When I’ve stayed at people’s houses or gone on holiday, I’ve had a few comments on my late rising. Reluctant to set my alarm, I’ll wander into the kitchen at 10am, rubbing my eyes and yawning while everyone else is washed, dressed, fed and watered. It makes me feel guilty, like I’m a lazy teenager wasting the ‘best part of the day’, but the truth is I’m just plain knackered, and those rare opportunities to wake naturally instead of jerking upright to the sound of my alarm are far too alluring to resist.
Sleep (and the lack it) affects people in different ways. For me, it changes my mood, concentration and performance indisputably. Any less than 8 hours and a thick fog drops like a curtain in front of my eye and I feel positively rubbish.
While I was on holiday in Cornwall last week I was in sleep-satisfied heaven. Lots of sleep, salty sea air, fresh and healthy local food and lots of walking. Two days back in London and I’m exhausted. Again. I can’t help but feel a little bit miffed.
Without wanting to be a moaning myrtle, (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this), I find it so difficult to fit everything in. If I get home at 7pm and go to bed at 10pm, I have 3 hours in which to cook dinner, do the laundry, clean up, complete various ‘life admin’, edit photos, blog, wash my hair, write my emails and if I’m lucky get some quality time with Frank. More often than not I’m still bashing away on my computer or scrubbing the dishes as the clock speeds towards midnight. How do people do it?
Today I realised that something has to change. There are little things I can do, like carve out some time to file my paperwork instead of stressing about it during the week, or delegate cooking duties to Frank, but on the whole I need to focus on the quality of my sleep so I feel fresh and refuelled, even if I haven’t quite managed the 8 hours I long for.
A little scouting round on the internet told me that sleep deprivation does some worrying things to your health:
- increases your risk of cancer
- causes you to gain weight
- weakens your immune system
- increases your risk of diabetes
- decreases your life expectancy
- damages your skin
- increases your risk of heart disease
- reduces your fertility
Ouch. So, putting on my problem-solving hat, I did a lot more scouting around on the internet to find out how to get a better night’s sleep. Here are my top five tips.
1. Get regular exercise
It’s common knowledge that exercise lifts mood and reduces stress, which in turn helps you sleep better. Exercise can also help to improve not only the quantity of sleep but also the quality. I’m often guilty of using the excuse that I’m too ‘tired’ to exercise during the week. Codswallop. I’m just being lazy. The reason I’m tired is because I’m not getting enough (quantity and quality) sleep, and exercise improves this. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. That said, vigorous exercise just before going to sleep will keep you alert, so it’s important to do it at the right time.
2. Ban the blinky lights
The best night’s sleep I ever had was in a ‘pod’ hotel in Birmingham. It was a small, windowless room that was completely black when I switched off the light. Until recently my current bedroom had light pouring in from street lights outside, crappy thin curtains and all sorts of flashing gadgets – from mobile phones and radios alarms to internet routers and house phones. Even after banishing the gadgets and putting up blackout curtains there’s not much I can do about London light pollution, but I recently followed Holly Golightly’s example a la Breakfast at Tiffanys and started to use a sleep mask, which has been a massive help.
3. Change your bed
This might seem like an extravagance, but considering you spend nearly a third of your life sleeping, I’d say that’s a pretty good reason to buy a decent bed. Not only will it help you sleep better, but a good mattress is imperative for keeping your back healthy. No one wants a spring poking into them, or a lumpy, grumpy night’s sleep spent tossing and turning.
4. Keep your mind calm
I think a lot of us are guilty of checking Twitter, Facebook or emails right before we go to bed, or else dipping into one last episode of Game of Thrones. The problem is that this fires up your brain, making it active and alert, which is obviously not conducive to drifting calmly off to the land of nod. Being so busy all the time, I find it really hard, but I try to give myself 20 minutes in a warm bath or reading a good book to help me get to sleep. If I have lots of nagging jobs on my mind, I write a to do list so they’re on paper and not buzzing around my head. Meditation and yoga are also fab for clearing your brain.
5. Switch on the radio
A lot of people find complete quiet optimal for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the traffic in London doesn’t make this easy, and I don’t like to wear ear plugs too often. I find the best way to drift off is to put my radio on a sleep timer. My mum swears by the soft drone of the BBC World Service, but I love smooth classics on Classic FM with the velvety voices of Margherita Taylor or Myleene Klass.
What are your top tips for a good night’s sleep?