Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
There is an art to designing the best bedroom environment for sleep. You can dim the lights, repaint your walls a calming hue, and splurge on comfortable bedding.
Eastern medicine and spiritual practices suggest there may be even more you can do — all the way down to adjusting the direction you sleep in.
According to ancient traditions like vastu shastra, the best direction to sleep in is toward the south. This theory is also supported by some recent research. This means that when you lie in bed, your head is pointed south, and your feet are pointed north.
Some research has found that animals, such as cattle and deer, naturally align their bodies in a north-south direction when they are eating or resting. Additionally, preliminary research shows that when people switch to sleeping in a southward-facing direction, their blood pressure lowers and their sleep quality improves.
The Earth’s electromagnetic field may offer an explanation for this, according to some research and vastu shastra.
Vastu shastra is an ancient architectural tradition that hails from India. Practitioners view buildings as living organisms that can be designed in harmony with the energy of the universe. The concept leans on Hindu mythology and beliefs, such as the human body having its own north and south poles, similar to the Earth.
When you sleep toward the south, according to vastu shastra, you line up your body’s magnetic energy with that of the Earth. Your “north pole,” or your head, is oriented towards the Earth’s south pole, so opposite poles can attract. When you lie the other way, you have two similar poles facing each other, which practitioners believe may contribute to headaches and high blood pressure.
While there is no research connecting headaches and sleep direction, there is some evidence that sleeping toward the south may reduce your risk of high blood pressure. One study compared people who slept in an east-west direction versus north-south direction. After a period of three months, those who slept in the north-south orientation had lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, and longer sleep overall. As a result, the researchers concluded that sleeping in alignment with the Earth’s electromagnetic field could improve sleep quality.
A recent study showed alterations in the participants’ brain waves when they were exposed to manipulated electromagnetic fields, suggesting that humans may be sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic energy. However, older studies that have exposed people to magnetic fields during sleep have found that it had no effect on their sleep quality, so more research is still needed in this area.
Because your head functions like a north pole, sleeping with your body in a north-facing position is considered a worst-case scenario, according to vastu shastra. It creates tension that may lead to headaches and other health problems. To achieve balance, your head should point southward while you sleep, in line with the Earth’s electromagnetic pull. Ideally, your entire bedroom would be oriented south as well.
Some research has shown that those who sleep in the north-south position also take longer to enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, an essential stage of sleep for cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and overall health. In this study, those who slept in an east-west position entered REM sleep earlier. However, other research has shown that those who sleep east-west get less sleep overall. Until more research is done, the pros and cons of the east-west sleeping orientation may cancel each other out.
Sleeping orientation is just one Eastern medicine principle designed to promote sleep. Vastu shastra offers many others, as does the Chinese practice of feng shui. Feng shui focuses on promoting the flow of positive energy, or chi, in your environment through the thoughtful placement and orientation of objects. For example, in the bedroom, practitioners may replace a desk with a loveseat to improve their love life, or move their bed against the wall for better chi.
While their particulars may vary, both feng shui and vastu shastra share a focus on energetic balance and the importance of designing your space to promote health and well-being.
If you are interested in other ways to improve your sleep and the design of your bedroom, you may want to consider some additional recommendations from feng shui and vastu shastra.
According to the principles of feng shui, you should place your bed directly against a wall, but not underneath any windows. Ideally, it should be placed on the wall opposite to your bedroom door, in a spot where you can see the door clearly but are not directly in line with it. This is said to put you in the “command position,” which makes you feel empowered and in control.
If your bed does not fit on that opposite wall, you can add a mirror to the room so you can see the door and maintain that sense of control.
Also, do not sleep with your feet pointed toward the door. This so-called “coffin position” is considered an unlucky sleep position in feng shui, since it mimics the way a person’s corpse is carried out of a room when a person dies.
Proponents of feng shui also say that clutter can mess with your chi. Clear clutter, and you’ll have more space for good energy to enter. Some research suggests that when we observe more distance between objects, it improves our emotional state.
As with vastu shastra, many feng shui practitioners worry about the effects of electromagnetic fields, which may be an incentive to keep electronics out of the bedroom. Removing electronics from the bedroom is also one of the core tenets of good sleep hygiene, a set of habits that is designed to promote better sleep.
Feng shui says objects like curtains, artwork, and plants can capture negative energy, known as “sha chi,” and transform it into good chi. Plants in particular can add a calming energy to your bedroom and help relieve stress.
Couples who share a bedroom may want to take an additional step to remove anything that is not related to their relationship, like a desk or a work computer. Additionally, couples may consider adjusting the placement of certain items to direct all the positive chi toward helping their relationship flourish and thrive.
Both feng shui and vastu shastra recommend certain color schemes for different directions to promote particular energies. Feng shui, for example, draws associations between the following colors and cardinal points:
One way to achieve an energetic boost toward one of these goals might be to paint the accent wall in that direction with the corresponding color.
Vastu shastra takes a slightly different approach, instead recommending that a person select a color scheme based on their personality. Vastu shastra believes that each person has more or less of the natural elements, which are called “doshas”:
Many of these recommendations stem from ancient practices. They remain popular today, although there is not always a wealth of scientific research backing them up. Still, there is no harm in trying a different sleep direction, and seeing how it makes you feel.