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.
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.
Michael Breus, a board-certified sleep doctor based in Los Angeles, shared his two essential tips: Make your bed and clean your bedroom to make it feel welcoming. Slightly pricier, but still accessible for many, is investing in better pillows, biological light bulbs, an updated mattress or a mattress topper.
For bigger budgets, he recommends insulating walls for sound and temperature and considering the cardinal direction the bedroom's windows are facing.
With a blank slate, Breus's sleep-optimized bedroom would be high tech, yet atavistic: On the top floor, at the back of a house built on a quiet piece of land, with at least two outside walls, to minimize sounds from inside. Blackout curtains would run on a timer, opening about an hour before his wake-up time. If he has to get out of bed at night, sensors by the bed would feel his feet swinging out and light a dim pathway to the bathroom — dim, to prevent melatonin disruption.
It would have French doors overlooking a serene body of water and a small meditation space where he could calm down before bed.
A few years ago, Stuart Narofsky, an architect in Long Island City, created a dream bedroom for clients he now considers close friends.
"I love my husband. My husband is my soulmate. He's a great guy. But he snores," is how Bonnie Greenfield, 59, described the situation.
She more or less put up with it for years, sometimes asking her husband, Tod, a co-owner of Martin Greenfield Clothiers, a menswear company, to use a spare bedroom. But one morning, riding the train into New York City and feeling drained again, "a light went off in my head." What if they slept together, but apart? Could architecture solve what nose strips and years of elbows in the ribs had not?
For the poured concrete, sustainable house the Greenfields moved into in 2012, Narofsky created a "snoring room" for Tod, up a flight a stairs from the master bedroom. With four exterior walls, in the home's highest point, it "wound up being almost like a tree house," Narofsky said.
The "snoring room" was an architectural fix for a problem that, doctors say, deserves medical attention to rule out serious health conditions, including sleep apnea. But for the Greenfields, their creative custom bedroom beat alternatives such as a sleep study or surgery.
Now Bonnie sleeps well — so well that she has the pep to launch a women's classic clothing line.
"If you do not have enough sleep, you are cranky and angry and you have no patience. It is so important to sleep," she said.
Jennifer Luce, principal of Luce et Studio, in San Diego, recently designed a "sleep pavilion" and custom bed for a pair of clients who wanted a bedroom that would help them wind down. In some ways, it is unconventional. The approximately 500-square-foot room is a standalone building in the garden.
"It will be the only place they sleep," Luce said. "It will become a ritual, to leave the house, and to leave the daily world, and enter this really special place."
Another feature: metal slat screens around the building are timed to move automatically based on the hour and time of year, darkening the room at night and brightening it in the morning.
An inspiration comes from 18th century follies, which were eye-pleasing spaces used for leisure.
Luce said she had been thinking architecture and empathy when she started the project: "How does space honor and react to human tendencies, human emotions, human ways of life? And certainly, one of those is sleep."