to light as an indicator of whether or not our days are beginning or ending — the light gradient helps us shift in and out of day mode (LeStrange suggests investing in a tunable light source).
Oh, and that glare emitted from our digitized screens also mirrors that energizing daytime blue light. Surely you’ve already been warned about the dangers of relying on streamable TV sitcoms to fall asleep, but now, you have the blue light to blame.
Get Rid Of Your Emotional (& Literal) Baggage
“When I’m consulting with someone about their space,” says Laura Cerrano, New York and L.A.-based feng shui consultant, “I need to know the whole story. I need to know what’s going on in someone’s life, with their family, with their friends, with their psyche as a whole.”
According to Cerrano, there are uniform, objective principles of feng shui (i.e. commanding position), but there are also more personal elements of the practice. “Everything tells a story,” she says, “whether it’s a book or a piece of paper or a small trinket, it has an energy within it. Where did that object come from? Who gave it to you? Where did you buy it?”
We’re all inclined to keep a different array of personal relics scattered, usually impractically, around our bedrooms. For some of us: shoeboxes stuffed with love letters and movie ticket stubs from decades past. For others: boxes of clothes, unworn, accumulating by the day. Most of us can vouch for scattered makeup, stacks of books, shoes sans homes, and pouches plump with expired prescriptions. And the emotional energy radiating from our chosen stowaway objects can, allegedly, be a major factor in preventing sleep.
“I once worked with a writer who was having trouble sleeping,” Cerrano says. “Turned out she had an unfinished manuscript that she was storing under her bed. The negative energy from the script was keeping her up at night.”
She notes that things like shoes and books have particularly active energy, so keeping them under the bed or near the headboard can be a serious roadblock when it comes to unwinding. “Photographs or personal mementos are bad juju,” adds Cho. “It’s like you’re quite literally sleeping above this mountain of energy, most of which pertains to the past.” So, while we’re not demanding that you burn all of your letters from lovers of yore, we are suggesting that you consider moving your emotional baggage into a different room.
Fortunately, both Cho and Cerrano understand that few among us have a surplus of closet space — and thus, under-bed storage is a bit of a must. Each recommends utilizing that alcove for loungewear, linens, sweaters — soft products more generally suited to the whole pre-sleep headspace.
“Clutter keeps the mind from dissociating and entering a state of rest,” Master Pun-Yin explains. “Leaving things like newspapers, books, and medications in the bedroom make us hyperaware of our own issues or the issues faced by our world. Anything strewn across the floor, any type of mess, will keep us from properly letting go.” Apparently, pondering the imminent doom of the planet is not an overwhelmingly tranquil experience for most insomniacs. But more so, while the ties between cleanliness and godliness are tenuous at best, cleanliness and sleepiness are certainly tethered.
“In so many ways, feng shui is literal,” LeStrange adds. “Clutter in the room creates clutter in the brain. We’re just trying to get rid of all the dust.”