If you’re struggling with getting enough sleep, rearranging your bedroom might seem like a small price to pay for the promise of easier nights. But just how big of an impact does the direction you sleep in actually have on sleep? It’s less clear cut than you might think.
While the science on sleeping direction is lacking, there’s evidence that personal preference and feelings of safety and comfort based on your bedroom layout may still play a role in sleep quality and overall well-being. However, if you’re considering a bedroom redo for the sake of getting more sleep, we recommend adopting some proven sleep-improvement strategies as well, which we’ll walk you through here.
Below we’ll dive into what the science says about the best direction for sleep, where the notion that there’s a best direction for sleep comes from, and additional habits to adopt if your goal is better sleep and more energy during the day. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you get the good night’s sleep you’re after, no matter what direction your bed is facing.
Here's the quick summary: There is no scientific evidence there’s a best direction to sleep in.
However, the position of your bed relative to an entryway may make a difference. Having visibility to a door or a window may promote a sense of calm and safety that supports getting enough healthy sleep to feel and function at your best.
Let’s unpack that.
If you’ve heard that sleeping orientation may impact our sleep health and overall wellness, it might be because ancient Eastern medicine and philosophy traditions — in particular, Vastu Shastra, Ayurveda, and feng shui, which have strong points of view on the matter — have remarkable staying power on this topic.
We’ll look at this question from the perspective of Vastu Shastra, Ayurveda, and feng shui, and then get into what the science says.
Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda are both ancient Indian Vedic practices centered around living in energetic harmony with nature and our surroundings, and are often used in tandem with each other.
Drawing on Hindu beliefs, both Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda claim that, like earth, the human body has its own magnetic energies, including a positive pole and negative pole. When our living spaces are arranged so that our own “poles” are in alignment with the earth’s electromagnetic field (EMF), it improves our sleep and supports our overall health.
Per Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda, the best direction for sleep is south-facing. That is, with our head — or our “north pole” — pointed in the direction of the earth’s south pole. This way, the opposite energies attract rather than repel each other (think: the magnetic pull of magnets), and the energies flow smoothly, benefiting our sleep and overall health. Apparent benefits of south-facing sleep include:
When our head is oriented north, however, the reverse is true. According to Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda, this sleeping position can cause insomnia and a host of other health problems, and should be avoided at all costs.
And while the south direction is considered favorable for deep sleep and overall good health, facing east in bed is said to be especially good for students, helping improve memory and focus, and supporting vitality. Those seeking fame, power, wealth, and/or prestige are encouraged to sleep in the west direction.
There hasn’t been much scientific investigation into the best sleeping direction and the studies we have aren’t particularly useful.
Studies of domestic cattle and two species of deer have shown that the animals sleep and graze with their bodies positioned along the north-south axis, and it’s true that many other animals rely on the earth’s EMF for migration and nest-building, among other things. So while it’s not out of the question that our bodies may too be influenced by the earth’s magnetic energies, studies on the impact of EMFs and/or directional alignment on human biology and behavior — including one study which attempted to determine whether EMFs may affect our sleep-wake cycle — have been less conclusive to date.
One small 2019 study investigated how bedroom design orientation may impact sleep. Researchers found that the young adult study participants who napped in east-west facing rooms had more arousals and awakenings during their naps, and spent less time asleep overall, compared to those who slept in the north-south rooms.
However, the very small sample size — only 21 individuals were included in the study — and other study holes (for example, avoiding caffeine for 4 hours prior to napping was a recommendation not a requirement) means that more research is needed. And not only that, researchers in this study didn’t appear to differentiate between north-facing and south-facing for those sleeping along the north-south axis.
Though geographical direction isn’t dismissed in feng shui, the ideal bed position isn’t quite as straightforward as aligning our bodies with the earth’s magnetic poles.
Feng shui — which is often considered to be Vastu’s Chinese counterpart — additionally focuses on optimizing the flow of positive energy, or chi, in our bedrooms, which is said to be impacted by the position of our bed in relation to things like doors, windows, and other furniture and household objects. Good chi in the bedroom is said to promote feelings of calm, balance, and security, and supports our sleep and overall well-being.
According to feng shui, the ideal bed setup involves the following:
Whether we buy into the idea of chi or not, feng shui may be onto something,
How well a person sleeps based on the position of their bed relative to the door and/or windows hasn’t been meaningfully studied either, but the commanding position, as well as the placement of the bed away from windows, may still benefit our sleep by making us feel safe and relaxed in our bedroom environment–two things which we know have a profound impact on sleep.
Sleep is a time, both evolutionarily and today, when there’s a tradeoff between the costs and benefits of being asleep versus the costs and benefits of being awake. One aspect of this is our vulnerability while we’re asleep. We’re less responsive to what’s going on around us, meaning we might not know we’re in danger until it’s too late. There’s a theory that several aspects of how we sleep (both in terms of quantity and quality) may have evolved over human history to lessen this vulnerability, both at the individual and group levels.
These sleep adaptations include:
Annoying, maybe, but also an incredible feat of evolution when you consider that our survival potentially depends on how easily we’re roused. Ideally, we’re able to manage the last adaptation — securing a sleeping environment where we feel protected and have a good vantage point — in order to avoid the sleep-depleting effects of the others. But when we’re unable to trust that our sleeping environment is secure, our bodies compensate by sleeping less soundly and at shorter intervals. Illustrating this, research indicates that people almost always sleep poorly their first night in a new location–a phenomenon called the “first night effect.” For this reason, researchers sometimes don’t use the data from study participants’ first night in a sleep research laboratory.
In the modern bedroom environment, evidence suggests that the position of our bed in relation to doors and windows may have an unconscious effect on how safe we feel at night. When participants of a 2010 study were asked to position a bed in an empty room, they overwhelmingly placed the bed so that it was both in view of the door and as far away from the door as possible. (Though it’s worth noting that this study didn’t investigate why participants chose their bed positions, and no actually sleeping took place in the rooms.)
So the feng shui notion that positioning our bed away from but with a view of our bedroom door and windows (the access points that make us potentially vulnerable to intruders) helps us to relax and sleep better makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
Another factor related to how our bedroom layout may help or hinder our sleep has to do with whether our bedroom is a space that makes us feel calm.
Of course, safety and our ability to relax are interlinked — the safer we feel in our bedroom (which may depend in part on the position of our bed, as mentioned), the more readily we can relax at the end of the day. But beyond that, there are additional things we can do to boost our sense of calm in our bedroom environment.
What evokes a sense of “calm” will differ from person to person (i.e. for many, listening to music is a great way to unwind, while for others, any sound at all can interfere with their ability to relax), but what’s important is that your bedroom is a place where you can destress and relax. Ideally, your bedroom should feel like a sanctuary from the temptations and demands of the waking world.
Relaxing before bed isn’t just pleasant, it’s a necessary part of maintaining our sleep health (and our health in general). For much of the day, our sympathetic nervous system, or SNS — the part of our nervous system responsible for our fight-or-flight response — is in charge. While we rely on our SNS to get us through our stressful, demanding days, it’s not the part of our nervous system we want in the driver’s seat come bedtime. But when we give ourselves the time to unwind before bed in an environment that we associate with relaxation, we allow our parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS (whose job it is to bring out bodily systems back to baseline so that we can rest) to take over. With our PNS engaged, quality sleep is within our grasp.
Making sure your bedtime routine and sleep environment are primed for your best night’s sleep are a part of sleep hygiene, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
First, here are some proven ways to relax before bed:
While the way your bedroom’s arranged may play a role in your sleep quality, there are other behavior and lifestyle factors that are scientifically proven to impact sleep health. If you’re struggling with nightly sleep and daily energy, you want to start by checking in on your sleep debt, whether you're living in alignment with your circadian rhythm, and your sleep hygiene habits (more on all this in a moment). Chances are, if your sleep is off, one or more of these is the culprit — not the fact that you have your headboard against a north-facing wall.
Sleep debt is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s measured against your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you’re going to feel.
When making any changes to our sleep environment or daily habits, this is the number to keep an eye on.
Heads up: Before you can get a handle on your sleep debt, you first need to figure out your sleep need, which is the amount of sleep you need to get each night to feel and function your best during the day.
Sleep need is determined by genetics, just like height and eye color, and it varies from person to person. One study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night. While strategies do exist for determining your sleep need on your own, the RISE app can crunch the numbers for you quickly and accurately.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
The good news about sleep debt is you can work to pay it back. Here are some tips for getting your sleep debt back on track:
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track of your progress toward paying it back.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
In addition to minimizing your sleep debt, it’s also important to think about when you should be going to sleep and waking up (and meal timing is important to keep your body clock running smoothly, too!)
Living in sync with your circadian rhythm helps you have higher energy levels and reduces your risk of health issues, from weight gain and metabolic disorder, to depression and ADHD, to cardiovascular disease and cancer, and more.
Here’s how to get in sync:
Thinking about your circadian rhythm isn’t exactly intuitive, but the RISE app can help. It predicts your circadian rhythm each day based on factors like your inferred light exposure and last night’s sleep times. You can then see when your body naturally prefers to wake up, wind down for bed, and go to sleep, so you can sync up your daily life to it.
RISE can also tell you when your peaks and dips in energy will be. These are part of your predictable energy fluctuations each day, which are also dictated by your circadian rhythm. For example, we all get a peak in energy in the morning and an afternoon slump.
When you know when these peaks and dips are coming, you can schedule your day to match. Plan easier tasks — like admin, emails, or taking a break or a nap — for your afternoon slump, for example. (And keep in mind that keeping your sleep debt in check and staying in circadian alignment will help your energy dips feel more manageable!)
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.
Sleep hygiene is a simple set of daily habits that are scientifically proven to help us fall asleep faster, wake up less often during the night, and get the most restorative sleep possible. On the flipside, poor sleep hygiene habits — which many of us do without even realizing it — can hijack our sleep, disrupt our circadian rhythm, and cause our sleep debt to climb.
Here’s what to do:
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Sleep direction is only important if it helps you feel relaxed and safe in your bedroom environment, so that you’re better able to meet your sleep need. Chances are, you’re far better off focusing on sleep hygiene to get a better night’s sleep than worrying about your bedroom floor plan.
RISE helps you keep tabs on your sleep debt, stay in sync with your circadian rhythm, and optimize your sleep hygiene — things that are scientifically proven to help you sleep better and have more energy during the day.
The bottom line? If making some tweaks to your bedroom floor plan allows you to sleep better, we say go for it! But don’t lose sleep worrying about whether your bed position is going to make or break your sleep or overall health.
There’s no scientific evidence supporting a universal best sleep direction. The best direction for sleep is going to be whatever direction makes you feel safest and helps you get enough healthy sleep each night.
According to feng shui, your bed should be in the “commanding position”, meaning you should be able to see your bedroom door easily from the bed. The head of your bed should also be placed along a solid wall.
According to Vastru Shastra, south-facing is the ideal sleeping direction. However, this tradition says east-facing may be helpful for those who want to improve their memory and focus. East-facing also aligns with the sun’s natural path, which may help you wake to more direct sunlight, supporting your circadian rhythms.
The healthiest position for sleep is going to be whatever position is most comfortable for you, and helps you meet your sleep need each night. A healthy sleep position helps you maintain a neutral spine alignment, reduces pressure points, and minimizes the risk of developing pain or discomfort.
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RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential