Reading Grazia: good; reading sleep studies: bad

Credit: Foxtongue Flickr/Creative Commons

What am I talking about? My latest bedtime routine discovery.

I love reading, always have. Particularly in the evening though, curled up and comfy in my pjs in bed, and – in an ideal world – with the soothing pitter patter of rain drops against the glass of my bedroom window. Reading is very relaxing for me and, now that I come to think about it, reading a chapter or two (or, sometimes, just a page or two) at bedtime often sends my eyelids into free fall.

What I’ve come to understand over the past few weeks, though, is that not all reading material is good for bedtime perusal. Perfect bedtime reading for me is a light novel or magazine (Grazia being a particular favourite on a Tuesday night) – essentially, something that helps me to unwind and my mind to switch off. The magazine supplements from the weekend newspapers are great, as they’re easy to dip in and out of – when I go to bed feeling alert, the longer features are just the right length before I start nodding off, whilst the tit-bits of information and gossip scattered throughout are ideal when I need just a few minutes of quiet time before sleep.

At bedtime, I can’t read anything that engages my mind too much.  Cookery magazines and books are chief sleep-stealers. I find them too stimulating. Instead of sleeping, I find myself planning menus. Books about sleep and sleep problems are just as bad, as I become too engaged in the information they impart. I’m still thinking about the various methods of solving sleep issues when I should be sleeping!

So, for other bedtime readers out there, the next time you’re having trouble dropping off to sleep, consider if your reading matter may be to blame.

Using lavender for better quality sleep

It seems that the belief that the scent of lavender enhances sleep is more than just an old wives tale. I’ve been doing my research and just look what I’ve found:

  • A study at the University of Southampton in 2005 found that sleeping in a lavender-scented room improved sleep quality by 20%.
  • A study at Wesleyan University in 2004 found that the scent of lavender essential oil increased slow-wave, or deep sleep, resulting in the participants feeling more energetic and alert the next morning.

For almost two weeks I have been conducting my own mini experiment by sleeping in a lavender-scented room. I began my test using the power of Google – a quick search suggests that it’s best to dilute lavender essential oil, as using it in its pure form can cause skin irritation (it’s probably best to do a spot test before using it in any form though). Then, after emptying my bathroom cabinet of all its lotions and potions, I found a small empty plastic bottle with an atomiser lurking at the back (I knew it would come in handy for something one day!), filled it with water and a few – about 15 – drops of lavender essential oil. Ta da, my very own lavender room spray!

For the last 13 days I have been generously spritzing my bedroom with my homemade air freshener before bedtime. I realised by night two that that, actually, I really don’t like the smell of lavender. My other half, meanwhile, does like the scent and yesterday commented that he had started to associate the smell with going to sleep. Oh dear.

Whilst neither of us noticeably experienced improved sleep quality, our test highlighted that scent can be used as part of a sleep routine as a cue to promote sleep. Next, we will be testing some of the lesser-known essential oils for promoting sleep – such as chamomile or jasmine – until we find a scent that works for us both!

If you like the scent of lavender, here are some alternative ways of using it during your bedtime routine (don’t tell my other half though!):

  • Place lavender-scented sleep stones and/or lavender flower heads in your bedroom for a longer lasting aroma of lavender.
  • Encourage someone lovely to give you a bedtime massage using diluted lavender essential oil.
  • Use a lavender-scented body soak in a warm bath for a relaxing nighttime treat.
  • Inhale the aroma of lavender oil – dab the oil on a cotton wool ball or tissue and breathe in the scent.
  • Use a lavender-scented moisturiser or body lotion.

Is your messy bedroom messing up your sleep?

Credit: evelynishere Flickr/Creative Commons

Whilst I wouldn’t describe my flat as untidy, I have a tendency to create organised-ish piles of “stuff” rather than finding a home for my things. Every once in a while my mini mountains of paperwork, books, magazines, clothes, etc start to topple Jenga-style. Or, more frequently, I accidentally kick or push them over or walk into them or fall over them.

You see, I’m quite a clumsy person. You know the person who always manages to spill their drink in a nice restaurant – that’s me! I’m constantly banging my head, cutting and burning my fingers, tripping over my feet; I’ve trapped my fingers in car doors, safe doors and sun loungers; and not so long ago I slipped over on the wooden floors of my flat and couldn’t walk properly for two days.

My latest act of clumsiness happened last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep. I turned over into my favourite sleeping position – on my right side  – and somehow managed to whack my bedside table with my hand. Of course this caused everything that I’d carefully balanced on top of it to come crashing to the bedroom floor, and in the process created a domino effect, scattering the precariously stacked books and magazines underneath. My side of the bed suddenly resembled my teenage bedroom and I – having been jolted awake by the crash, and the sore hand – now had to decide whether to clear up the mess or leave it until morning. Whilst tempted to roll over and ignore the chaos, I just couldn’t. So, much to my other half’s annoyance, I flicked on the bedroom light and sorted the clutter back into messy mounds. The whole process irritated me, so that when I finally returned to bed I was too wound up to sleep. I finally fell asleep resolute in my decision to give the entire bedroom a proper spring clean and clear-out.

I haven’t quite got round to that yet….but I will. The unlucky incident (that’s what I’m calling it, anyway – it could have happened to anyone!), reminded me of one of the Sleep Geek’s top tips for creating the perfect sleeping environment – keep your bedroom tidy and clutter-free. The reasoning is that piles of paperwork and dirty clothes, for example, can create stress and tension, making it difficult to relax enough to sleep. By contrast, if you associate your bedroom with rest and relaxation, your bedroom (as well as your sleep routine) can itself become a cue to sleep.

Not only this, but clearing up my clutter could save me from one or two bruises!