Dressed for Rest: Can Bedclothes Affect Our Sleep?
By Dr. Rubin Naiman
Most of us typically think about getting dressed as preparation for our day. We dress to accommodate waking life activities and events. We dress for work or play, for celebrations, chores or to hang out with friends. But because we see sleep as a kind of non-event or inactivity, we typically don’t think in terms of getting dressed for it. We get undressed for sleep.
The limited data we have about bedclothes suggests nearly 40 percent of Americans simply shed their waking attire at bedtime, stripping down to their underwear or birthday suits to sleep. Another 23 percent don shorts and a T-shirt to bed down. In the end, only about one-third of us actually dress up for sleep with pajamas or nightgowns.
Does sleeping nude enable us to feel thoroughly free? Does it allow us to tap into a deep sense of innocence? Whatever it might be, men do so twice as often as women, who wear pajamas or nightgowns four times as often as men. Basic PJs may set the standard for practical, no-nonsense sleep. Does the T-shirt and shorts sleeper view sleep as a stripped down version of waking? Women opt for this slightly more frequently than men do, but less often than choosing lingerie.
We’ve long known that clothing is both functional and social. An extensive body of research confirms that how we dress has a powerful impact on how others perceive us — clothes make the (wo)man. More recent enclothed cognition studies that focus on how clothing influences self-concept reveal that our attire also significantly impacts how we feel about ourselves.
In disrobing at bedtime we shed our waking world personas, revealing deeper aspects of who we are. This private picture of our night self, typically shared only with close friends, family, and intimate partners, is framed by our bedclothes. What might our choices in bedclothes convey about us even prior to sleep?
Given that we are unaware during sleep, does it really matter if we don some silky PJs or a torn T-shirt or nothing at all at bedtime? Can clothing affect our sleep and dream lives in the same way they impact our waking lives? Even beyond the obvious role of bedclothes in our physical comfort, is it possible that making more conscious choices in sleepwear can contribute to better sleep? I think so.
As children, many of us imagined sleep as a rendezvous with fairies, angels or the sandman. In antiquity, night was ushered in by the mighty Greek goddess Nyx, who then delivered us to her son, Hypnos, the sweet-natured god of sleep. Hypnos, in turn, transported us to his son, Morpheus, the magical god of dreams. All three of these deities were commonly depicted in beautiful billowing gowns reflecting the belief that sleep was a celestial affair that inspired grace, reverence and awe.
I believe our bedclothes reflect our fundamental beliefs about sleep and dreams. Whether we look at it through scientific, psychological or spiritual eyes, sleep is an active, mysterious and transformational experience. It immerses us in serenity, facilitates healing, restores vitality, and of course, carries us to the numinous world of dreams. How might we dress if we were invited as a special guest to a real world gala event that promised similar experiences?
Answering this question calls for opening to a new kind of fashion sensibility. One that is as comfortable and practical as pajamas, as natural and fine as silk, and, maybe, as consecrated as a Greek god’s gown. One that is pleasing to the eye, especially the third eye. And one that is designed to support the invocation of that great celestial trio of night, sleep and dreams.
We can all personally participate in the evolution of sleep fashion by experimenting freely with different fabrics and styles. And by noting how our nightclothes impact the quality of our nights. Such a practice is as useful for those concerned with improving their sleep as it is for those wanting to invoke special dreams. Whether our purpose is healing our relationship with sleep or sustaining an already lovely one, it’s truly worth dressing up for.