The Princess and the Pea – How to Optimize Your Sleep Environment with a Picky Sleeper

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Just about every day I hear about what a terrible night my husband had. No matter how often I wake up in the night and notice his steady, healthy breathing, it is never met in the morning with a sense of refreshment. For years I’ve referred to the story about the princess and the pea to help people understand what I’m dealing with. 

I have scarcely closed my eyes all night.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, we learn that a prince would like to marry a princess. But alas! How does he know if these princesses are real princesses? His nasty old mom knows how she can figure it out. To test the most recent potential princess, she hides a pea under a stack of mattresses the princess is meant to sleep on. Only a true princess could be so sensitive as to be disturbed by that lone vegetal obstruction. The next morning, when asked how she slept, the princess responds with, 

“Oh, very badly! I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”

That, right there, is the story of my life. My husband must be royal to the core. 

So over the years, I’ve systematically worked on removing every possible “pea” from our environment. Here’s where we’re at today, while I still can’t seem to get him to acknowledge how great he’s sleeping, I’ve finally found the secret – outlined at the end of my list.

Environmental Factors

It all starts with the environment. From testing temperatures to avoiding allergens and EMRs.

Stuff we’re doing now:

  • Low Temperature We’re dealing with 65 degrees F, but I’ve read 62 is ideal. 65 is cold enough that you don’t want to walk around without socks. We dropped from 67 to 65 and it has had a marked improvement on speed to sleep and staying asleep once we get there 
  • Declutter The bedroom needs to be peaceful. It’s hard to feel peaceful surrounded by stuff. This one is really hard, because my husband collects junk next to his side of the bed, on the floor, etc. By getting a nightstand with a lot of drawer space, I’ve been able to keep it pretty spartan in there. Clutter causes mental distress, but it also makes it hard to avoid dust. And avoiding allergens is important. 
  • Shower at Night I learned this from our allergist. We pick up junk all day long, hopping into bed in a pigpen-like cloud of allergens doesn’t make for a great night’s sleep. This is one of the biggest recent factors that seems to have increased sleep quality. If it’s a nice warm shower and it’s not too hot too late, it also helps you feel sleepy.
  • Sweepable Bed Frame It’s easy to forget about what goes on under the bed. But if you really want to ramp up your sleep environment, you have to get real about what happens down there. For years I used this 14” bed frame from Amazon, which makes getting underneath with a vacuum pretty easy. However, it’s so high you start jamming stuff under there and cleaning becomes a challenge again. We’ve recently converted to Purple’s Ascent Adjustable Base. Zero gravity isn’t’ all it’s cracked up to be. But the frame is high enough to vacuum under and low enough to avoid collecting clutter.

Stuff I’m trying to enforce:

  • Television We’ve been off TV for a while, which has absolutely led us to fall asleep faster, but we still have a TV in the bedroom. I’ve heard speculation that the electricity (EMFR) surrounding large appliances can be very disruptive to sleep even when they’re not on. So get that thing out of here!
  • Other Screens and EMRs I have yet to build a faraday cage outside our room for our devices. I try to keep my husband off his phone late at night, but haven’t been successful yet. We at least make sure devices are set to night mode to kill some of the blue light. We also both use kindles and they don’t seem to disrupt at all. I like kindles at night because you don’t have to have a light on while you’re trying to drop off. My average time to sleep is between 7 and 15 minutes – so the kindle doesn’t seem to be doing any damage. 

Bedding and Products

The stuff that sleep is really made of. You spend a third of your life in bed, and sleep is critical to life and recovery. This isn’t the place to skimp out. 

Bedding we’re currently using: 

  • King Size We aren’t big people, but we upgraded from a queen to a king some years back and immediately got better sleep. More space is just nicer and you disturb each other less when one of you is tossing and turning.
  • Mattress Choice is a Choice Mattress We’ve been through a lot of mattresses and I’ve done a lot of research. I landed on Purple Plus Hybrid Mattress in king. However, this was before I lost my mind over toxins. Not saying the Purple mattress is toxic (in fact, it specifies it’s not and also that it’s made in the USA), but I am saying that I will probably never buy another mattress that isn’t organic latex. Our bed at our Florida house is just such a one and it’s heaven. We will likely trade out the Purple for one of these in the future as well. 
  • Linen 4 Ever I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I will never use sheets that aren’t linen again. Super breathable, regulates temperature (being too hot or cold is a serious killer of quality sleep), and just feels great. 
  • Weird, but Wonderful Pillow Our pillows are by Sleep Artisan. They’re shaped a little like bowties and are made of shredded organic latex in a quilted organic shell. They work super well for side sleepers and the quality is very high. This pillow improved my sleep on day one because I didn’t toss and turn at all and it pretty much resolved some shoulder pain I had been suffering through. The first night I slept on this pillow I woke up the next day like a child – never even realizing I had been asleep. Close your eyes, open them and it’s a new day. 

Apps and Tech

We’ve tried a lot of stuff over the years, not much has stuck. But here’s the latest hotness and some past successes that should really become current successes again. 

  • White Noise Kinda doesn’t matter what method you use, this one works wonders when you live in the middle of the action. I get up much earlier than my husband does and he always hears everything (or at least claims he does). In the past, when we’ve had white noise running, those complaints fade away. It covers a multitude of sins, including the squirrels trying to make a nest in our gutters, irritating birds, and early morning yard work. 
  • Optimal Wake Up Time In the past, we’ve used apps that help pick the right time to wake up. When you’re jolted awake during the wrong phase of sleep, you can feel tired all day even if you’ve technically had enough sleep. I had to stop this because I don’t want my phone anywhere near me, but it was still cool and works well. 
  • Oura Ring This is the holy grail of sleep happiness. It’s not perfect, but when you hear complaints about poor sleep quality that is scientifically false, it sure makes for interesting conversation. If you use this ring, make sure you set up circles so you can monitor your partner’s sleep score and help them be honest with themselves and you about how great they’re really sleeping. 

There you have it! A faithful narrative of my journey through married life and my battle against the destructive properties of the pea.