Tips For Better Sleep

So, from time to time you may wake up and see me on your Twitter timeline having a breakdown at 5am because I can’t sleep, have a 9am lecture and think the world is about to crumble at my feet. Since moving into my second year university house, due to a multiplicity of reasons, I’ve been sleeping awfully. I’m not 100% sure what it is (as I sleep perfectly at home), but for the past six months I’ve tried literally everything to improve my sleep (including a solid three weeks taking Night Nurse every night, which I partly totally recommend and partly am meant to say you should absolutely not do that). Anyway, over the months I’ve collated a lot of tips from Internet searches, Youtube videos and just working stuff out for myself. Although I still sleep badly and can’t wait to move home again so I can get a proper routine back, here’s some of the stuff that’s helped me so far.

Invest in your sleep situation

My uni house is on a busy road, and my housemate who lives directly under me is practically nocturnal. Taking into account the thin walls and noisy roads, combined with super thin curtains that block out no light and a church bell down my road that tolls EVERY HOUR ON THE FUCKING HOUR, it’s safe to say my situation is far from comfortable. What I have done though, is make the best of a bad situation. I bought a Tempur mattress topper (an ode to my real Tempur mattress at home), I’ve put multiple blankets up at the window to block out the light (my landlord is too cheap to install a blackout blind regardless of relentless pestering), my nan kindly made me a draught/noise excluder, and I got some duck feather pillows. The next item on my Project Sleep list is a goose down duvet like I have at home, but at £200 my sleep is yet to reach such a crisis mode wherein I make a panicked 3am Argos order. What I’m saying here is, try to locate the issue that’s hindering your sleep and then fix it by any means possible.

Go out in the sunlight as soon as possible after waking up, or at least open all the curtains

Your body has to differentiate between morning and evening, and even though this method is crude and kind of odd, you wouldn’t believe how much difference just being out in the sunlight ASAP after waking up makes.

Don’t work in bed

This is something all us unemployed people fall victim to: The Bed-Job. As a student with little contact hours, it’s so much comfier to do essays from my blanket nest. In fact, I’m currently typing this with my duvet wrapped around me like a big-ass Twinkie. However, try to do the majority of your work in another room, or better yet, somewhere else entirely like a library. Working in your bedroom will make your brain race at night time, as it will associate the bed with a place of work rather than rest.

Separate your loungewear from your pyjamas

If, like me, you do nothing with your life but laze about the house, it’s very tempting to wear pyjamas all day and then just sleep in them. However, taking a shower at night and putting on a fresh, clean pair of pyjamas (even if you’ve only been wearing a onesie or leggings all day) really does make a difference. It’s weird, your brain kind of goes ‘oh, pyjamas: I guess I have to sleep now?’ Trust me.

Create a routine

Try to shower at the same time every day. Try to eat dinner at the same time every day. Try to tell your brain at what time it has to shut down.

Make your room ready for sleep, and sleep only

An hour before going to bed, light a lavender candle, put a hot water bottle underneath your covers, put an ASMR video on, put your pyjamas on the radiator, make sure you have a glass of water… you get the picture. Also, weird one, but plants! I don’t know what it is but I think I sleep better when I have flowers or even just cacti in my bedroom. Maybe it’s the extra oxygen. Maybe it’s just because plants are cool little pals to have.

Go to bed earlier than you need to

I sleep best when I start winding down at about 10pm, because otherwise I’ll be up until 3am watching every funny Youtube video and taking every pointless Buzzfeed quiz available. Plus, the earlier you go to bed and realise you can’t sleep, the better, as you’re able to get up and do things in order to become sleepy, and will have wasted less time in the process.

Don’t eat or drink just before bed

I drink so much tea every day I have to pee constantly, which is not cute when you’re all cozy in bed and your bathroom is downstairs. So, try not to eat for at least two hours before bed, and have your last drink half an hour before you try going to sleep. Also, stop drinking caffeine half way through the day. I drink regular tea until about 5pm, and then decaffeinated for the rest of the evening. Herbal tea is even better for you (if you can stand the taste, that is).

Stop using your laptop at least half an hour before you sleep

Log off when you have that last drink.

Use apps

Having said that, special shoutout goes to this video, which taught me about the Mac app ‘F.lux’. It’s kind of weird but really effective. Basically, you set a timer, so that in the morning your Mac screen is bright white, like daylight, and at night it’s yellowy/orange, which takes the ‘blue’ light out of the screen. This app tricks your brain into relaxing, as the blue light from the Mac screen is what stimulates your brain. Although you should avoid using your laptop at all in the evenings, we’re all human, and this app just makes it that little bit better for your sleep. I MEAN, NETFLIX AIN’T GONNA WATCH ITSELF.

Don’t keep trying to sleep when you can’t

Get up, go downstairs, make some hot milk, re-brush your teeth, read a boring book, that kind of stuff. It’s annoying, but if you’re doing something you’ll at least feel more productive than just laying in bed for hours on end, plus, in turn it’ll make you sleepier.

Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to sleep

This is harder for me because I have the aforementioned clock tower that chimes every hour to remind me what the time is, but if you don’t have this problem, you should turn all your alarm clocks away from where you can see them. Knowing it’s 6am when you have to get up at 8 isn’t going to help anyone. If you can’t sleep, stop worrying about the clock and instead remind yourself ‘any sleep is better than no sleep, and although I’m not sleeping right now, I am resting, which will prepare me for tomorrow’.

Don’t be afraid to take medication

No, you shouldn’t have to rely on sleep medication, but if you haven’t slept for a week, sometimes sheer exhaustion alone won’t even make you sleep. Always have a lil supply of sleep medication as a last resort. My favourite is Night Nurse, but you shouldn’t take this regularly as it has stuff in it that can mess your liver up from frequent use or something? idk. Another good (less harmful) over the counter sleep aid is Sleepeaze (from Boots), or Potter’s Herbal Nod-Off pills, which are less effective but herbal, so won’t harm you if you take them frequently.

Remember: you can do a day on little to no sleep

I gave a uni presentation on literally 0 hours sleep (I was still awake when my 8am alarm went off), and still got a first. YOU CAN DO IT. Starbucks gives you two shots for a reason.

If you have any other tips I may have missed out (or anything that’s really helped you), tweet me!

Amelia xx

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4 thoughts on “Tips For Better Sleep

  1. This article by fellow beauty writer Hannah Betts appears in today’s Times. If you have access to a Times subscription, it may be viewed at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/life/article4718442.ece

    I am a lifelong problem sleeper. As a child, I treated bedtime as a signal to riot, read and — with apologies to the sister with whom I shared a room — sing at the top of my lungs. As an adult, matters are much the same, only minus the show tunes. I clearly have an acute case of fomo, or fear of missing out. But then, why would one even attempt rest when it’s so bloody impossible? I feel the same about sleep as I do about childbirth — such activities cannot be natural.
    When I have endeavoured to conform, I have been faced with the classic insomniac plight, what I have come to think of as the stoical person’s panic attack: that mind perpetually racing, not-falling-asleep-until-dawn-when-all-hope-of-a-normal-day-has-vanished mode. Just to keep me on my toes, there have also been long stretches of morning insomnia — the depressive’s favourite — hurtling to sleep, then waking at 4am.
    Still, insomnia isn’t the half of it. My dreams are baroquely violent — physically and psychologically — epic Greek tragedies, rich in psychopathic detail. At times, there will be some sort of hallucinatory hangover as sleeping and waking states collide. These visual phenomena have included giant spiders, lurking figures, an image of the crucified Christ and a vast revolving skull.
    I routinely wake shouting, screaming and/or struggling. Before waking, I have been known to adopt spooky voices or deliver discourses on feminist theory. I once gripped a boyfriend by the arm and declared: “It is impossible for me to know exactly who you are.”
    Over my 44 years, I have attempted to assuage this lunacy with hot baths, warm milk, chamomile, lavender, valerian, alcohol, cherry capsules, calcium, Nytol, melatonin, antihistamines, antidepressants, reiki, reflexology, massage, meditation, intercourse, aromatherapeutic oils, eye masks, earplugs, foot patches, open windows, state-of-the-art clocks, amethysts, rose quartz and moonstones (to those that scoff, I say: “You are clearly a sleeper”).
    I have embraced psychotherapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), sleep hygiene, diets, exercise, yoga, hypnosis, nature noises, craniosacral therapy, sound wave technology and sleep hypnogram apps. I have consulted experts and attended a sleep boot camp. The only thing that had any effect was giving up alcohol and caffeine (I know: sorry). However, after my mother died, my nocturnal world re-fractured, sleep returning to being something that happened to other people.
    So yes, I’m an insomniac, but then, who isn’t? Almost 40 per cent of Brits suffer at least some symptoms, with a quarter exhibiting chronic traits. Boasting about your sleep deficit is second only to busyness bragging. My friends and I talk about shut-eye in the way previous generations lusted over porn, as something prohibited, unprofessional seeming and dirtily alluring. Ten hours? Phwoar.
    Unsurprisingly, an entire industry has been spawned to pander to our collective obsession. Equally unsurprisingly, the Americans — always less backward about coming forward in the neurosis stakes — are ahead of us in this department. An article in February’s New Yorker drew my attention to a cornucopia of hi-tech wares that my fevered imagination had yet to even dream of. Always an early adopter in such matters, I immediately equipped myself with the pick of this new breed of bedroom accessories.
    First off, Re-Timer light therapy glasses (£149, re-timer.com), a version of those seasonal affective disorder-combating lamps advertised in the back of colour supplements, rendered as a pair of specs. The specs emit an eerie greeny-blue light claimed to reset the body clock, promote sleep, inspire cheer, increase energy, nuke jet lag and generally bring about a better world.
    For the first few days I live for my glasses, enthusiastically Instagramming them and wishing I could have them on beyond the recommended hour. Living and working in a basement into which no beam of light enters, the fillip is instant — akin to drinking coffee, only without the jitters. I feel as if my eyelids are being held open by matchsticks, as in a cartoon. And I sleep, damn it — I sleep. Maybe it’s a placebo effect but a placebo effect is still an effect, after all. I am galvanised, ecstatic, in love.
    And then I get conjunctivitis in both eyes. This may, of course, be a coincidence, but my eyeballs start to feel weird whenever I put on the Re-Timer — strained weird, walking into walls weird, lobbing the device across the room odd. All things considered, I’d rather just go for a walk. I don’t go for a walk, obviously, but I could.
    On then to the Bulletproof Sleep Induction Mat, a plastic version of the bed of nails, made by people who also think it’s a good idea to put butter into coffee ($49.95/£35, bulletproof.com). The theory is that a session of pre-sleep masochism will allow its spikes to stimulate acupressure points, increasing circulation and producing endorphins, lulling one into a dozing state. The back of this pronged implement is littered with motivational sleep quotations, presumably intended to bore the user into unconsciousness.
    It doesn’t hurt as much as you expect. That said, it calls to mind Tom Baker as Captain Rum in Blackadder crying: “You have a woman’s bottom, m’lady,” so aware am I of extra pressure about my rear. I am reminded of the night I spent attempting to sleep in shorts, sans bedding, on the deck of a ferry, after which non-lethal conditions made slumbering on a mattress seem a cinch.
    After a few minutes, there is indeed a warm glow to accompany the throbbing pain. However, why you would engineer a circulation and endorphin hit via this method rather than, say, a vigorous bout of intercourse is beyond me. Plus you have to get rid of the device before proceeding into the land of nod for fear of ripping your face off. My father would enjoy using this as a Freddie Krueger-esque back scratcher, but for me it’s a fail.
    The Ostrich Pillow is one of those creations intended to be a cult design object that merely ends up being ludicrous (£65, ostrichpillow.com). It resembles nothing short of an alien head-cum-beanbag stuck on top of one’s conk à la Munch’s Scream. A portable napping device, it promises dark, comfort and — if one runs with the exhortation to use it at one’s desk — entirely non-career-enhancing exhibitionism. Frankly, it’s got Hoxton hipster written all over it.
    I give it a whirl on a train journey to Birmingham. This goes about as well as one might expect: suffice to say, I do not get punched but only because I am viewed as a maniac of the highest order. I do, however, get referred to as “the Elephant Man”. So claustrophobic is it that, after three suffocating minutes, I start using it as a normal pillow, which makes me conclude that I could probably get by with, say, a normal pillow.
    My final port of call is the Sleep Shepherd, a rum-looking hat at the top of which is “a highly advanced biofeedback system that monitors your brainwaves and emits precisely controlled tones that utilise your natural brain structure and dynamics to ease you into sleep” ($149.99/£104, sleepshepherd.com). It is also said to provide sleep and brain activity stats if you can get it to connect to your mobile, which I can’t.
    The look is not winning: a 21st-century Benny from Crossroads meets Mork calling Orson. I’m glad I’m spending the night on my tod. The noise the sleep beanie emits is reminiscent of a bad trance nightclub, only without the requisite drugs. The only way I can cope with it without going mad is turned down to almost silent. It stops when one nods off, meaning one immediately wakes up, which seems somewhat counterproductive.
    At 5am, I can bear this torture no longer and rip the thing off. The resulting silence is sweet. Five hours later, I still have a livid welt across my forehead as if I’ve spent the night in a swimming cap, which causes the postman no end of hilarity.
    In the end, the trouble with all these gizmos is that additional self-consciousness regarding the sleep process is the one thing we night nutters don’t need. Physiologist Dr Guy Meadows, founder of the Sleep School in London, confirms my analysis, saying: “Light therapy has been proven to regulate sleep. However, the problem with some of these gadgets is that they are likely to make insomniacs struggle even more to get to sleep, only making matters worse.”
    So what does do the trick? Reader, the answer is reassuringly low tech. Think: Epsom salt baths, magnesium oil sprays, an electric blanket and a £2.99 sleep mask from Amazon, plus — I am reluctant to admit — some degree of movement during daylight hours. If you’re serious about sleep, then renounce booze and caffeine (again, sorry), try not to have anyone in your life die, and avoid all causes of stress. And good luck with that, obviously.

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