Although a fundamental factor in our morning and bedtime routine, curtains are not usually something which inspires much consideration beyond color coordination in bedroom design. Needless to say, your curtains have more functionality than complementing your bedding’s color scheme. Not only do closed curtains help add a little extra warmth to your bedroom and prevent onlookers, they have a strong effect on your quality of sleep. If you’ve ever been woken by a partner switching the bedroom lights on, you’ll know that light jolts the brain into waking up and curtains, or blinds, are your best bet for preventing that.
What’s the science behind curtains; how does light wake us up? Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the Hypothalamus. This area works like an internal clock, starting a regulated pattern of activities which affect the entire body and, consequently, wake us up. Therefore, your curtains are a convenient way of blocking street lights or headlights filtering through your windows in the middle of the night and interrupting a good night’s rest. If even a small amount of light comes into your bedroom while you are sleeping, it suppresses melatonin release. Melatonin is a hormone which is released from the pineal gland inside your brain and makes you sleepier. Too much light means too little melatonin and this is demonstrated by the numerous sleep studies in Antarctica. For example, studies show that subjects have trouble sleeping during the six months of continuous daylight of Antarctica.
Encouraging melatonin was not always the reason behind window dressings historically. Before the creation of central heating and double glazing, such drapery’s primary purpose was to retain heat in certain rooms. Prior to using textiles, animal hides would be suspended from door and window openings to stop draughts and provide privacy. Following this, wooden shutters would be used at the window opening to block dust, debris and cold, but curtains would rarely accompany them. Drapery before the 16th century would usually be used to create private spaces and partition areas in castles. Wall hangings were also popular around this time to provide decoration and warmth to the cold stone walls. However, curtains over doors were more common than window curtains, and were often made to match the wall hangings for cohesion in the room. It was only in the 13th century that the process of glass making was perfected that the rise of window curtains came about throughout the renaissance period. The main purpose of such curtains was now to protect the privacy of those inside, however blocking light could have also been a correlation, due to the rise of street lighting starting in France in 1667 and becoming common practice in England by the early 19th century.
Hopefully this brief history of draperies and its importance with regards to your sleep has been ‘enlightening’.