Make a list!

Life is good : ) So far, this summer has been filled with weddings, hen parties, 30th birthday afternoon teas and catching up with lovely friends. And with more fun times ahead – more weddings, more birthday celebrations and (oh yes!) wedding dress shopping – I can see that this summer is going to be a good one.

Whilst having extra fun stuff in the diary is just great, having a crazier schedule than usual does mean that there’s less time for everything else – and that can start to feel overwhelming and stressful at times. And we all know that stress mixed with anxiety and panic is not a good recipe for top quality sleep. Who hasn’t been awake in the early hours worrying about how they’re going to fit it all in – or maybe that’s just me!

I’ve established a really good habit of list-writing that really helps me when my life is especially full. I love list-writing, especially when I get to tick things off – there’s such a sense of achievement in striking off your to-dos because they’ve been done! Making a list is also great for calming the mind. Once I’ve written something on my list, I can stop dwelling on it, forget about it for awhile and move on to something else.

List-writing is ideal for clearing my mind before I hit the sack as it prevents thoughts and problems from keeping my mind active when I should be sleeping.

It’s also a good idea to keep a notepad and pen by your bed at night – then if you do wake in the night with something extra to add to your to-do list, or the solution to something that’s been bothering you, you can jot it down and go back to sleep.

I’m a big fan of keeping my pretty Liberty notebook at my bedside!

What about you? What are your sleep tips when life becomes hectic?

Amy x

A few thoughts on pets and stress

Whenever I get stressed, I talk about my problem. I talk to my other half, friends, family, strangers even. I talk and I talk and I talk. I don’t necessarily want a solution, just a sympathetic ear.

In contrast, my other half retreats and, now that we’ve got one, strokes the dog. I have to say, our dog is just brilliant for relieving stress at the end of a hectic day. At around 8pm every night Louis (our dog) collapses in a sleepy heap next to us and snores happily until bedtime. And in those final hours of the day, we relax by stroking his furry tummy and silky ears. It’s a wonderfully calming way to prepare for sleep.

Research shows that owning a pet can really help to reduce stress – a major cause of sleepless nights – and I can believe it. As well as performing the role of living teddy bear and hot water bottle, Louis makes me smile many times every day – when he bounds up to greet me, when he chases his ball and even when he scampers off with a misplaced sock! Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work at times, but the joy he brings us certainly outweighs the odd bit of naughtiness.

So, here’s to you Louis – for keeping me smiling and my other half sane and sleeping soundly!

Product review: NightWave Sleep Assistant

Welcome to my fifth product review. Every few weeks I will be testing and reviewing a sleep-related product. This time it is the NightWave Sleep Assistant.

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks with one thing or another. To give you an idea, here’s a selection of my highlights and lowlights from the last fortnight:

Chocolate tasting at Paul A Young’s chocolaterie on Camden Passage, London – the salted caramel truffles are spectacular! Thank you Anna for an amazing birthday treat.

3 x trips to the vets. Never a fun experience but made worse by the tiny and full-to-bursting car park; it brings me out in a cold sweat every time.

Visiting We Love Sleep Towers in Sheffield to discuss potential advertising opportunities – and to catch up with the lovely Sleep Geek.

Playing nurse to my beaten and bedraggled other half. No more rugby, please!

Partying Warriors-style. Thanks to Lisa for her epic The Warriors-themed 30th birthday party in Stokey. My other half had a lovely black eye to match his Warriors waistcost (see above).

Wedding venue viewing – the search continues…..

With lots on my mind, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to test the NightWave Sleep Assistant; a little gadget designed to help you to relax and get a good night’s sleep.

It doesn’t look like much; a small black box that emits a soft pulsating blue light.

The pulsing light guides you in a session of deep breathing whilst you lie comfortably in bed. The light rises and falls on the ceiling or wall of your darkened bedroom and you simply lie with your eyes open and synchronise your breathing with the moving light. Gradually, the movement of the light, and your breathing, become slower and slower, until the NightWave Sleep Assistant completes its cycle and switches itself off. That’s really all there is to it. Simple.

Breathing exercises are known to aid relaxation and calm a racing mind. The idea is that by coordinating your breathing with the light, your body and mind switch off and you glide into restful sleep.

I liked the NightWave Sleep Assistant. I liked the simple concept. I liked that it requires you to focus on your breathing, which naturally distracts you from your thoughts and worries, making it easier to drop off to sleep when you have lots on your mind. I also liked that it is completely silent, and so my other half has no reason to complain. Because it is such a small device, it’s portable and could be used whilst away from home or to ease jet lag whilst on holiday.

This is a clever device that really does work. My only complaint is that, for some, it may not be necessary. You don’t need this gadget – or anything else, for that matter – to practice deep breathing for relaxation. However, without the blue light guiding me, I find my concentration on my breathing tends to slip and mind starts to wander back to my daily life….

The NightWave Sleep Assistant is available from We Love Sleep.

Milk & Honey

©iStockphoto.com/TheBiggles

I’m not talking about the cocktail bar in Soho, London. Oh no, I’m talking about something far more exciting: the sweet, creamy bedtime drink! Yes folks, I really know how to live dangerously!

A warm milky drink is often touted as a soothing, sleep-enhancing remedy. It’s not just an old wives’ tale; there’s science behind it. Milk contains tryptophan. The intake of tryptophan has a calming and sedative effect on the body, which helps to promote restful sleep.

Drinking milk neat doesn’t appeal to me, but add a drizzle of honey and my sweet-tooth is happy. Plus, the honey encourages sleepiness too. In 2006 researchers at the University of Manchester discovered that glucose can switch off the brain cells that normally keep us awake and alert. Hence, why we often feel sleepy after eating a big meal. (To learn more about this research, check out the New Scientist article “Why we need a siesta after dinner”).

All this science is new to me, too. But it helps to explain why a mug of frothy milk and honey has been one of my favourite bedtime drinks over the last couple of years. I used to drink it occasionally because I liked the sweet taste. Now I know that it’s helping me to get a great night’s sleep too.

For the past week or so I’ve been indulging in this warm, sweet, milky treat. I’ve been using semi-skimmed milk, to avoid packing on the pounds, and adding a generous drizzle of Springwell honey, from Essex. Yum. It’s so tasty and satisfying and comforting. It certainly helps me to prepare for retiring to bed, and combined with a great book and Classic FM, I’m so relaxed I’m practically comatose by the time the lights go out.

‘Til next time, sleep well….

Musical pillows – are they singing you to sleep?

Looks like an angel but is she actually listening to swedish death metal?

A good friend has a sleep problem: Her husband! I should explain. It’s not her husband per se, but his habit of listening to the radio as he falls asleep. It’s a tricky conundrum: listening to the radio has been part of his bedtime routine for years, but my sleepy friend simply can’t get used to it.

Occasionally, my other half and I encounter a similar problem. Almost every night we’ll go to bed together. And almost every night we’ll spend maybe 10 – 30 minutes reading and listening to music in bed before going to sleep. It’s a nice little routine we’ve formulated – and it’s all as a result of this blog, so I’m taking all the credit for it! Every now and then, though, one of us wants to stay up later to read/listen to music, and in doing so prevents, or at least hinders, the other’s decent into dreamy sleep.

There may be a solution. Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more about musical pillows – basically, pillows with an integrated speaker and headphone jack for plugging into your iPod or radio – that play your music just for you. So, you can drift off to sleep listening to your favourite tracks through your pillow, without disturbing your bed-mate. It’s a clever idea, although I’m not sure if I’m prepared to give up my super-soft silk pillow….

If you’ve got a musical pillow, I’d love to hear your thoughts – do you like it? Does it help you to fall asleep? Is it comfortable?

My perfect bedtime playlist

I’ve been converted to Classic FM. Over the last few weeks the radio station has been doing a splendid job of sending me off to sleep with its gentle, soothing sounds. Plus, I’ve realised that I can combine two of my favourite pastimes – reading and listening to music – before I go to sleep. I’m now actively looking forward to the end of the day so that I can go to bed and enjoy some relaxation-time before dozing off…..does that make me a little bit sad, I wonder? Probably more than a little bit sad, actually.

Whilst I have a new, unexpected, love of Classic FM (at bedtime anyway), I can’t help but wonder what my perfect bedtime playlist would consist of.  It requires some careful consideration, but as a starting point, the following songs spring to mind – it’s almost as if they were made for drifting off to sleep:

♫  Cold Water Music – Aim

♫  The Killing Moon – Nouvelle Vague

♫  Tonight – Lykke Li

♫  Here’s Looking At You, Kid – The Gaslight Anthem

♫  Tap At My Window – Laura Marling

♫  Playground Love – Air

♫  Asleep On A Sunbeam – Belle & Sebastian

♫  Do You Realize?? – The Flaming Lips

Let me know what you think. Don’t be shy, tell me who sings you to sleep at night.

Boozing and snoozing

Party time! Don't be surprised if you're tired and grouchy the day after though....

I’ve really embraced this assignment and I’ve had a lot of fun! (For those of you who are confused, let me explain: A couple of weeks ago I announced that I would be testing the impact of certain foods and drinks on my sleep quality, commencing with alcohol.)

I started conservatively with a glass of fruity Spanish red (Torre de Rejas Reserva Bodegas Lopez Mercier, La Mancha, 2003) on the first Friday and Saturday nights of my experiment. Then I really stepped things up….One glass of pink champagne, and one-too-many glasses of the sommelier’s choice of white and red, at Michel Roux Jr.’s Le Gavroche with friends last Wednesday was a real treat. On Thursday, I enjoyed several glasses of the house white at The Slaughtered Lamb pub in Clerkenwell to celebrate a friend’s last days of freedom before marriage. Add to that half a beautiful bottle of Mas de Daumas Gassax Rose Frizant NV (from Joseph Barnes Wines in Saffron Walden), savoured on Saturday night with my other half.  Oh, and I can’t forget the sweet Lady Gray tea, flavoured with a generous measure of amaretto, that I sipped on Sunday evening. In short, I’ve consumed a lot of booze!

So, what have I discovered about the impact of my alcohol-fueled fun on my sleep? Well, it’s all a bit hazy……

Just kidding. Even when I was struggling to walk in my M&S heels, I was focused on my goal: to reveal the real effect of alcohol on sleep. In just a few days of assessment, I have made the following not-so-astonishing discoveries:

  • Sedating: Alcohol is a wonderful relaxant and, at the end of a hectic week, there’s little that can beat the instant calming effect of a beautiful glass of wine.
  • Sleep inducing: I had no problems dropping off to sleep after my evening drinking. In fact, staying awake would have posed greater difficulty.
  • Sleep disrupting? Sometimes….

According to sleep experts, alcohol disturbs normal sleep patterns and often leads to a night of broken sleep, making it harder to get up the next day. The message, therefore, is lay off the booze as it can cause sleep problems. This message is too simplistic for my liking….surely giving up alcohol is a little extreme??!!

On the nights I over-indulged, then yes, I admit I didn’t have the most restful nights’ sleep. Whilst I nodded off almost instantaneously, the nights were punctuated with trips to the fridge for water and visits to the loo.  And yes, the morning after I wanted nothing more than to hibernate from the world and recover with a “fat” Coke.

On the other hand, a small glass of wine in the evening, together with a glass of water, or maybe followed by herbal tea before bed, had no noticeable impact on my sleep. I slept as usual and noticed no change in alertness the next day.

My discoveries lead me to this conclusion: “enjoy alcohol in moderation”, said whilst sitting on the fence!

I’m not advocating including alcohol as part of your bedtime routine; there are many alternative ways to relax before bedtime and, in my opinion, relying on alcohol to unwind is no good at all. But always living by rigid rules is no good either and I don’t see the need to give up alcohol. It’s all about moderation. So, if you have a cold beer or a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc a few nights a week, enjoy it, and don’t worry about it.

I know I won’t be. For now though, I think it’s time to give my liver a rest……For my next project I’ll be testing the sleep-enhancing properties of warm milk. Yummy!

You can find drinking limits and other useful information on the Drinkaware website. It goes without saying, but please don’t drink and drive, people.

Image: George Stojkovic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sleep tip: Listen to music at bedtime for a restful night’s sleep

When I was 16 and taking my GCSE exams, I’d listen to the same three U2 songs, from their album The Joshua Tree, the night before each of my exams. Just 10 minutes of music helped me to wind down after an evening of frantic cramming.

“Listen to calming music before bed” is an often repeated sleep tip because it can help you to relax, leading to better quality sleep. In a 2005 study in Taiwan, researchers proved that listening to about 45 minutes of relaxing music before bedtime can improve your sleep. According to the BBC news website, the study participants who listened to music before sleep reported “a 35% improvement in their sleep, including better and longer night-time sleep and less dysfunction during the day”. For the full BBC news article, click here.

Since my teens, music hasn’t really featured in my bedtime routine. Unless you count falling asleep in a taxi on the way home from a bar or club, that is. Well, that is all about to change. I’ve bought myself a very stylish little radio for the bedroom (any excuse for a bit of shopping!) and last night – for the very first time ever – tuned into Classic FM.

I’ve never really listened to classical music before. I’ve always thought it was for posh people and intellectuals, privately educated, harp-playing sorts; not for people like me who went to a rubbish Comprehensive School and learned to play the recorder, very badly, in a room that smelled faintly of sick. Last night I discovered classical music. I learned that it can be tranquil and soothing; you can get lost in it, if that doesn’t sound too clichéd. Apart from the occasional chatter disrupting the music, I found my introduction to Classic FM enjoyable and very relaxing. It really helped me to settle down to sleep.

Now for something very clichéd: Last night, I also learned that you don’t have to be a certain “type” to like or dislike or appreciate something, so why restrict yourself?

I really should stop writing now before I start spouting nonsense about the meaning of life, but before I go, here – a la Jerry Springer – is my final thought:

To keep a happy relationship happy, discuss your bedtime routine with your bed-mate before making any changes that might affect them – listening to half an hour of Classic FM in bed might send them crazy rather than to sleep. And we all know that a grumpy partner does not make for a restful night’s sleep….

Is watching TV before bed a bad idea?

Don't let Jack Bauer terrorise your sleep routine! Credit: sunnyd_57’s photostream Flickr/Creative Commons

Watching TV is a common pastime in the evenings. Yet many sleep experts would tell you that watching TV before bed is a bad idea if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Turn the TV, and all other electrical devices (computer, radio, computer games), off at least two hours before sleep time, they say. Or should it be three hours before? Ultimately, I think, it depends on:

  1. what you’re watching immediately before you go to bed and how you’re affected by it; and
  2. whether you’re able to control (i.e. limit) your TV viewing so that it does not encroach on your sleeping time.

Taking each point in turn:

1. What you’re watching and how you’re affected by it

If you watch a violent or tense TV programme before bed and you’re sensitive to these images, it follows that you’re unlikely to be relaxed enough to sleep immediately afterwards. For me, watching 24 immediately before bed is a no-no, as I’m too wired to fall asleep.

Similarly, if you’re watching a TV programme that you find very stimulating (for me, this might be Question Time or The West Wing) just before bed, then it’s likely that you’ll find it difficult to sleep as your brain will be too active. You’ll need to do something relaxing and peaceful afterwards, to slow down your mental activity in preparation for sleep.

Having said this, in my experience watching TV can help to calm an overactive mind at the end of a busy day and, for some, it may be an important cue for bedtime.  In my days as a city lawyer I often used TV (and the odd glass of wine too) as a way to switch off before bed. And my other half regularly spends the last 15 minutes or so of the day watching the music channels to relax before bed.

2. Controlling your evening TV viewing

A study carried out by the BBC’s Newsround programme (as reported on the BBC Breakfast show on 19 February 2010) concluded that modern technology keeps our children up at night, preventing them from getting a good nights’ sleep. The study suggested that children miss out on sleep because they stay up watching TV or playing on computer games.

It’s not just children who stay up too late watching TV when they should be sleeping. A study published in the Journal Sleep by Drs. Mathias Basner and David F. Dinges in June 2009 (“Dubious Bargain: Trading Sleep for Leno and Letterman”) found that many Americans let television dictate when they go to sleep. They concluded that “giving up some TV viewing in the evening should be possible to reduce chronic sleep debt and promote adequate sleep in those who need it”.

This is interesting. Just the other night I accidentally started watching The Bodyguard on TV. I’ve seen it many times before, but despite my good intentions for an early night, suddenly I was hooked and I ended up watching it until it’s conclusion (an hour after I’d planned to go to bed).

If this regularly happens to you and your sleep is suffering, it’s time to alter your bedtime routine to make it more sleep-friendly. Set yourself a cut-off time for TV viewing (any must-see viewing after this cut-off point could be recorded using Sky Plus or your DVD recorder) and do something less engaging and relaxing instead.

A word on watching TV in bed

Again, many sleep experts warn against watching TV in bed. They advise us to reserve our beds for sleeping and romance only, so that we associate our beds and bedrooms with falling asleep. This rigid approach may be necessary for some, but if watching a little TV in bed helps you to relax and drop off to sleep, don’t worry. Do be careful to turn the TV off when you start dozing though, otherwise it’s likely to disturb your sleep during the night.

Ultimately, I think, it’s about personal choice and common sense – enjoy your evening viewing if it helps you to relax but don’t let your TV take precedence over your precious sleep.

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.