I am something of a sleep fan (as are our cats, hence their inclusion in the header image!).
In our modern world there are so many things which can detract from a good night’s rest – noisy cities, crying babies (for the parents among us), stress about work and deadlines, and just trying to cram too much into the day and simply not getting enough time in bed.
About six years ago I was very guilty of the latter. I was so determined to ace being in London, and having a career, and having a social life, and writing, and everything else, that I whittled down the amount of sleep I got from a sensible 6 to 8 hours down by subtle increments to about 4 hours a night. It didn’t happen all at once, but there was a swathe of months where I was turning in at 1am or 2am, and rising at 5am or 6am.
Those hours might work for Margaret Thatcher, or Barack Obama, or Donald Trump (all infamous 4-hours-a-night sleepers) but it definitely doesn’t work for me. After about six months of trying to do this I was shattered – my brain wasn’t as sharp, I felt much less like myself, my health habits were ruined, my skin looked grey, and I wound up suffering from migraines and headaches on a hugely frequent basis.
Suffering from sleep deprivation was, ironically, a big wake-up call! After that I decided to really research my own sleeping habits and to drill down to what works for me. Much like diet and exercise, I’m a firm believer that sleep patterns are personal, but that there are also universals that apply to all.
I now know that for me the sweet spot is 6-7 hours a night (Matthew clocks in at 7-8 hours). Most adults will land in the 6-8 hours a night band, but there will be outliers on either side. I’ve taken the time to experiment with my own sleep patterns and now I know where I operate best, I have the ability to meet my days well-rested. I’ve also learned that for me, naps can work (30 minutes to 90 minutes, occasionally), but that ‘top-up’ sleeps (short sleeps at the week coupled with mammoth sessions at the weekend) do not – Matthew can juggle this but I need that 6-7 hours where possible.
Naturally, there are reasons and seasons that will impact sleep – I sleep less in the summer when it’s light out. Travel has an impact. And heaven knows if we have kids I’ll be sleeping wherever and whenever the opportunity arises!
Being such a sleep evangelist, I was delighted to be invited along to Tempur UK’s ‘We Love Sleep’ event last Friday. There, we were able to listen to a potted lecture from Dr. Nicola Barclay, a sleep scientist at the University of Oxford. I really enjoyed listening to Dr. Barclay and to the points raised in the Q & A afterwards. The setting (at The Royal Institution) was lovely – many of my friends are scientists so it’s one of their stomping grounds, but it was a novelty for this English and Film grad!
At the event it was lovely to meet some other bloggers (Fiona, Jess, Lauren and Merell-Anne) and we all had some great chats about sleep and how we tried to counter elements such as jet lag! We were all gifted a sweet Tempur bear made from the same innovative fabric as the pillows and mattresses, which turns out to be eminently huggable in bear form! We were also given a pillow from the Tempur range, which is deliciously comfortable and so supportive.
I thought I’d conclude this post with my tips for a great night’s sleep. Having had such a rough time with my own sleep habits, I hope some of these tips might be helpful for you!
- Experiment! Work out what sleep schedule works for you. I feel as miserable on more than eight hours sleep as I do on less than six. Find your sweet spot.
- Develop a bedtime routine. For me, I have to be really strict with myself and basically mother myself into doing this, but I feel so great when I do. My current routine is devices off at 10.30pm, in bed by 10.45pm to read or chat, lights out by 11/11.15pm. This means I can sleep through till six and feel well-rested and on it. I’m lucky in that I can shift my patterns a little, so at the weekends or during holidays everything bumps by an hour or two. Not everyone can do so, but through experimenting I’ve found my balance.
- Get those blue-light devices out of your bed. I am guilty, like so many of us, of staying on my phone or my iPad, scrolling away in bed. I try to plug them in to charge on the other side of the room now.
- Creating a bed that is a haven. I try to make my bed a comfortable, cosy space, that’s inviting and enjoyable. Whether it’s by investing in pretty bedding, a super-supportive mattress (I love the Tempur range, and was gifted a memory foam pillow to try out – so comfy! I am a firm believer in selecting products which facilitate a comfortable night’s sleep), or making sure lamps are lower wattage, your sleep space should be inviting.
- No caffeine in the pm. Oh gosh, this took me a while to get the hang of, but I feel so much better for it! I love my coffee but now I limit caffeinated beverages to the morning. In the afternoon I stick to decaf or no-caffeine options. Why hello there, peppermint tea!
- Fresh air and exercise. I try to make sure I have at least twenty minutes outside every day (it’s often more than this, but twenty is so deliciously achievable – even on my laziest or busiest days I can schedule a quick bimble). I also try to workout three times a week, whether it’s a swim, pilates or a dance class – when I take time to attend to my wellbeing in any way I find it impacts my sleep positively.
- No heavy meals after 6pm. This is a newer effort for me, but I’m finding it really useful so far. I’ve moved my bigger meals to breakfast or lunch, and the results have been very favourable. I still have an evening meal, but by choosing a lighter meal, or embracing the doggy-bag and saving half a meal till the next day, I’m finding it easier to sleep well.
- Keep a sleep diary. When I was changing my sleep habits, I kept a little notebook in my nightstand and noted down time to bed, wake up time, and any other notes. This was really helpful when it came to choosing a way forward, and my inner scientist loved looking at the patterns (examples: I slept about an hour less in the summer and was just fine. Oh, and at points in the month I need a little more sleep).
- Read and research. There are so many great resources available online, and sleep is definitely having a moment in the book world too. I loved Sleep, by Nick Littlehales (£6.99, Penguin Living) and Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution (£12.99, WH Allen) is firmly on my 2017 ‘to read’ list.
- Still can’t sleep? Even if you’re being saintly, there will be a night when you just cannot sleep. When that’s the case I have a few tips – a warm bath or a milky drink may help you to relax. Some people find spritzing lavender works. I’m a counter – counting sheep, counting in French: anything to bore your brain a little and distract it from concentrating on not being able to sleep. I’m also pretty strict with myself – if it’s just not working I will get up and do something else for a little while. I’d rather spend a half-hour doing something constructive (favourites are reading, writing a letter or reorganising cupboards) than lying there in the dark, craving sleep!
I’d love to hear more about how you make sleep work for you. Sweet dreams!
Disclaimer: This post is in conjunction with Tempur® but all thoughts are my own – I really do love sleep!