I work with a lot of expectant couples and new and seasoned parents alike, and one of the recurring themes is how difficult they often find it to relax and sleep well. Our lives are becoming busier all the time and with longer hours and an increasing addiction to our digital devices, healthy sleeping habits are harder than ever to achieve. Throw a baby/toddler/child into the mix and the land of nod seems to drift even further from our grip. Needless to say when the lovely folk at Drift Sleep approached me to try out one of their all-natural sleep surface mattresses (which arrives the next day in an amazingly compact reusable bag!), I was more than happy to focus on my favourite subject – SLEEP!
Culturally we are incredibly bad at relaxing aren’t we? In so many other parts of the world, rest and meditation are a part of daily life, but here it’s often something we only opt into when we feel pushed to our limits and are desperate to cling onto our final few threads of wellbeing, only to give up on our commitment a week in. I speak to a lot of people who say they haven’t got time to sleep, and I’m even guilty of that myself sometimes too. If I’ve got an overflowing inbox or a work deadline, I’ll stay up until the early hours trying to get on top of things, only to crash into bed feeling totally wired and unable to switch off anyway. I then feel so anxious about getting to sleep that I squeeze my eyes shut and wake up feeling like I’ve been trodden on. Not great when the next day is going to be just as busy.
So why are we so bad at switching off? I think a lot of people feel time-poor. They leave home in the early hours, work hard and multitask all day and get home about 12 hours after they left the house. They are then hungry and probably want to spend time with their friends or other halves, so end up scoffing down some food in front of the TV. We have such an urgent desire to “switch off” that the very act of doing so becomes frantic and tiring. We then stay up later than we should, clinging onto those precious hours of leisure time, and end up falling into bed with our to-do lists for the next day racing around our knackered minds.
For lots of us, it’s our obsession with not wanting to appear lazy that means we don’t give sleep the same priority as our waking hours. We are told by the society around us that we have to be doing all the time, but what we are neglecting to realise is that sleep is absolutely essential for our physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s no wonder that our rates of chronic diseases such as heart and kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are going up all the time, when most of our body’s healing and repair work happens when we sleep. Our immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy, so if you’re constantly feeling run down and on the verge of being ill, its very likely caused by a lack of quality sleep. Sleep helps our brains function properly too. If you have trouble remembering things or feel absent-minded it’s because at night our brain does the majority of its valuable processing – helping you to digest and remember new information and improving your ability to concentrate and learn. And it goes without saying that a lack of sleep makes us moody, so our personal and professional relationships inevitably suffer too.
Having digested all of that, what’s to stop us just going to bed earlier and getting more sleep? Ah, if only it were that simple. For me, it’s a constant balancing act between recognising the importance of healthy sleep habits and accepting that our lives are busy and demanding, and then finding a way to make a few simple changes to the daily routine so that we gradually move towards an easier and happier sleep at night. Having been sleeping on my new Drift Sleep mattress for three weeks now, I’m ready to report back on how it’s impacted my sleep, along with some other little tips to positively enhance your own sleep routines.
1. Implement a bedtime routine. We do it for babies so why aren’t we doing it for ourselves? We can’t nurture others if we’re not nurturing ourselves, after all! This doesn’t mean you need to get someone to read you a bedtime story (unless that’s your thing), it’s just about doing the same things every evening so that it becomes habitual behaviour and starts triggering an association with shutting down. What I tend to do is get the smell of lavender going about 20 minutes before I get into bed, either with my favourite NEOM sleep candle or with about 4 drops of pure essential oil in 100ml of water in my new Muji aroma diffuser which has been a brilliant investment! I also like to keep a few crystals on my bedside table – amethyst is a great one (you can place it on your chest for a few minutes before you fall asleep if you want to restore balance and get an untroubled night’s sleep), as is clear quartz which helps to quieten a busy or chaotic mind. I buy my crystals from the lovely people at The Little Crystal and they sit next to my yesmum® cards which help to keep me mindful of my daily intention as I fall asleep at the end of a long day.
2. Get fresh air during the day. A lot of people are cooped up in offices all day, then get on a packed tube and then sit in front of a TV. Try and incorporate some vitamin D and fresh air into your day by either going for a walk on your lunch break (never ever eat at your computer!) or get on/off the bus a stop early on your commute. Schedule this time into your day so that you don’t feel anxious about rushing. This stuff is supposed to help you relax, remember?
3. Avoid caffeine after lunch and have a hot drink before bed. I’d recommend something like Pukka’s night time tea, or even just a simple chamomile – teapigs do a great one!
4. Introduce essential oils. This doesn’t mean you need to start burning joss sticks all over the place – just find the simplest way to make it work for you. As mentioned above, lavender is a great oil for promoting relaxation. You could have a few drops in a warm bath before bed, burn a scented candle, apply a roll-on like this to your pulse points in the evening or use a sleep mist like this on your pillow. Another one of my favourite scents at the moment is this amazing Bay & Rosemary candle which, if you’re local to South East London, is well worth a trip to the amazing place that is The Nunhead Gardener to stock up on (amongst other things, do be warned!).
5. Detach from your digital devices. This is a big one! Turn off your digital devices at least 30 minutes before you’re going to get into bed. This means no scrolling Instagram or replying to emails once you’re in bed. Seriously, stop it. If you need your device in the bedroom because it acts as your alarm, make sure you’ve got it on airplane mode so that you’re disconnected from the online world.
6. Write a list of everything on your mind before you get into bed. This can be people you need to call, things you need to do tomorrow, appointments you need to remember, anything that’s worrying you – basically a pre-sleep brain dump. Often we wake up in the early hours worrying about this stuff so it’s a very good idea to get it our of your system before you close your eyes.
7. Focus on your breath and do some stretching before bed. I’ve found this great app called Yoga Studio. It has a great 15 minute beginner’s relaxation session which is the perfect way to wind down before getting into bed. And I am by no means a yogi. Try it.
8. Invest in a fabulous mattress! So this is the one that has only just made a big difference to my own sleep quality and I can’t believe I hadn’t thought about addressing it sooner. I’m not a particularly comfortable sleeper. I always get really hot in the night and end up in some kind of ongoing dance routine with my duvet to adjust my temperature through the night. The Drift Sleep mattress though, with its temperature-regulating wool top layer has been an absolute game changer for me. I’ve also realised that my last mattress was way too firm which was creating lots of tension in my neck and shoulders. I kept changing my pillows to try and sort this out, but since sleeping on a more medium-firm mattress my upper back has been much more free of tension. Anyway, don’t just take my word for it, you can totally try it out for yourself because the guys at Drift offer a 100 Night Trial where they’ll give you a full refund (and pick up your mattress for free) if you’re not happy, AND they’re offering a lovely £50 off any new mattress when you enter codeat checkout. Well worth a go in my well-rested opinion.
Good luck, write down your plan and be strict with yourself. If you give it as much commitment as you do your work, you will definitely feel a welcome improvement in all areas of your life. And enjoy, you deserve it.