Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Prescription for sleep

I’ll come clean – I sleep exceptionally well. And, apparently, that makes me very unusual. I hate to labour the point, but it really is very rare for me to lie awake long enough even to think about counting sheep.
Though we’re really supposed to be counting backwards in sevens, starting at 2000, according to Dr Jason Ellis, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Northumbria University, who says (try it!) this is so hard to do that you may even nod off with boredom.
No time for that for me – I am someone who has to will myself not to fall asleep during yoga relaxation...
I know this makes me very lucky when around 30% of the British population are lying awake staring at the ceiling, but it’s all about sleep hygiene, which comes easily to me as a creature of habit.
Here’s what I do:
1.   Go to bed around the same time every night – always recommended by experts.
2.   Take a sleep aid – I don’t need one, and only had an academic interest in Cherry Active (the subject of some decent research by Dr Ellis’s team at Northumberland) until I learned that it’s also good for joint pain. Now I take two capsules as soon as I reach the bedroom. As well as a healthy dose of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins (for joint pain relief), Cherry Active also contains a natural form of melatonin, by passing the need to convert tryptophan from other foods – the usual way we get this. Melatonin encourages sleep – and it’s possible I’m enjoying even deeper zzzzzzs now.

3.   Dim the lights. I like to keep the bedroom softly lit at bedtime – it makes me feel relaxed, but is also a way of sending a message to the brain that it’s time to sleep.
4.   Have a bath. I use nice aromatic Clarins bath oils, and don’t spend too long bathing. The idea of a bath is really to let your body cool down afterwards. The naturopath Deborah McManners once told me that the bath should be tepid, and you should remain in the tub while the water drains, draping a towel around you. Body temperature should cool as a precursor to sleep – and this is one way to do it. Though I tend to have a hot bath and don’t lie in the empty tub – a step too far – I love this part of my bedtime routine.
5.   Then bed. I may listen to a bit of Radio 4, or read, for 20 minutes, but I’m often already too tired to do that. We don’t have a TV in the bedroom, and we leave our phones and laptops in our studies. Bedtime is about switching off.
6.   Turn the lights out – fully. We have a blackout blind in the velux over our bed – but only muslin on the other windows, which means we do get a decent amount of light filtering through in the morning, when we need it to help us wake up.
7.   Pets are supposed to be banned from bedrooms and especially beds, if they’re likely to disrupt your night. Our spaniel inevitably ends up on, or in, our bed – and frequently jumps in and out during the night, launching himself at me and momentarily waking me. Fortunately I go back to sleep almost immediately – but, sorry Joe, lovely though you are, I sleep even better when you choose to spend the night in someone else’s room... The ultimate luxury, even for me, is to wake up in the morning having not even stirred in the night.

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