Our bedrooms are meant to be a place we go to rest and have a good night’s sleep, but there are so many things that can disrupt this safe haven, including chemicals in the air and the lack of fresh oxygenated air. Keeping widows closed and having such well-insulated homes might keep us warmer, but little fresh air is able to come inside. And formaldehyde from carpets, benzene from paints and solvents, and trichloroethylene from dry-cleaned clothes pollute the air and can prevent us from getting the good night’s sleep we need.

A wonderful solution to breathing easier at night is growing live plants in the bedroom. Many studies show that the leaves and roots of plants absorb pollutants into their cells, and even the microorganisms in the soil around the roots can absorb pollutants like cigarette smoke and solvent.

Some people believe the myth that keeping plants in a bedroom while sleeping can result in those plants somehow ‘using up’ all the oxygen in the room and suffocating the unsuspecting sleeping person with the carbon dioxide produced as the plants ‘breathe’.

The science behind it

In simple terms all plants and animals engage in a process called respiration. They do this by combining oxygen and food to produce energy they can use to survive and grow.  During the day plants release oxygen into the air as part of the process of photosynthesis, which can only take place if there is light present. Plants actually hold on to a small amount of the oxygen they produced during photosynthesis and use that oxygen to break down carbohydrates to give them energy. This means they not only produce oxygen but also use a small amount of it for respiration.

Respiration does not depend on light – it keeps going all day, so we have enough energy to perform the basic functions to stay alive.

So, are we competing with plants for oxygen at night?

Once again in simple terms the answer is no. The amount of oxygen plants release as part of photosynthesis makes the amount of oxygen they consume for respiration seem negligible. When it is dark and no photosynthesis takes place plants to take in oxygen but they don’t release any back into the air, and they do produce small amounts of carbon dioxide. But that in no way means they are competing with us as we sleep for oxygen – plants produce around ten times more oxygen during the day than they use at night. And the amount of oxygen they use when dark is trivial – if you compare the earth to a big room, we would all be in trouble if plants used a great deal of oxygen each night.

So, what five natural air fresheners disguised as living house plants are most suited to taking up residence in our bedrooms to help us sleep easier?

Peace be unto you

The beautiful and aptly named peace lily plant is one of the most popular and well-suited plants for a bedroom. These plants make fantastic housewarming gifts with their glossy leaves that grow well in even low light conditions and with root systems that tolerate different amounts of watering. If you place the lily close to a sunny window the plant will grow more of the flower-like spathes. They are also fantastic at communicating how thirsty they are by wilting if the soil is dry and then quickly perking up when watered.

Palm it off

The parlor palm is an attractive plant that grows well in partial to full shade in its native habitat in Guatemala. These palms can often be seen thriving in offices, malls and hotel reception areas where is often little to no natural light. This plant’s leaves will become burnt if exposed to too much light, and they enjoy growing near bathrooms where they will benefit from slightly more humid air. Their slender profile makes them ideal for smaller space where they can stand quietly without taking up too much room as they busily clean the air.

The mother-in-law

Not what you are thinking, the striking and hardy mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant with its leathery tough leaves is well adapted to surviving the harsh environment in West Africa where the soil is poor and rain sometimes hard to come by. These plants are very low maintenance and don’t need pruning or drop leaves, needing water every few weeks – but being careful not to over-water or plant in a pot with no drainage holes as they rot if left in standing water. Once again, these plants don’t take up much space and will happily get on with their work from the corner of a bedroom.

A fiddler of a plant

If you are looking for something trendy, then the Fiddle leaf fig is the plant for you. This attractive house plant appears often in magazines and blogs with its large leaves and lush foliage, but its status as a diva of the plant world means it needs slightly more TLC than the snake plant for instance. Fiddle leaf figs thrive in indirect light from an east-facing bedroom window and increase the humidity around the plant by placing it on a plate of pebbles filled with water. Too much or too little light, water and heat will cause this plant to grow poorly, but they are stunning additions to a bedroom if you have even slightly green fingers.  

Go with the classics

The enduring philodendron is the epitome of the happy-go-lucky house plant, growing well in pots in corners or the centre of attention on a chest of drawers. These plants cope will with all kinds of light conditions, but do better in less dark areas, and they are happier with less water than too much. New philodendrons can be rooted in beakers or vases of water if you want to grow your own instead of buying from a plant nursery.

Trees and plants are not called the lungs of the earth for nothing. They not only added huge aesthetic appeal to bedrooms but are natural air fresheners and give off oxygen during the day to make the air cleaner and fresher.