How does the current color scheme of your bedroom make you feel when you slide into bed at the end of a long day?
Do you find your eyes relax when you cast your gaze around the room, or do you feel energized by the colors you notice?
The way that color affects the human brain has fascinated scientists for decades, but only in the last few years have we really begun to study the role they play in our day-to-day lives.
Research into the effects of color
Back in 2008, a study on split-second refereeing decisions in combat sports determined that fighters wearing red had a significant advantage over fighters wearing blue.
Referees were more likely to judge in favor of a fighter in red even when all other variables had been accounted for.
A year later, another study on the effects of color discovered that participants who saw red before taking a test were more likely to perform well on tests requiring focus and concentration; those who saw blue, on the other hand, excelled on creative tests.
These studies confirmed something that we already knew: certain colors can trigger certain emotions, which in turn can lead to other reactions.
Red is the color of danger, of anger. It triggers a primal response. Blue is a calming color, a color of peace, and one that may promote creative thought.
So, if it’s true that colors can have such a drastic effect on our emotions, our intelligence and our response to external stimuli, could it be that certain colors can also improve our sleep?
And if so, which colors are more likely to trigger feelings of restlessness, and which colors are more likely to help you relax and fall asleep quicker?
Is there a best bedroom color?
According to a survey conducted by Travelodge, a chain of hotels in the UK, people with blue bedrooms experience the best sleep.
Their survey took a peek inside the bedrooms of over 2,000 participants, concluding that people with blue bedrooms slept for longer and enjoyed a deeper night’s sleep.
Perhaps surprisingly, they discovered that people with yellow bedrooms had the second best sleep, followed by green and silver.
However, as interesting as this survey is, it doesn’t quite get to the bottom of the issue. And it was, of course, a press release designed to promote a brand. These things aren’t the most reliable and we don’t quite know the specifics.
Were the participants split equally into color groups? Was there a bias? After all, it only makes sense that if you ask 2,000 people about the color of their bedroom walls, very few of them will reply with “yellow”. And if the vast majority have walls of a different color, that can skew the figures somewhat.
This is a study that we can’t read too much into, simply because we don’t know much more about it than was released by the brand’s PR department.
However, it does go with the general consensus, which is that blue bedrooms seem to assist with promoting better sleep.
Colors and their matching emotions
Irrespective of individual memories and experiences, most colors will trigger a certain set of emotions and relate to specific moods, these include:
- Red: Aggressive. Dangerous. Typically stands out from all other colors.
- Blue: Trusting. Peaceful. It is a relaxing, peaceful color, but it is also associated with coldness.
- Yellow: Friendly. Contented. This is a mellow and generally positive color, but it can also be polarizing.
- Green: Calming. Opulent. It is the color of nature and of money.
- Purple: Luxurious. Darker shades can be elegant, lighter shades can conjure up images of nature, of spring and summer flowers.
- Orange: Energetic. Playful. A contrasting color, it can be seen as uplifting, but also cheap.
- Gray: Plain. Boring. A gloomy, depressing color devoid of life, but also formal and straight-edged.
- Pink: Youth. Young Love. This is an innocent and feminine color, but one that can also trigger images of sweet candies.
- Brown: Dirty. Strong. Brown conjures images of dirt and other unsavory things, but also of wood and leather.
- Black: Elegant. Unique. Black is different, it’s unusual, it’s dark and it can be enigmatic.
- White: Clean. Cold. A clinical color that may conjure images of hospitals, cleanliness and virtue.
How color and smell can put you on edge or relax you
The brain takes whatever visual cues it can find to determine whether something is hot or cold, benign or dangerous, light or heavy.
One of the ways it does this is through color. The cues that it takes and the way it processes these aren’t always obvious, but they do have an effect on your emotions.
Something perceived as hot or dangerous is likely to put you on edge, making you more receptive, more aware—essentially ready to flee at any moment.
Something that isn’t a threat may trigger feelings of relaxation simply because your body isn’t preparing for the worst.
However, these colors aren’t the same for all of us, nor are they the same across all cultures. Colors take root in our memories very quickly. They are closely tied to specific events, which in turn means they become associated with certain feelings.
If those dominant memories are bad, then the feelings associated with that color will also be bad.
And as you might already know from personal experience, it’s the same with smells. Perfume contains aromas that invoke common feelings in most of us, from woody hues that are warming to flowery ones that are fresh.
A fragrance may remind you of a pleasant vacation you took with a loved one, or a calming walk through a forest with your children. But it may also remind you of a scent worn by an abuser or someone who hurt you.
Certain scents invoke certain feelings just like colors do, and if they are connected to bad memories then those feelings will be negative as well.
The role that light color plays
A 2016 study by a team of researchers at Oxford University determined that green lights are more effective than blue and violet lights at triggering instant and long lasting sleep in mice.
Going into the study, the researchers had theorized that the blue light would provide the best results, but it was in fact the green light that led to a quicker onset of sleep.
But before you think that green nightlights are the answer, Dr. Michael Grandner, who works as part of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program in the University of Pennsylvania, believes that they could do more harm than good.
Dr Grandner spent many years researching sleep disorders and, in particular, the role that light plays.
Through his research he determined that the absolute worst thing you can do before you go to bed—or when you awake late in the night—is turn on a bright light. This includes a lamp, your main light or even your phone.
He even advises against turning on a main light if you get up to use the toilet or get a drink. He theorizes that the reason many of us struggle to get back to sleep when we awake late at night is because we’ve broken this rule.
But rather than using a softer blue or green light, Dr. Grandner proposes we use a red-hued or orange-hued light.
“The light that your eyes use to tell daytime” he explained “is bluish-green” so by using a blue or green light you’re telling your brain that it’s morning and it’s time to wake up.
What does this mean for you?
It’s unlikely that a change of color is going to have a major effect on your sleep. For one thing, unless you fall asleep with a light on, you won’t even process the color of your bedroom at the time.
And if you do fall asleep with the light on, then, as Dr Grandner suggests, that’s going to mess with your sleep pattern more than any paint could.
Also, while blue walls may promote feelings of relaxation for the majority of us, it’s unlikely to be as effective if you’re not a fan of the color blue. If the only thought you have when you’re trying to sleep is, “I hate those walls” then that’s not going to aide with a restful sleep.
In other words, your first thought shouldn’t be “What color do the experts say will help me sleep?” but “what color do I want?”.
The more comfortable and at ease you are in your own bedroom, the more likely you are to feel relaxed and to enjoy a peaceful sleep.
Your view – what colors work best for you?
I’d love for readers to share their thoughts on this topic. What color is your bedroom now and how well do you sleep, or not?
Are you thinking of changing your bedroom color scheme, and if so to which color and why?
Please share your views in the comments below!