Episode 28: The Science of Springtime Hygge

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Here in the US when we think about Hygge, we usually think about cozying up with blankets next to the fire, but hygge can be a part of our lives all year round.  In this episode, I discuss the ways that we can bring some hygge into our lives this Spring, and why hygge is scientifically a good thing.



Welcome to Hang Your Hat.  This is episode 28.  The science of Springtime Hygge.

Hygge is an integral part of Danish living that is difficult to translate into English.  The concept encompasses many of the pleasures of everyday life, like spending time with friends or family, curling up with a good book, and enjoying good food by candlelight.  It is the feeling of being comfortable, at ease, and enjoying the moment.

If you have ever come home and took a moment to enjoy being in your own space, or walked into a coffee shop and felt unaccountably comfortable, then you have experienced Hygge.  It is sitting in your favorite chair and enjoying a cup of coffee, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your bare skin, and spending time with friends late into the night because you didn’t notice the time pass.

There is no English equivalent to Hygge the concept encompasses happiness, comfort, simplicity, kinship, and contentedness.  Here in the US,  Hygge is often translated as coziness, and I think that is why I think it is so often associated with winter here.  After all, what is cozier than cuddling under a blanket next to the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa while wearing some hand knit wool socks - in my opinion, nothing.  

It is this image of coziness that makes Hygge nearly irresistible in the winter.  If you noticed pictures of chunky knit blankets, candles, books, and large cups of coffee in your Instagram feed this winter and thought - I need to buy a candle next time I am at Target, then you know what I mean.  But here in Florida, where I live, we have cozy by the fireplace weather for about an hour and a half in January once a year.  The rest of the year, when the temperature is over 80 degrees and the humidity is nearing 100%, Heavy blankets and roaring fires seem much less appealing.  After sweating under some cozy blankets and swapping hot coffee for the iced variety this February I started wondering if this Hygge thing was really for me, or if I just lived too close to the equator for Hygge to work for me.

Then I came to an important, and obvious realization - Denmark isn’t always cold, they too have seasons, and Hygge is a part of Danish life all year, so, surely there must be some warm weather equivalent of blanket cuddling that doesn’t involve heat stroke.  

On today’s episode of Hang Your Hat I am exploring the ways that we can maintain the sense of Hygge even as the mercury rises, and why, scientifically, a Hygge home is a happy one.


After a long cold dreary winter, full of heavy blankets, thick curtains, and oppressive darkness, springtime is like a breath of fresh air, and enjoying the simple luxuries afforded by the change of the season is what Hygge is all about.

In the winter, creating a sense of Hygge in the home is all about creating a cozy cocoon into which we can retreat from the cold, but in the Spring the outside world is no longer something that we need to retreat from.  As the weather warms, take the time to enjoy the outdoors by bringing them inside.

Open the windows wide and let the fresh outdoor air in.  Not only is it a luxury to have a fresh breeze running through the house, unless you live in a really polluted area, it will probably improve your indoor air quality.  

Homes tend to be pretty airtight to protect against heat loss in the winter.  While that is great for your energy bill, it is not so great for your indoor air quality.  

During the winter we bring a lot of things into our home and do a lot of things into our homes that are bad for air quality,  like cozying up to a nice roaring fire and lighting a bunch of candles.   Unfortunately, the fireplace flue is unlikely to rid our homes of all the smoke produced by indoor fires.  The heating systems themselves can also add to indoor air pollution depending on the type - any that are relying on combustion to create heat are not going to be doing your air quality any favors.

Winter is also when we are likely to bring in decorations from the garage, attic, or basement, where it has been collecting dust and mold spores all year - also not great for indoor air quality.  

Even the furniture and textiles we buy so that our homes look great when we welcome friends and family for the holidays is libel to outgas chemicals that our lungs could do without.  

Opening the windows gives all of those pollutants an opportunity to escape, leaving the air inside cleaner.  So throw open the windows and enjoy a lungful of that sweet fresh air.

Plants are another great way to bring the outdoors inside, and they also clean indoor air.  

We are probably all familiar with a plants ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they can also clean the air in at least two other ways.  Like carbon dioxide plants can metabolize some toxins and release harmless byproducts.  They can also absorb toxins into their tissues sequestering them so they are no longer free in the environment.  We know this because in 1989 NASA did a study on the impacts that plants had on indoor air quality.   They were interested because the air quality in spaces with low indoor-outdoor air exchange - like space vessels - gets pretty bad pretty fast.  If NASA wanted to do long-term space habitation, they needed to find a solution.

Throughout several studies plants were found to be surprisingly good at removing toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and other volatile organic compounds.  Some of the plants that were found to be great at filtering air were already popular house plants, like Dracaena, English Ivy, and Snake Plant (also known as Sansevieria).  My favorite houseplant, pothos (also known as Devil’s Ivy) was also on the list.  Pothos is a wonderful houseplant because it requires very little light and even less care to thrive.  I currently have a neon variety growing quite happily in my windowless bathroom.

Plants may also offer psychological benefits.  Numerous scientific studies have shown that indoor plants are positively associated with a variety of beneficial psychological outcomes, such as reduced stress, improvements in reaction time and attentiveness, and increased productivity.  They were even associated with a reduction in the amount of perceived pain.  

Before you throughout all of your anxiety and pain medication in favor of houseplants, keep in mind that these are associations rather than causations, and additional research needs to be done so that other causes for improvement can be ruled out.

While you are opening the windows and setting plants on the sill be sure to throw the curtains wide as well.  Lots of natural light important for creating a sense of Hygge in the home, it is also great for our bodies and minds, especially after the long dark winter.

During the winter I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark and get few opportunities to spend time outside during the day.  Frankly, it's a bit depressing.  When the sky starts to lighten during my morning commute, I can almost feel happiness seeping back into me.  

That may be because scientists believe that levels of serotonin in the brain increases as the days get longer.  In other words, wintertime blues may actually be a product of too little light.  Severe cases are called Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.  Doctors recommend that people spend at least 30 minutes of a day out in the sunlight to combat this type of depression.

While you are out there you can also soak up some vitamin D, which is important for calcium absorption and bone growth.  Vitamin D can also help prevent certain cancers, heart disease, depression, and even weight gain.  While it is possible to take a vitamin D supplement for these benefits as well, it is unclear if supplements are as good for us as getting vitamin D from the sun.  Currently, there is an Australian study underway called the Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Supplementation Study that hopes to get the definitive answer, so keep an eye out on your favorite biomedical publication.

In episode 15 we discussed the impact of natural and artificial light on the production of melatonin and it impacts on a good night’s sleep.  The short story is if you want a really good night's sleep natural light is your friend.  

It is also your friend if you want to be more productive.  Besides just helping you be well rested, natural light was shown to improve standardized test score and even increase sales in studies.  I think part of that is simply feeling better in a space.  

One of the reasons that Scandinavian homes have that sense of serenity or Hygge is the lack of superfluous stuff.

In Episode 8:  Wax on Wax Off, I discussed some theories on the History of Spring Cleaning.  My favorite was that after a long winter with the house closed up and the fire going non stop that homes simply needed a good clean.  While we may not get quite as much physical dirt built up during the winter time as we once did, we do accumulate a lot of junk over the course and Spring remains a great time to clean all of that out.

While we change out thick blankets and heavy curtains for lighter ones to make way for the new season it seems natural to also make way for new beginnings in our lives by clearing out the clutter from the prior year.  Clutter can cause stress and feelings of guilt and can hold us back from moving forward in our lives.  

By clearing out the clutter and creating a home with a very hygge feel we may also get many other physical and psychological benefits.  In Episode 4:  One Resolution to Rule Them All, I investigated the impact that clutter had on our lives and the benefits of decluttering.  

A 2015 study published in the online supplement to the journal Sleep found that people that were at risk for hoarding had some big complaints about sleep.  Study participants were found to have high levels of sleep latency, sleep disturbances, and daytime disturbances, probably stemming from poor sleeping conditions.  

Decluttering may also make you happier, reduce stress, improve self-confidence, improve breathing in people with allergies and asthma, reduce your risk of injury,  make it easier to exercise and eat healthily, save you money, and even help you lose weight.  Listen to episode 4, if you havn't already to get the full details.  


When I began researching the topic of Hygge I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between hygee and self-care.  Hygge is not just about making your house look nice, it is about making you feel better while you are in it.  It is about fostering a sense of well being.

Just like drinking a cup of hot chocolate by the fire can make it seem like all is right in the world, springtime activities can also promote Hygge.  So this spring I would like to encourage you to have a picnic, drink a glass of ice cold lemonade by the pool, go star gazing or watch a sunrise, and spend time with the people you love.

I would love to find out how you create a sense of Hygge in your home as the temperature rises.  If you would like to share please love a comment on hangyourhatpodcast.com or email me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  

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And as always, thanks for listening.

Episode 6: Sweet Dreams are Made of These

30% of american adults do not get enough sleep, and the consequences of too little sleep include impaired brain activity, cognitive dysfunction, moodiness, depression, increased incidence of accidents cold and flu, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, hallucinations, memory problems, and accidental death.  So today’s show is dedicated to making our homes great places to get a good night’s sleep, from the perfect lighting, to the most relaxing paint color and best scents to induce sleep.  I will also talk about some of the best and worst sleep gadgets available on the net.


Sleep Gadgets:

As promised, here are links to all of the sleep gadgets mentioned in the sleep gadget portion of the show.


Show Transcript:

Welcome to Hang your Hat:  Ideas that are Close to Home.This is Episode 6:  Sweet Dreams are made of these, And who am I to disagree?

30% of american adults do not get enough sleep, and the consequences of too little sleep include impaired brain activity, cognitive dysfunction, moodiness, depression, increased incidence of accidents cold and flu, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, hallucinations, memory problems, and accidental death.  So today’s show is dedicated to making our homes great places to get a good night’s sleep, from the perfect lighting, to the most relaxing paint color and best scents to induce sleep.  I will also talk about some of the best and worst sleep gadgets available on the net.

Your bedroom is for sleep, and romance.  It is not the ideal place for watching TV, doing laundry, or answering email.  Or in the words ofDr. Safwan Badr, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “I say the bed is for two things that begin with the letter S, and struggling and suffering are not among them.”

The reason that we should not do other things in our bedrooms is that it teaches our minds to associate the bedroom with things other than sleep.  When the mental association between the bedroom and sleep is strong, the bedroom itself can become a strong sleep trigger. 

The first step toward making your bedroom more conducive to sleep is clearing out all the clutter, and This is not just me and my aversion to clutter talking.  According to the Alaska sleep clinic, all of the stuff we have in our rooms, wether we are using them or not, are potential distractions that weaken the bond between the bedroom and sleep.  The treadmill in the corner will make you think about working out, or how you are not working out.  The computer may make you anxious about work, and good TV programing can keep you engaged long after the TV has been turned off.   

2nd:  Ditch the Electronics

The TV and other electronics, like lap tops, phones, and iPads,  are not just bad because they keep you engaged long after bedtime, they also emit a blue light that that can interrupt normal sleep patterns.

The part of the brain that controls the biological clock is the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus which are a group of cells in the hypothalamus.  These cells are sensitive to light, and respond to light and dark signals.  When the body is only exposed to natural light, sleep patterns are set by the daily cycle of light and dark. When it starts getting dark outside the hypothalamus sends signals to the body to start producing sleep hormones, like melatonin, and to reduce the body’s temperature in preparation for sleep.  When it gets light outside in the morning the body is triggered to warm up and produce waking hormones like cortisol.

Artificial light disturbs this pattern.  According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, it can suppress melatonin productions by around 85%.  Night time light also unnaturally elevates cortisol levels at night, which disrupts sleep and creates problems with body-fat levels, insulin resistance, inflammation, and disrupts the neuroregulation of appetite.

The blue light produced by electronics and LEDs is even worse than the artificial light produced by incandescent bulbs.

According to Harvard Medical School, Blue light boosts attention, reaction times and mood - great during the day, but a problem at night.   Blue light also suppresses melatonin production more than any other type of light, probably because humans are extremely sensitive to the very short wavelengths of blue light.

Dr. Robert Oexman, of the Sleep to Live Institute suggests that to get better sleep, exposure to blue light should be avoided 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime.  If the idea of not using your phone for 30 minutes to an hour before bed doesn’t appeal to you, check to see if it has a night time setting.  The night time setting on phones reduces the amount of blue light the phone emits, making it slightly better for your sleep routine.  You should also lower the light levels in your home and bedroom as much as possible prior to bed to help your body kick start it’s melatonin production.  

While in target the other day, I actually ran across some smart lights designed to automatically adjust the light throughout the day to the ideal conditions to promote sleep.  They were called, C by GE and they were very expensive at almost $40 for 2 bulbs.  They are pretty cool through - in the morning the produce bright blue light, and in the evening they switch to dimmer more yellow light, and for the rest of the day they produce light that is somewhere in between.  The blue morning light suppresses melatonin and increases cortisol production which will help wake you up, and the yellow evening light should allow natural melatonin production to occur - which will help you sleep.

I have since found these made by several other manufactures, and was shocked to find that the GE ones were actually pretty cheap in comparison to many of the others.  As extravagant as these light bulbs seem I considering taking the plunge and getting a couple for my own bedroom.  If I do,  I will give a follow up and let you know how they work.

Now that we know that light exposure near bed time is a bad thing, it should be no surprise to find that any light in your bedroom can negatively affect sleep.  

Even when your eyes are closed, a light signal can reach the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus.  One of the best things you can do to improve your sleep is to eliminate all sources of light from the room.  That includes lamps, night lights, light up cell phone notifications, alarm clocks, and the red lights on TVs that stay on even when the TV is off.  Even if you can’t remove these things from the room - you can cover up the light sources so that that don’t affect your sleep.  

Light from the outside also counts.  If you have a street light pouring into your bedroom at night, invest in some black out curtains, or, black out curtain liners.  Good black out curtains should be able to completely block light coming in from the outside.

Now that we have eliminated the light, it is time to eliminate the sound.

Sounds that cause arousal during sleep affect your sleep cycle, even if they don’t wake you up.  Night time noise has also been correlated with cardiovascular disease based on the research review “Effects of Environmental Noise on Sleep”  published in the journal Noise and Health - although further research is needed to see if a causal relationship exists.  

The amount that sound effects sleep differs quite a bit from person to person, some people are more sensitive to noise than others.  Children and the elderly are affected more strongly than people of other ages, and people are more likely to have their sleep disturbed by sounds during stage 2, non rem sleep, and during any other sleep stage. People can also get used to background noise, like a busy road, if they are exposed to it for long enough, and Once people are habituated to noises they don’t affect sleep as badly.

The sounds themselves can make a difference too.  The study Auditory Processing across the Sleep-Wake Cycle in the journal Neuron found that Mom’s are super sensitive to baby noises, and that people more sensitive to their name than random beep noises while they sleep.

The worst however, is abrupt changes in noise, like a sudden loud bang or honking horn that rises above the level of general background noise.

One way to drown out environmental noises is to use a sound machine that produces white noise.  It creates a low level background sound that makes abrupt environmental noises less noticeable.  You can even use things like fans or air conditioners as white noise machines while they are running.

You can also set up your room in ways that limit the impact of noise, by doing things like Keeping beds away from noisy walls whenever possible, and decorating with Soft surfaces like carpets and drapes which deaden sounds better than hard surfaces like wood or metal.  Trees and bushes planted outside the bedroom can also reduce exterior noises.   If you are in the market for new windows double pane ones block sound better than single pane windows, but even just making sure that your current windows are sealed properly can help.  and if all else fails, use earplugs.

My son and I both fall asleep best when listeningto something that is a little boring and monotone, or very familiar when going to bed.  His favorite is the Gardener’s Question Time Podcast, and I generally listen to audio books that I have already listed to several times.  For me, it keeps my mind occupied enough to not think about things like work, but is dull enough that it doesn’t keep me awake.  

Now Temperature,

I am from Florida, were winter is a week long, and fall and spring last an additional 2 weeks each.  The rest of the time is summer.  When the temperatures are high, but the humidity is higher.  Where the air is so full of water, that it feels like drowning when you breath, and when you sweat, you can’t be sure if the water came from inside you, or it condensed when the air touched your skin - either way it is completely useless because sweat doesn’t evaporate during a Florida Summer.

Every summer we worship at the alter of the Air conditioning gods.  We hide in our climate controlled boxes, and only when absolutely necessary do we brave the outside long enough to scurry from one climate controlled box to another - lest we be struck down by the horrible light of the day star.

Worst, I have recently discovered that there is another reason to dislike the miserably hot summer, it messes with my sleep.

When you go to sleep, the temperature that your body tries to maintain drops a bit.  This drop in temperature induces sleep, but if the ambient temperature in the room is too hot or too cold, then the body struggles to achieve the new nighttime ideal temperature.  If the temperature is uncomfortably hot or cold it will be harder to go to sleep and you will be more likely to wake up.  

How comfortable The temperature of the room is especially affects the quality of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  

It turns out that the ideal temperature range for sleeping is 65 to 72 degrees fahrenhite (about 18 to 22 degrees celsius) for most people.  Although there are some differences in what is comfortable from one person to the next.  The important thing is keeping the temperature of the room comfortable.

Yet even here in the affluent United States, there is no way that I would actually cool my house to 65 to 72 degrees to sleep.  For one, my utility bill would astronomically high, for two, my air conditioner would turn into a giant block of ice in the attempt, and last, as an environmentalist, the idea of using enough energy to cool my house by as as much as 30 degrees below the outside temperature leaves me a bit appalled.  

What is a frugal environmentalist or person without air conditioning to do?  Fans!  Ceiling fans, box fans, fans on a night stand.  All will help, are inexpensive when compared with an air conditioner, and use a fraction of the energy.

Keep in mind that Fans will not significantly change the temperature of the room, but the movement of the air will assist in the evaporation of sweat, which makes the body’s natural cooling system actually work in a humid climate. 

You might also want to change out your pillow if you have a memory foam one.  As nice as memory foam pillows are - the material they are made from traps heat - so they are not ideal if you are sleeping in a room that is a bit too warm.

Now, If you are having trouble getting to sleep smell might be the key to getting to sleep quickly.  Lavender, reduces anxiety and agitation, decreases heart rate, and relaxes the body.  It has even been used to treat insomnia.  In stress tests people who smelled vanilla had more stable heart rates and lower blood pressure than people that had not smelled anything.  And people that smelled jasmine had more restful sleep, moved less during sleep, and had better sleep quality than those that didn’t smell jasmine.  Smelling roses during deep sleep has been shown to improve memory.  Chamomile, Bergamot, and Sandalwood are also generally thought to be good sleep aids.  Oil diffusers, or oil diffusing humidifiers are good ways spread scent around the room, and they are generally not too expensive.  On a side note, all of the studies that I read on scent and sleep used Essential Oils rather than lab produced scents, so if you want to get the sleep benefits of smell, try the essential oil version of the scent.

If you wake up after a good night sleep and feel like you were hit by a truck sometime during the night, it might be time for a new mattress.  I’m not going to go into mattresses too much, because I could literally do an entire podcast about mattresses, and I probably will at some point.  But here are a few high level tips.  Most mattresses are designed to last only 10 years, after that they begin to wear and become less supportive.  Buying a new mattress is not cheap, but considering the amount of time people spend in bed, it isn’t worth it in the long run to cheap out.  You can expect to spend at least $1000 for a decent queen size mattress.  And while you can occasionally find decent mattress for less,  chances are if you are paying less you are getting a lower quality mattress.  There are actually quite a few mattress review websites online, where owners of the mattresses review them for comfort, durability and the like, so you can get a better idea of what you are buying before you shell out.

The kind of mattress you should get is based on personal preference.  If you go with a foam mattress remember that memory foam retains heat.  Latex foam is cooler, so it is probably a better choice for hot climates.

Finally, the color of your bedroom can affect your sleep.  The hotel booking website, travel lodge, studied 2000 British families and found that people who slept in blue rooms got the most sleep.

The blue room sleepers got an average of 7 hours 52 minutes of sleep.  Yellow was second best at 7 hours 40 minutes, but green, silver, and orange followed closely behind. 

The absolute worst color bedroom for sleep was purple, with an average of only 5 hours 56 minutes.  Brown and grey rooms were the 2nd and 3rd worst.

The reasons the researches thought that the blue room scored the highest was that blue is associated with calmness and helps reduce blood pressure and heart rate, while purple is associated with creativity, so it might keep your mind working even after lights out.  But the researchers were not able to do more than speculate about when the color of the room affected sleep the way it did.  

I feel like there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered here, but I ’m still going to be heeding this information when I go to pick out paint colors for my bedroom.

While doing research for today’s show I ran across a lot of sleep gadgets, some of which were truly innovative and some of which were truly weird.  I decided to share a few of the gadgets I found, and let you decide which is which.  

1st, Sheex - thats S-H-E-E-X.  Sheex are sheets that are made from moisture wicking fabric that is similar to athletic apparel.  They help to keep you cool and dry when the temperature in your room is hotter than is ideal.  They are currently $179 for a queen set including pillow cases on Amazon.

#2:  The Sleep Number 360 smart bed.  Sleep number’s latest bed seems like it does just about everything but make itself.  It can automatically warm the foot of the bed at bedtime, automatically adjusts to optimize comfort if you change position while sleeping, and will automatically raise your partner’s head when they start snoring.  It also has integrated sleep tracking technology, and will communicate with other smart technology like nest and fitbit.  It will also remind you to go to bed, and turn on under bed lighting if you get up in the middle of the night, and there is an app for it.  The Sleep number 360 is not available yet, but the company says it will be similar in price to their existing beds.

#3The Philips Wake up light with colored sunrise simulation

The wake up light is basically an alarm clock, but it doesn’t just use sound to wake you up.  It simulates the sunrise to wake you up gradually with natural light, as well as playing either soothing sounds or FM radio.  It also does the reverse to put you to sleep, by slowly dimming the light and turning down the sound.  It is currently available on Amazon for $134.

#4Under Armor TB12 Tom Brady Recovery Sleepwear.  Quarterback Tom Brady worked with Under Armor to develop PJs that help your body recover from exercise or injury while you are sleeping.  There is a“soft bioceramic print” on the inside of the PJs that reflects the body’s own heat, which, according to Under Armor, helps your body recover faster and promotes better sleep.  They are currently for sale on the Under Armor Website for $100 per piece.

#5 The Power Siesta.  The power siesta is a piece of cardboard, that folds out into a stable box type shape, that is designed to let you sleep on top of your tray table on a plane.  You fold it out, place it on your tray table, lay on top of it, and then, if the Power Siesta’s Kick starter page is any indication, you immediately fall asleep.  The power siesta has been funded on kick starter, and you can currently pre order one for only $17.

#6 Acoustic Sheep Sleep Phones.  This is a headband with speakers built in that you can plug into your phone to play music while you sleep.  They also have wireless versions.  The idea is that the sound from the headphones will drown out other sounds that would otherwise wake you up, like noisy neighbors or crying babies, but your partner won’t have to listen to your music while they sleep.  It is currently selling for $38.95 on Amazon.

And Last, #7, The Ostrich Pillow.  The Ostrich pillow is a travel pillow that looks like a squishy full face helmet in the shape of a bulbous alien head.  It is worn over the head, and is almost completely enclosed except for asmall hole for your mouth and nose so that you do not suffocate.  It also has what looks like the ports on a incubator coming out of either side of it that you can put your hands in.  If you like near complete sensory deprivation while sleeping in public places, you can pick one up on Amazon for only $11.28.

Thank You for listening, I hope you enjoyed the Show.  If you did, please rate the show or leave a review on I tunes.  I will be back in two weeks with the next episode.  If you would like to get in touch in the meantime please send me an email at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  You can also visit the website hangyourhatpodcast.com.

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