You know that amazing feeling you get when you wake up after a blissful 8 hour sleep feeling refreshed, rested and ready to face the day? Yep. Me neither. As much as I long for that Disney Princess rise and shine, (preferably with birds peeling away the duvet whilst I stretch theatrically looking as fresh as Sleeping Beauty after her 100 year kip) the reality is rather less…. restful.
I’ve always been what you might call a ‘light’ sleeper having never been able to emulate those lucky sods who can nod off the minute the plane takes off (I once rather impressively managed a 32 journey with no sleep) or who regularly ‘oversleep’ (I long to ‘over’ sleep!). But things got considerably worse around eight years ago after losing my mother to breast cancer which prompted me to morph into a fully-fledged insomniac. And it seems I’m not alone, as more and more of us are suffering from sleepless nights. According to Sleep & Stress Management Expert at Nightingale Hospital Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, modern life is to blame; ““Insomnia has been around for a long time but our fast-paced, demanding 21st century lifestyle is accentuating the problem. We especially need our sleep to meet the demands of today’s world – and many aren’t getting it. Technology and the way we use it has taken its toll and for many, sleep is noisy, disrupted and wired. Many people are also sacrificing their sleep in order to keep up with demand and over-relying on caffeine and stimulants to help them keep up. This in turn affects their sleep quality.”
Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom and amidst the tossing and turning there were definitely periods when I would sleep better, even managing a full seven hours a night at times (although never in more than four hour chunks.). Until now that is…. I’m not claiming to have miraculously put down a mortgage and taken up residency in the land of nod just yet as I think sleeplessness is always something that I’ll experience in times of stress or when travelling - according to Nerina my personality type makes me predisposed to this; “Cassie is a perfectionist and likes to be in control – she has some typical signs of this such as grinding her teeth at night and tightness in her neck and shoulders. Such personalities find it very hard to let go of the day.” But things are much better thanks to some tried and tested tips I have picked up along the way. They’re not rocket science and it definitely helps having a certified sleep expert to report in to to ensure you actually do them, but they've certainly eased the insomia that has plagued me for years.
(For more tips try these 26 Ways To Get The Best Night's Sleep Ever)
1) Ban technology in the bedroom
This has probably had the most impact on my sleep on a day to day basis. Nerina advises switching off technology a minimum of 60-90 minutes before you get into bed and keeping all technology out of the bedroom (devices such as tablets and laptops emit blue light which can upset our internal body clock). I followed her instructions to the tee even investing in an old school alarm clock (I used to use my phone) and made a point of not checking the time when I did wake up (according to Nerina this simply makes you anxious about how many hours you have left before you have to get up) and…. It worked. Now, when I do wake up I usually get back to sleep within half an hour. And when I don’t…”If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and your mind is racing with thoughts of what needs to be done the next day, get out of bed, go to another room and write a list of everything that needs to be done the next day. Do it on paper rather than on your device so that you can see clearly what needs to be done rather than holding it in your head,” advises Nerina.
2) Do some needlework
Although there was no ‘eureka’ moment, I discovered the benefits of acupuncture a few years back having been told repeatedly how amazing it is for insomnia. Whilst my natural skepticism (the force is strong in this one) kept me wondering whether the better sleep I was getting was simply a ‘fluke’, the results, (or zzz’s) speak for themselves and I now only curse the fact that I can’t get my acupuncturist Ross Barr (the best in the biz) permanently installed in my flat. Ross explains the science bit; “Acupuncture is great at regulating the endocrine system and calming the adrenaline that often stops people from falling asleep.” It’s now my go-to treatment for breaking that ‘so-stressed-I’m-beyond-wired’ cycle.
3) Pop a pill
Whilst I’d half-heartedly explored the notion that certain foods can aid a good night’s sleep (research has found for example that cherries are one of the few natural foods to contain sleep-inducing melatonin), aside from some herbal teas and popping magnesium pills now and again, I’d never taken a dedicated supplement. But GP Nutrition’s ‘Restore Me’ programme (£55 for a 14 day box) really has had a noticeable effect on my sleep. With a potent blend of vitamins, minerals and superfood extracts designed to revitalise you during the day and calm you during the night (you take two Vitamin B and antioxidant-packed capsules in the morning to raise energy levels and a powder sachet rich in calming magnesium and 5HTP before bed), it's a (much healthier) alternative to a night cap.
4) Pimp up your pillow
You know that natural skepticism I was talking about? I couldn’t have been more incredulous about the power of essential oils (having tried a few in the past), until I stumbled on This Work’s insomnia slayer. The Deep Sleep Pillow Talk (£22) which combines a pillow spray with a ‘stress less’ essential oil roller, may not be tough enough to cut it when I’m seriously stressed out but I definitely find I get a better night’s sleep whenever I use it and it’s now my go-to travel companion.
5) Get into a routine.
It was on an Olay press trip where celebrity facialist Anastasia Achilleos had devised a ‘Lights Out’ night-time facial massage that I really started taking note of how important a bedtime routine was. I’d always been a bath-before-bed kinda girl (Nerina advises avoiding making this too close to bedtime if you tend to get very warm at night and recommends steeping bath water with Bicarbonate of Soda or Epsom salts as the magnesium and salts help to relax the muscles), but that was the extent of my ‘routine’. On the trip, Anastasia stressed the importance of winding down and suggested that our nightly ritual of applying face cream can actually be incorporated into this 'winding down' by applying it…wait for it… in bed (when you hear why it kind of makes sense). She used Olay’s Regenerist 3 Point Age-Defying Night Cream (£29.99) but any cream will do, which she advised we apply lying flat - a natural massage position and also one that encourages lymphatic drainage. She says; “Starting with both hands on your chest, just below the collar bone, take three deep breaths and exhale slowly. With the pot of cream next to you, put a pea-sized amount into the palm of your hands and slowly rub your hands together before laying them over your face - fingertips should cover the forehead, palms across the face. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Next, slide your palms up and over the forehead, out to the temples, following the hairline down to the chin. Repeat for 30 seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. Place your fingertips to your forehead again - this time, rest your palms on your cheekbone and, applying a little pressure, push the base of your palms (and cheekbones) up slightly holding for 10 seconds before releasing. Finally, to relieve tension, pinch your eyebrows with your thumb and index finger holding this position for 10 seconds whilst taking deep breaths. Continue to gently pinch and release your brow bone, slowly moving out towards temples. Using both thumbs, finish with three small clockwise circles at each temple. Place arms by your sides and take deep breaths, feeling yourself switch off.” Zzzzzzz