A good night's sleep can be a key feature in your dream home
By Roxana Popescu
Jan. 27, 2018 at 11:31 p.m.
Sending midnight emails from the comfort of bed used to be the ultimate status symbol. Now, science and society are tending to agree that it's the ultimate drag.
The home design world is starting to tune in, with developers and architects approaching a good night's sleep as a challenge worth solving. It's a nascent awareness that follows a shift across other industries, moving away from relentless technology and stress, toward a calmer way.
Apple's iPhones have that "do not disturb" setting. Companies are adding nap rooms. Schools are pushing start times later.
"Sleep, like clean air, increasingly has the potential to be the new luxury good," said Rachel Gutter, the chief product officer of the International Well Building Institute, which offers a health and wellness building standard modeled after LEED environmental ratings. "We are increasingly cognizant of how our homes and our offices directly contribute to our health and well-being."
Last year, the Nobel Prize in medicine, given for research on circadian rhythms, renewed the spotlight on the link between sleep and health, and Arianna Huffington's new book, "The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time," brought the message of sleep's importance to a mass audience. People are more interested than ever in sleep, she said in an interview.
"The level of receptiveness is skyrocketing," Huffington wrote in an email. "I can see a clear difference from when I first started writing the book and telling people about it compared with now. These days, people are much more aware of the science about how important sleep is — and how could they not be; it's everywhere in the media — but what they want to talk about now is less the 'why' than the 'how.' "
Gutter said that while sleep-optimized homes are still a rarity, a focus on how design can support sleep is starting to take root, "particularly in higher-end housing and particularly in urban areas" where quality sleep is threatened by light and noise.
Between high-tech solutions, such as light bulbs that promote alertness in the day and rest at night, and more primal ones, such as moving the bedroom or sometimes the whole house away from busy streets and into nature, the various approaches to sleep-friendly housing say one thing: "A good night's sleep is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our families," Gutter said.
The Lakehouse, a luxury waterfront condominium tower in Denver slated to open in 2019, where condos are priced from half a million to more than $3 million, treats quality sleep as one of many health and wellness perks — including strategically placed elevators that nudge people to take the stairs, organic gardens cultivated by residents and a "harvest room," where people can wash their fruits and veggies while mingling.
Blackout shades in bedrooms and dimmable LED lights are standard, said Brian Levitt, president and co-founder of Nava Real Estate Development. The project, which has set out to be Colorado's first Well-certified project, also has sound attenuation that exceeds code and air filtration "that might help the sleep for occupants with asthma or other environmental sensitivities." Circadian lighting and an extra air filter are optional.
Levitt, in his late 40s, started valuing sleep when it became scarce: After he had kids. He soon began to wonder: What sleep sustaining features can he add to his projects?
"You start to think about — well, people live in these buildings. A third of their life they're sleeping," he said.
Levitt doesn't expect people to spend more for wellness amenities, but he thinks his own investment should pay off in terms of reputation and resident satisfaction.
"They're just going to have a better experience in their home. How do you capitalize that?" The long view: If, over time, it is proven that living in a healthy space, walking more and sleeping more can add years to someone's life, "the economic value of our buildings will be exponentially increased."
On California's Monterey Peninsula, Nick Jekogian said he hopes his nature- and mindfulness-themed community will entice overworked, Type A tech heads from Silicon Valley to unwind — after spending $5 million for a lot of approximately 20 acres and several million more to build on it.
"I think that the ability to disconnect, and using nature to do that, is going to be of huge value in people being able to sleep better," he said.
While other luxury developments tout their curated art collections or pet spas, the first feature Jekogian mentioned in an interview was the land's centuries-old oak trees.
Jekogian named the community Walden Monterey, inspired by his experience camping on the property and by Henry David Thoreau's Walden, which praises early rising.
"Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures," Thoreau wrote there.
Jekogian described his sleep as "phenomenal" in Monterey and terrible in New York. "I personally know that keeping my phone next to me at night when I'm in New York City is probably one of the worst things I can do for my sleep," he said.
He feels "less anxious" when he dozes on the still undeveloped land. "When you sleep near a 200-year-old tree, it puts today's rapid-fire news into perspective. It's meaningless," he said.
This ties into Huffington's "number one tip" for creating a sleep-friendly environment: Charge your phone anywhere but in the bedroom.
"Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep — our to-do lists, our in-boxes, our anxieties. So putting your phone to bed outside your bedroom as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes you more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone," said Huffington.
Susan Redline, a senior physician with the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said avoiding artificial light at night is essential. Camping — or a setting that mimics camping, with natural light and natural darkness — is a great way to get "better quality and longer sleep."
"Our clock is very much aligned with sunset and sunrise, and artificial light can disturb the normal rhythms of that clock," she said.
Her advice: Create a "sleep sanctuary" with no gadgets, no lights, no reminders of the day's hassles.
The room should whisper, "This is your time to regenerate. This is your time to relax. This is your time to heal," Redline said.