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August 11, 2021 — 9:00 AM
For many people, the home now needs to play double duty: It’s a productive zone during the day and a calming retreat at night. This summer, we’re teaming up with IKEA to share advice on how to craft a space that promotes a healthy work-life balance and is just as energizing as it is relaxing. Stress-free sanctuary, coming right up.
By now, you probably know that Scandinavians consistently rank as some of the happiest people in the world. The chipper nature of countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway has a lot to do with their extensive welfare programs, access to pristine nature, and cultural emphasis on community and caregiving. But many Scandis also know a thing or two about staying healthy—starting with their sleep.
We reached out to wellness experts from that neck of the woods to learn how Scandinavians set the scene for deep sleep night after night, and how people stateside can do the same:
1. They design their homes around the seasons.
Swedish-American writer and author of Live Lagom Anna Brones explains that living in Scandinavia means living with unapologetic seasons. “There’s a celebration of those seasons instead of a full resistance,” she tells mbg, explaining that people in Sweden usually spend all summer outdoors and craft cozy cocoons come winter.
Norwegian wellness coach Wenche Reinstein adds that part of living in tune with the seasons means designing a space that maximizes natural light. She tells mbg that bedrooms in Scandinavia often face East, so they get summer sun in the morning but stay slightly darker in the evenings. Most households also have blackout curtains to block out some of that summer sun and set the stage for uninterrupted sleep.
“On the other hand, during the winter, a lot of people are starting to use sun lamps,” she adds, to brighten the mood and keep sleep-dictating circadian rhythms in check.
2. They use multiple duvets.
In keeping with the theme of seasonal transitions, Reinstein adds that, in Norway, it’s not uncommon for people to own both heavier and lighter-weight duvet sets. “You usually switch them out in winter and summer,” she adds.
And in master bedrooms, you’ll often find two duvets on the bed at a time—one for each bed partner. A step down from sleep divorcing, this solution helps keep one person’s tossing, turning, and blanket-snagging from interrupting the other. It also means that both people can have their own duvet that keeps them at their ideal sleep temperature; no compromise necessarily.
3. They eat an early dinner.
“In Norway, it’s common to have dinner much earlier, around 4 or 5 p.m.,” Reinstein explains. This is typically the main meal of the day (also known as middag), and it keeps people satiated until close to bedtime when they might have another light supper meal consisting of savory oatmeal or another complex carb.
This tradition gives the body plenty of time to digest before snoozing, which can lead to deeper, less interrupted sleep.
4. They prioritize work-life balance.
One reason that Scandis can eat dinner earlier in the day is that they tend to wrap up work relatively early, too. While Brones says that they aren’t immune to overwork, in general, Scandinavians maintain a healthy balance of work and life.
Thanks to solid health care, parental leave, and vacation policies, they have more time on their hands to focus on the important things in life. And yes, they consider sleep to be super important! “There’s really an entirely different perspective at play [in Scandinavia], and there’s not the same relationship to bragging about things like overworking or undersleeping,” Brones says.
5. They sleep with their windows open.
6. They carve out space for analog bedtime rituals.
“I am pretty sure all of my friends and family have bookstands by their beds and read before bed,” says Brones. This speaks to the fact that in Sweden, she thinks there is “a little more of a tendency to do things to wind down at the end of the day right before bed, even if it’s a simple thing like brewing a cup of herbal tea.”
7. They decorate with nature-inspired touches.
Reinstein and Brones both say that Scandinavians of all ages spend a lot of time outdoors—and they’ll often bring touches of nature inside as well.
“A lot of Swedish design revolves around natural materials and a mix of textures,” says Brones. “Think beautiful wooden chairs and tables and wool blankets; textures that feel good to the touch and bring a sense of warmth and coziness to your space.” Freshly picked wildflowers in summer, bare branches in a vase in winter, and unscented candles all year round are also popular.
These natural, inviting materials are often styled in a clean, minimalist fashion. This is especially important in the bedroom, where piles of clutter can keep us up at night.
It all adds up to a beautiful style that Brones says facilitates “a simpler, more joyful way of experiencing the everyday.”
While no population is a monolith and everyone’s different, many Scandinavians do seem to have a leg up on sleep. It’s largely thanks to their emphasis on living in tune with nature and designing bedrooms that are clean, functional, and inviting. Putting some of their advice into practice in your own home can help you make the most of every day and night.