Insomnia: how a building biologist can help you get a better sleep

Are you or someone in your family suffering from sleep troubles?  Insomnia by definition refers to wakefulness or an inability to sleep.  It can encompass difficulty falling asleep, waking through the night, or waking too early.  Insomniacs typically don’t feel refreshed from or satisfied with their sleep.  They can often feel fatigued, moody, have difficulty concentrating and don’t perform at their best.

The Sleep Health Foundation of Australia says that ‘Australia is in the grip of a sleep deprivation epidemic’.  Between 33% and 45% of adults sleep poorly or not long enough most nights.  That sure does make for some very tired and grumpy people!


Circumstantial or medical reasons

So, first things first.  You need to rule out any reasonable explanations for your sleep woes.  We’ve all experienced situations where we don’t sleep well because of a stressful or traumatic event.  Perhaps you’re worried about an upcoming work presentation or school exam, or you’ve received some bad news.  These all fall into the category of acute insomnia and are completely normal if the sleep issues last for a few days or weeks.

Chronic insomnia on the other hand is that which may persist for more than a month.  According to the Sleep Foundation, chronic insomnia could be caused by a vast array of psychiatric and medical conditions.  From asthma and allergies, to back pain and arthritis, restless legs syndrome and sleep apnoea, anxiety and depression.  They are all culprits, and there are others too.

Building biologists' interest in sleep zones

As building biologists, we treat sleep troubles with paramount importance.  You’ll often see the services we offer focus on the bedrooms.  That’s because it’s vital to human health to get a calm and restful sleep and enough of it.  And the areas we sleep in must be both conducive to sleep and free of any environmental triggers that could negatively affect wellbeing.

People often come to see us because they don’t feel well in general.  Perhaps they can’t shake off an illness, have a confusing array of symptoms, or family members have poor sleep patterns.  These issues could plague anyone in the house, from newborn baby right through to teenager or adult.

When it comes to first-rate slumber, here’s a few things a building biologist would consider, that you may not have.

Electromagnetic fields & radiation

There’s a few things that come under this heading.  Firstly, a building biologist would test electromagnetic fields (EMF) using specialist equipment as there is good evidence to suggest that exposure to EMF from all types of electrical appliances in the home, can lead to a bad night’s rest.

Electrical pollution is another thing we would investigate.  Dirty electricity refers to a dangerous form of high frequency electricity that flows along wires only designed to carry clean, 60Hz current.  Being an electrical creature ourselves, the human body relies on small internal electrical currents to communicate between cells.  Such communications can be disturbed by external electrical pollution and this can muck up sleep patterns.

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) refers to microwave radiation that comes from not only microwaves but mobile phones and Wi-Fi.  Many people don’t know that Wi-Fi in homes depletes melatonin and leads to poor sleep quality and difficulty falling asleep.  Simply turning off your router each night is one easy way to reduce this problem.


Blue light & mobile phones

You’ve probably heard about blue light from screens messing with your zzzzz’s.  But did you believe it?  Well, the science is pretty rock solid on this now.  It says that exposure to too much blue light suppress your melatonin and can play havoc with your circadian rhythms.  This is bad news for night owls as both melatonin and circadian rhythms are vital in the quest for good sleep.  Here’s a good explanation from Harvard Health on blue light.  It contains their recommendations, which include keeping away from bright screens 2-3 hours before bed.

Are you wondering why you can’t get your adult children and teens out of bed?  Perhaps you need to look no further than their mobile phone.  Besides the blue light they emit, a compulsion to check night-time text messages contributed to poor sleep in this study.



Mould growth is yet another hazard to be aware of in your home.  Unfortunately, mould may not be all that apparent to the untrained eye.  That’s because it is often hidden in walls, carpets and furnishings.  It is however, a routine part of any visit from a building biologist to look for signs of toxic mould as the health consequences can be astronomical.

Mould exposure has been linked to all sorts of cognitive, psychological and autoimmune issues.  And insomnia.  To read more about the dangers of toxic mould, see our earlier blog post here.


Did you know that most mattresses sold on the Australian market are made from petroleum-based polyurethane, and are treated with potentially lethal flame retardants?  Even a mattress that is ten years old can still release toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that you then breathe in.  This can be disastrous if you’re after a good night’s sleep.

If you’re concerned that this may be affecting your shut-eye then you can of course go out and buy a new mattress – one that is free from toxic chemicals and ideally made from natural fibre.  Or another solution is to purchase a non-toxic mattress protector at least 2.5cm thick.  This will block the escape of those nasty chemicals and ensure you’re breathing fresher air.

And speaking of natural fibres, there are plenty to choose from for your sheets, blankets and pillows.  For example cotton, wool, hemp, corn fibre, buckwheat, eucalyptus and kapok.  These materials contribute to a better sleep as natural fibres wick moisture off the skin.  By contrast, synthetic materials such as polyester are less hygienic as they trap moisture and allow microbes and dust mites to flourish.

Be aware that fabrics made from non-organic materials often retain the pesticides used to grow the crop, so opt for organic if you can.


Need more help?

To summarise, there are a number of short-term circumstances and long-term medical conditions that could give rise to insomnia.  But if you’re suffering from regular poor sleep and you can’t pinpoint the reason why, then it may be time to consider some more environmental factors like the ones we’ve mentioned above.  It’s not an exhaustive list but in our experience, unexplained sleep disturbances of people of all ages can often be unravelled by identifying and fixing some of these triggers.

The important thing to remember is that good sleep is necessary for your body’s repair and rejuvenation.  It’s not a luxury, it’s your right and it should be accessible to all.  A restful slumber can boost your outlook, your health and your overall functioning.  The outcomes are not to be underestimated!

If you want more help on this topic, feel free to get in touch with us for a personal consultation.