If you find it hard to fall asleep or to stay asleep through the night, one of the most basic fixes you should make is to sleep in complete darkness. Here's how to make your room pitch black.
It all starts with your window dressing.
Choosing the Right Blackout Blinds and Curtains
The best way to make your room dark is with a combination of inside-mounted blackout blinds or shades and outside-mounted blackout curtains. “Inside” means the shades are mounted inside the window frame and “outside” means the curtain rod is mounted on the wall several inches outside the window frame. The word “blackout” is very important because these products also have “light filtering” and “room darkening” versions that are less effective.
There are two reasons you need a combination of inside-mounted and outside-mounted products. First, even the “blackout” versions do not block 100% of the light, so doubling up most of the area makes the light-blocking more effective. Second, inside-mounted products allow light to leak around the inside edges of the window frame while outside-mounted curtains allow light to leak through the middle where they meet. If you have both, the inside-mounted shades block the light in the middle and the outside-mounted curtains block the light at the edges of the window frame.
Here's a video I made showing you why both products are important:
You may be wondering if you can simply use outside-mounted blackout blinds or shades as a single product. I don't recommend this. Although they cover both the middle and edges, they create a gap several inches deep between the window and the blinds, and a smaller gap outside the window frame between the wall and the blinds. This will allow plenty of light to leak out the top, bottom, and sides.
Ordering Your Shades
Cellular shades are better for blocking out light than blinds, but if you also have curtains I don't think it makes much of a difference. I would avoid roller shades because they are more likely to curl up and become less effective with time. If you get cellular shades, I'd get cordless ones. They are a little harder to install than corded ones, but unless you invest a lot of money in high-end products the cord is likely to become dysfunctional after a year in my experience.
You can buy blackout shades at Home Depot and have them cut to the right width in the store, or you can order them on Amazon, where the selection is better.
Before ordering, measure the inside dimensions of your window frame. Here's a quick video I made on how to take the measurements:
You want the width of the shade to be a quarter to a half inch narrower than the width of your window frame, and you want the length to be at least as long as the inside height of the window frame but not much longer. Dimensions are listed online with the width as the first number and the height as the second number. Be careful to read the description, because some brands give you the width of your window frame and adjust it down a half inch for you, and some brands give you the width of their shade and tell you to get it slightly shorter than your window frame. For the height, get the shortest height you can that is longer than your window is tall.
For example, let's say your window frame is 26″ wide and 54″ tall on the inside, and you want to order the Calyx Interiors Honeycomb Cellular Blackout Shade. The description tells you to order at least a 1/4″ shorter than the width of your frame, so you would get the 25.5″ option because it is the smallest increment below 26″ you can order. The height options are 48″, 60″, and 72″, so you'd order 60″ because 48″ is too short and 72″ is unnecessarily long. So, you'd order the 25.5″ x 60″ option.
Ordering Your Curtains
Bed Bath and Beyond has a better selection of blackout curtains than Amazon. For aesthetics, you want two panels even if your window is narrow enough to be covered by one panel. For many windows, you would need two panels simply to cover the full width. Other than making sure that your panels, when combined, are large enough to cover the entire outside dimensions of your window frame, the rest is personal style. You might prefer they go to the floor, or you might prefer they end a few inches below the bottom of your window sill. Choose a style you like and make sure to get at least a rod so you can hang it. Depending on how pretty you like your windows, you may want finials, holdbacks, and a double rod system so you can hang lace curtains on the lower rod and blackout curtains on the higher rod.
Installing Your Shades and Curtains
Google is rich with tutorials of how to install these products. Use phrases like “inside mount” and “outside mount” when searching, and make sure you have everything you need (an electric screw gun makes it much easier, and a pencil is a great thing that I never seem to have around) before you get started.
Make sure the inside-mounted blinds or shades cover as much of the inside of the window frame as possible, and that the outside-mounted curtains extend a few inches beyond the outside of the window frame on the top, left, and right, and stretch at least below the bottom of the window sill on the bottom.
Using Curtains With an Air Conditioner
All of this becomes complicated if you're trying to black out a window with an AC because you can't let the shade or curtain block the air flow from it. If the AC is installed in the window, you simply need to order your inside-mounted shades at a shorter length that covers the window frame above the AC.
It's the curtains that are difficult. You could have them hemmed to end just above the AC, but it would ruin the daytime aesthetics to have them so short.
I used to roll the curtains up to hang above the AC with clothespins, but I've since found a better way:
- Buy one or two packs of Velcro.
- Buy one bottle of fabric glue. The Velcro does have adhesive on the back but it's not strong enough for this purpose.
- Measure where you'd need to place the Velcro on the back outside edge of your curtains to fold it to just the height needed to sit above the air conditioner.
- Follow the instructions on the fabric glue to fasten the Velcro into that position. You'll need a furry side and a prickly side to cling to one another, one at the bottom of the back outside edge of the curtain and one on the same edge where the bottom will attach in the fully folded position.
At a minimum, do this on the outside back edge of each panel. If you find that the curtain sags in the middle when folded, you might want to put additional Velcro strips in the middle of the back of the curtain to prevent that. If you can't stop it from sagging, it may make it harder to overlap the curtains in the middle and you may still need clothespins to join them together in the middle.
Here's a video showing how I solved this problem for my window:
Tack the Curtains When Sleeping If Necessary
If the curtains hang freely, you should achieve complete darkness at night. If, however, you need to make adjustments such as those described above for an AC, they may hang in a way that fails to completely block light from slipping through the sides of the window. If needed, you can fix this by pinning the curtains to the outside of the window frame with thumb tacks before you sleep.
Unplug and Cover Up Electronics
Unplug whatever can be unplugged, and use electrical tape to cover up any lights that can't be unplugged (for example, on your AC if you are using one).
Block Light From Other Rooms
Ideally, simply closing your bedroom door is enough to make your room pitch black if you've done everything else listed above. However, you might find light slipping into your room through the door cracks. If you do, you need to either block the light at its source by following these recommendations for the next room over, or you need to hang a blackout curtain around the outside of the frame of your bedroom door.
Get a Sleep Mask
If your room is anything less than pitch black, a sleep mask can help block the residual light. It can also help you sleep later in the morning when it gets bright enough outside your room for the light to start penetrating the fortress you just created. I used to use a flat sleep mask, but have recently switched to the Lonfrote Deep Molded Sleep Mask. It cups around your eyes and blocks residual light around the edges that a flat sleep mask cannot block. At $9.99, it's a highly cost-effective way to achieve superior light-blocking.
What's In My Windows
Here's what's in my windows:
- The Home Decorators Collection Mocha Cellular Blackout Shade. This is what's inside mounted. I bought them at Home Depot because that's what they had when I went in store. Were I to buy online, I'd study the reviews more carefully from the broader collection on Amazon. I found these hard to snap into place in the bracket when installing, but once I got them in, they've worked well for me.
- Dorian Chocolate 84″ Blackout Curtains, 2 panels. I bought these in store at Bed Bath and Beyond where I could clearly see them labeled as blackout. I don't see light-blocking level listed on the web site but it looks like the same product.
- Unfortunately I didn't keep good track of the exact rod products I bought at Bed Bath and Beyond, in store, but I believe they are all from the Cambria matte brown collection. The only products I can find on the web site that I think is exactly what I have is the Cambria Birdcage Finial in Matte Brown.
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Were these ideas helpful? Do you have any better ideas? Let me know in the comments!