Some of us wake up at the break of dawn’s early light, ready and energized for a new day to begin. Others hit snooze for “just five more minutes” five or 10 times before actually dragging ourselves out of bed. Then there are those who half-consciously lament through a dozen stages of grief before eventually succumbing to a reality that — despite their best efforts to deny it — begins before noon.
The problem of sleeping in knows no cultural, geographic or demographic boundaries. This is a worldwide epidemic everyone knows about yet simply accepts (an understandable dilemma if resolving may require an earlier start to the day).
Over the years, dozens of solutions have surfaced to get people out of bed in a timely fashion. (Not the least of which, of course, is to just go to sleep earlier to give your body the rest it needs — but surely we can devise a solution more complicated than that!)
There is the old trick of putting your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to physically get out of bed to turn it off. Leveling up from that is “Clocky,” a clever little alarm clock that jumps off your nightstand and runs away and hides while its alarm rings. And, perhaps to take the cake, the “High Voltage Ejector Bed” literally catapults its sleeper out of bed in the morning.
So with all of these action-based product solutions, why does this issue still persist?
It is because we are developing solutions that force ourselves up in the mornings rather than solutions that make us want to get up. We are willingly beginning our days with self-inflicted cruelty instead of trying to create an environment where it feels natural and comfortable to wake up early.
Product solutions punish our lack of self-discipline by harassing us into doing something we do not want to do. Many designs fall short of resolving the bigger picture problem and just act, instead, as negative additives to our daily routine. There are better solutions than this, though: Instead of looking at product design, we can turn to the design of our environment for solutions.
Sensory design is the strategy in architecture of designing spaces to appeal to multiple human senses (sight, sound, scent, taste, touch).
The most successful, holistic designs are those that engage more than one sense: These spaces create the best experience and become the most memorable. Restaurants do this all the time: It is about more than just the food (and lack of cleanup); it is about the dining experience. Delicious aromas wafting by on trays, background music to set the mood, a velvety glass of red wine to start the meal … restaurants stimulate as many senses as they can to create a memorable experience. It is called creating “ambiance.” (And the same can be applied to any dinner party you host — ambiance through sensory design will surely make a more memorable experience than silence and a sandwich tray!)
Restaurants aside, most of our architecture — homes, offices, retail, etc. — is designed primarily and almost exclusively for visual engagement, though. Those scents, tastes and sounds are all stripped down to leave us with a far less rich experience, even if the visuals are extremely interesting.
Think of closing your eyes in a large building. How would you navigate without sight? You would become reliant on your other senses: Maybe the texture of the flooring beneath your feet changes from one area to another area. Perhaps the bathrooms have lilies outside of them, giving off a light floral scent whenever you pass. What if you know you are passing a cafe by the music you hear playing?
These multisensory clues — even if you are using all five senses — create intuitive guidance, or “wayfinding,” which can influence behavior like how easily/successfully you navigate a space. That is the key: We are more inclined to “go with the flow” or do something if it is intuitive and feels natural, and sensory design is a great way to design for intuitive spaces.
This is a great strategy utilized by professional designers erecting new commercial buildings, but it is also a strategy that anyone outside of the industry can apply in the design of their own spaces in everyday life. Sensory design can be an excellent strategy for thinking of out-of-the-box solutions, especially where other solutions have failed to address environmental considerations.
Here are a few ways to think about incorporating sensory design into your home:
· Scent is an underrated sense: It often goes unnoticed until an odor comes along, then all we want is to cut off our sense of smell. Yet this is still a characteristic of any home, so think about design features that will define the scent of your home to your liking.
Consider what kind of ambiance you want in each room, then match a scent to it. Lavender might match a fresh and clean bathroom, vanilla may be cozy for the living room, sandalwood could be good for a relaxing bedroom.
These can be achieved by decor additives like live plants, reed diffusers, potpourri, candles (even unlit ones can be effective in smaller spaces) or even scented cleaning products (but all can be overcome if you do not have good ventilation in your kitchen and you frequently cook). Also remember that surfaces that trap dust, dirt and debris trap and harbor odors, too, so be selective on where you place those absorptive, harder-to-clean surfaces, like carpeting or even some decor.
· Flooring is an easy way to reevaluate your home environment using sensory design. For any given room, a flooring type is usually selected for its ease of cleaning and visual appeal, but different flooring materials have different acoustic properties, too.
Sound will bounce off hard flooring like wood, tile or concrete and — in open floor plans — can even echo. Carpet, on the other hand, absorbs sound (the kind of furniture you have in a room — like all hard wood vs. all soft fabric — can also affect how much or little sound bounces around a space).
Additionally, consider how each flooring feels under your feet: Soft carpet is a different texture and communicates a different kind of space than cold tile. With a cohesive color palette, having a variety of flooring in your home can be a great way to denote the transition from one kind of space to another — or even communicate the continuation of a space, rather than the separation. This is often why you see the flooring in kitchens continued underneath the breakfast nook or dining room. The continuous flooring indicates that, despite multiple elements in a space, everything is connected and considered in the same “zone.”
· Doorbells are usually connected to a small speaker inside a house so you can hear when someone is ringing outside. However, “smart” doorbells that connect to your phone now buzz in your pocket or flash the screen at you to indicate someone is at the door. This is an excellent example of utilizing a multisensory home design element because if one of your senses is occupied — for instance, if you have headphones on blasting music — you will still get the alert and can greet your guests or retrieve your packages.
Sensory design can intuitively make a space more memorable and change how you interact with your environment.
So, back to our problem: How can we use sensory design to make the environment work better for us and make getting out of bed “intuitive” in the morning?
Let us assess. Alarm clocks are primarily auditory. How else can we break down this problem, and what other senses can we engage?
Consider how the cooler the temperature is, and the more cocooned into snugly blankets we are, the less appealing the venture out into the rest of the room is.
What happens when the rest of the room is cozy and warm, too, though? What if it actually makes being under the blankets even slightly warmer than we prefer?
Most likely, your body will naturally decide it would rather change environments, or simply not require the cozy bed to be ideally comfortable anymore. Before you know it, using a sensory design approach, you could be up and out of bed without a single hit of the snooze button.
With a quick reprogramming of the thermostat, or a space heater on a timer in the colder months, you can schedule the temperature to rise — just a few degrees — aligned with the timing of your alarm clock. Taking this multisensory approach by engaging auditory and thermal comfort (“touch”) cues, instead of just the former, will design a more successful environment to motivate you to get out — and stay out — of bed. Then draw the blinds (daylighting/sight), turn on the coffee (olfactory, or scent) and eat breakfast (taste) to get you well on your way!
There are infinite tips, tricks and products to help people overcome problems and improve daily life. We are still challenged, though, because often people are the roots of their own problems — and that can be hard to change. But, as they say, we are all products of our environment. So rather than consciously trying to force a habit that just will not stick — like getting up on time in the morning — consider focusing on changing the environment to influence behavior for the better.
Stephanie Brick is the owner of Stephanie Brick Design in Baltimore.