Today’s bedrooms are no longer simply a room with a bed.

According to a recent study, our traditional sleep spaces are being used for various purposes and becoming more multifunctional in response to our growing spatial needs.

For the research, a team led by UNSW Sydney surveyed 304 Australian residents of different demographics, including age and gender, about their bedroom space and sleep habits. Around 40 per cent of respondents used their bedroom as their living space, while 61 per cent said they preferred to use it just for sleep. Age, occupation and bedroom location all affected usage and preferences.

Just like eating, sleep is fundamental for humans to survive. But given that we spend around a third of our lives asleep, our domestic sleep spaces – and how we use them – are relatively unexplored from a design perspective. Meanwhile, other domestic rooms, such as the kitchen, have been closely studied by designers to determine their optimal design, layout and features.

“We spend most of our time at home in the bedroom, but its use is expanding beyond its primary function as a sleep environment,” says Dr Demet Dincer, lead author of the study and interior architecture lecturer from UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture. “These initial findings help us better understand the different uses of the contemporary sleep environment and inform better design strategies for these spaces.”

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“While a well-laid-out and equipped kitchen is no guarantee for tasty meals, it can make hygienic cooking of better-tasting meals easier than a poorly equipped and laid-out one. The same could be said for bedrooms and sleep,” says Dr Christian Tietz, study co-author and senior lecturer in industrial design at UNSW.

stylish teenagers room interior with comfortable bed and workplace

Around 40 per cent of study participants used their bedroom as a living space. Photo: Shutterstock.

Overall, 90 per cent of respondents used their bedroom at least some of the time for sleeping, while the remaining either did not have a bedroom space for sleeping or used it for a different purpose altogether.

“The ratio of participants who mentioned sleeping in spaces other than a permanent bedroom was not high, such as sleeping in a car or a spare room,” Dr Dincer says. “But before we have a discussion on optimal sleep conditions, it is important to note today’s sleep environment might not be merely a room, including a bed, either.”

A multifunctional sleep environment

According to the findings, the mean hours per day spent in a sleep environment are 9.31, while the mean hours spent sleeping are 7.12. There was no difference in the amount of time spent in the bedroom based on gender.

Younger participants also spent more time in their bedrooms than any other age group, while they were also more likely to use the space for activities other than sleep. Students reported using the bedroom more as a working area – even more so than respondents who worked from home. Respondents living in share housing were also more likely to use their bedroom as a work area, while those living in a studio apartment were more likely to use their sleep environment as a shared space. 

Among the other activities in the sleep environment, watching TV was the highest activity, followed by reading, studying or working, eating and then exercising.

Many other activities, like watching TV, now take place in our contemporary sleep environments. Photo: Shutterstock.

“Almost half of our respondents said their bedroom was their living space, even though most don’t prefer that. However, we can’t change the reality that our domestic spaces, including the bedroom space, are shrinking and must accommodate more functions,” Dr Dincer says.

As space, particularly in cities, becomes more of a premium, Dr Dincer says we need to rethink the different boundaries affecting the use of our sleep environments.

“Bedrooms are one of our most private spaces. But how much we can personalise them is very limited in Australia, particularly for renter-occupiers,” Dr Dincer says. “It would be ideal if our laws allowed renters more flexibility to customise their space beyond just furnishings, particularly if we intend to stay for an extended period.” 

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Previous sleep studies suggest the sleep environment significantly influences sleep quality and problems like sleep apnea and insomnia. However, this, and the participants’ health, were not the focus of the current study.

But in the next stage, the research team will use the Creative Robotics Lab at UNSW’s Paddington Campus to collaborate with sleep experts and explore how different features and changes to the sleep environment affect sleep quality.

“We’re looking forward to this important collaboration between designers and sleep researchers that should give us a more holistic understanding of what makes an optimal sleep environment and how they can be more flexible and responsive to changing spatial needs,” Dr Dincer says.