Product review: SleepPhones

Welcome to my seventh product review. Every few weeks I will be testing and reviewing a sleep-related product. This time it is SleepPhones.

SleepPhones…”pajamas for your ears” the tagline reads. How cute!

SleepPhones are ear bud speakers encased within a soft, fleece headband that you wear around your head (covering your ears) and plug into your iPod, mp3 player, CD player or other audio device (they are compatible with most audio devices). They are designed to be worn comfortably in bed, to help users relax and fall asleep faster and to help drown out unwanted noises.

When testing SleepPhones I focused on six key factors: Comfort, Sound Quality, Relaxation, Sleep Onset, Noise-Blocker and Portability. Here’s my review under each heading:

Comfort – Are they comfortable enough to sleep in, even if you’re a side-sleeper?

Yes! The fleecy headband is very soft, lightweight and extremely comfortable. The ear buds are nearly flat so, even when I lay on my side, they don’t prod me in the ear or feel painful as standard headphones can. And, because the ear buds are enclosed in the headband, they can’t fall out of your ears like conventional headphones can.

Sound Quality – Does the music sound any good?

Yes, SleepPhones sound good; I was impressed.  Audiophiles may disagree, but I would expect most people to be satisfied with the sound quality.

Relaxation – Do they help you to relax?

If you find listening to music relaxing, then yes. Although, for me, it really depends on what I’m listening to. Soft, classical music is my top choice for relaxing at bedtime.

SleepPhones will play whatever you have on your iPod / CD player though, so you can listen to, for example, audiobooks, hypnosis or meditation if you prefer.

Sleep Onset – Do they help you to fall asleep faster?

As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know, taking time to relax and prepare for sleep is important for falling asleep and good quality snoozing. Listening to soft, classical music at bedtime definitely helps me to fall asleep faster.

Noise-blocker – Are they effective at drowning out unwanted noises?

Yes, they are wonderful at drowning out Louis’ early morning wake up calls! And if they can do that, I expect they’d be equally good at blocking out snoring or noises from loud neighbours.

Conversely, SleepPhones are ideal if you want to listen to music or an audiobook in bed without disturbing your bed-mate.

Portability – Are they good for travelling?

Yep, they’re small and lightweight so would hardly take up any room in your hand luggage. Plus, they also double up as a comfortable eye mask – so you actually get two products in one! I’ll certainly be packing them for my next flight.

I loved SleepPhones. They’re a great product for anyone who loves listening to music in bed, anyone who struggles to relax or fall asleep at bedtime and anyone who wants to block out unwanted noises at bedtime. Top marks from me!

SleepPhones are available from We Love Sleep. They come in three sizes (Extra Small, One Size Fits Most and Extra Large) and are available in black, grey or lavender.

I’m back!

Hello lovely readers, I’m back! Back at my desk, can of Diet Coke by my side and hunchback position resumed. But, today, I am slightly less hunched over my laptop than usual. And I’m not quite so reliant on my midday caffeine boost. I have that refreshed feeling that can only be achieved after a thoroughly restful holiday.

It was the perfect mini break. Five days of eating delicious seafood, indulging in Portuguese custard tarts, sipping vinho verde whilst overlooking the ocean and reading purely for pleasure. Most importantly, though, I invested much of my time sleeping and topped up my sleep “account”. An easy task in the lovely bedrooms at Martinhal Beach Resort.

My other half and I stayed in one of the stylish Garden Houses, situated temptingly close to the luxurious Spa. But, thankfully, it wasn’t all style over substance inside. The beautifully designed bedrooms were thoughtfully put together. The muted pastel shades created a soothing atmosphere and features such as black-out blinds, temperature controls and reading lamps demonstrated an attention to practical details.

The bed itself was wonderfully comfortable, with a soft fluffy duvet and pillows. Plus, the mattress aced the “hand test” – a simple test for determining how well a mattress is supporting your body. To try it yourself, simply lie on the mattress in your usual sleeping position and try to insert your flat hand between your body and the mattress. If you usually sleep on your back, try to insert your hand at the bottom of your back. If your usual sleeping position is on your side, try to insert your hand by your hip. If you find it difficult and have to force your hand in, then your mattress is supporting you perfectly. But if your hand slips in the space easily, the mattress is not providing you with enough support.

My only gripe would be the lack of pillow choice. Whilst the squishy pillows suited me, they won’t work for everyone and ideally I would like to see a variety of pillows available.

I would have no hesitation is recommending this fabulous resort to those in search of a luxury, relaxing break and I’ll certainly be back!

For further information about the Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel, click here.

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.

5 simple tips for sleeping on the move

Greetings from sunny Dubai! I’m here with my other half to catch up with friends who are lucky enough to live here, in the jewel of the Middle East, and for a few days of R&R.

We arrived on the night flight, leaving London at 10pm and arriving at around 7:30am Dubai-time.  Determined not to spoil plans made with friends for the day of our arrival through tiredness and lethargy, I was eager to get some quality shut-eye on the plane. Often easier said than done, I know. With light, noise and being too hot or cold – not to mention the near-impossible task of finding a comfortable sleeping position in cattle class – dropping off to sleep can be rather tricky. And that’s an understatement. Thankfully I had the foresight to tap up the Sleep Geek for his top travel sleep tips before jetting off.

On the plane, I reluctantly snubbed the wide selection of films on offer (despite counting at least six on my Love Film list) and followed the Sleep Geek’s advice religiously. And, you know what? I slept for most of the journey. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had, but I slept for a good four or five hours out of the six and a half hour journey. Not bad at all.

So, what are the Sleep Geek’s tips? Well, they’re surprising simple, actually. Give them a go on your next journey and let me know how you get on:

  • Travel in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, ideally made of a natural fabric that can breathe, such as cotton. Take extra clothing and/or a blanket with you to snuggle up in if you feel cold. This is an important one for me as I feel the cold really easily.
  • Take an eye mask with you to make your sleeping environment as dark as possible. Light can prevent you from sleeping and can disturb otherwise restful sleep.
  • If you find it difficult to relax enough to sleep whilst travelling, try the Glo to Sleep eye mask to help clear a racing mind. Read my review, here.
  • Take ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones with you to block out disturbing noises. My ear plugs were invaluable, particularly when the baby two rows behind started bawling.
  • Take a travel pillow with you to help you find a more comfortable sleeping position and avoid waking with a stiff neck.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!

The beginnings of a bedtime routine

As I was brushing my teeth last night, it dawned on me that I already have a bedtime routine of sorts. Or, at least, the beginnings of one. Every night for the past 10 years (with only a few exceptions) I have spent 5 – 10 minutes getting ready for bed – taking out my contact lenses, brushing my teeth, cleansing and moisturising my face.  It’s become so ingrained in me, that it didn’t occur to me (until now) that it’s my way of preparing for sleep.

However, whilst my little nighttime beauty routine is a cue for sleep, I’ve realised that it isn’t enough to properly relax me before bed.

A good friend – with a stressful job in the city –
recently offered me her top sleep tip: dabbing a
couple of drops of lavender essential oil onto
her pillow before bedtime. My friend knows her
stuff – lavender has sedative and calming
properties and is believed to improve sleep quality.

I’ll be testing it out tonight – why don’t you give it a go too?

Image: Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Product review: The Glo to Sleep eye mask

Welcome to my first product review! Every few weeks I will be testing and reviewing a sleep-related product. This time it is the Glo to Sleep eye mask.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has climbed into bed at the end of a hectic day with the expectation of falling asleep immediately, only to find myself kept awake in the wee hours by my busy brain. Perhaps, like me, you’ve wished you could turn off your mind as easily as switching off your bedside lamp. Is it possible that an eye mask could do just that?

The Glo to Sleep eye mask is designed to induce sleep by slowing down brain wave activity; effectively switching off your buzzing mind. It looks similar to a standard eye mask, except that it has four glowing points inside each “eye” of the mask. The idea is that, by focusing on the glowing points, your active brain waves slow down, creating a relaxed, meditative state that leads to sleep.

To activate the points inside the Glo to Sleep eye mask, the user is told to simply hold the inside of the mask towards a light source, such as a light bulb, for 30 – 90 seconds. Then you slip the eye mask on, gaze up at the glowing points and breathe deeply. And – hey presto – you’re asleep!

It all sounds wonderfully simple, right? For the last week, I have been trialling the Glo to Sleep and, I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about this product at first. The concept sounded a little too good to be true. But, in this instance, I was very happy to be proved wrong.

The first thing to say is that the Glo to Sleep is very comfortable and easy to wear. The soft foam eye mask fitted securely on my face, blocking out all light (except for the glowing points inside the mask). Each night, focusing on the glowing points was simple and easy for around a minute, and then – to my surprise – my eyelids would begin to feel very heavy. A few more seconds later, I would feel so sleepy I could hardly keep my eyes open. If I felt my mind wondering, I gazed back up at the glowing points and, after only a few moments, my mind would clear and I would feel relaxed and drowsy again. Very impressive indeed!

The Glo to Sleep could be used as part of a bedtime routine – and it’s a serious contender for mine – but for now I’ll just keep it by my bedside, as an emergency solution for sleep-struggles, until I’ve considered all the options. I’ll certainly be packing it in my hand-luggage for a refreshing snooze on my next flight though.

The Glo to Sleep eye mask is available from We Love Sleep.

Breaking the rules and putting guilt to bed

As you know, I haven’t been very good at keeping to my sleep schedule so far. There’s always something to distract me from my bedtime, whether it’s a night out with friends, the final chapter of my book or a plumbing emergency (don’t ask!)…..And then, of course, I’ve been feeling guilty about my lack of self-discipline. Seriously, how difficult can it be to make sure I go to bed at the same time each night? I’m a grown adult after all!

Yesterday afternoon, I was flicking through Sammy Margo’s book The Good Sleep Guide, when a few key sentences leaped off the page and made me feel very happy. The sentences in point were:

“A regular bedtime routine is essential for creating good sleep habits. The routine should be calm and gentle. Ideally you should try to go to bed at the same time each night but that isn’t always possible or practical. The key is to teach yourself to fall asleep whenever you do get to bed, and to establish a progression of thought that will allow you to fall asleep. Most important, the routine should be as consistent as you can make it.” (page 68, my emphasis added)

When I read this, I felt a sense of relief, which surprised me. Until then, I hadn’t appreciated that trying (and then failing) to rigidly stick to my sleep schedule was making me feel a little anxious.  Sammy Margo’s advice – being less prescriptive and (in my view) more realistic than that of some other sleep advisors – seems like the practical solution I need. But, is the secret to good quality sleep really as simple as following a regular bedtime routine (irrespective of the time I go to bed)?

I raised this question with my friend, founder of We Love Sleep, and all-round Sleep Geek, James.  The answer, of course, is no (there are many things that contribute to getting great sleep every night – as I will soon be discovering). But, he agrees that following a consistent sleep routine will signal to the body and mind that it’s time to slow down and switch off in readiness for sleep, and this in turn will improve the quality of your sleep.

I already know that winding down before bed helps me to drift off more easily, but it seems that the key is to create cues for sleep, which then enable (or at least help) you to fall asleep anywhere at any time.  James says that if you have the time, your sleep routine could be a lengthy period of relaxation, including a warm bath, listening to music and some gentle stretching for example. Alternatively, it could be as simple as drinking a mug of chamomile tea (or a glass of wine!) or watching half an hour of tv.

And so it seems that it really doesn’t matter that much if I miss my usual bedtime or if my bedtime routine only lasts half an hour, provided that it relaxes me and I try to follow it every night.

According to James, it’s about finding a sleep routine that works for you. I haven’t quite figured out what that is yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. And in the meantime, I’ll try to stop worrying about following the “rules”….

James has written an interesting article on snubbing stress-causing sleep “rules” in favour of finding your own way. You can read it here: Sleep shouldn’t be about the don’ts

And….relax

It turns out that sticking to a sleep routine is not as easy as I’d first thought.

I love my sleep, I really do. And I need plenty of it; I’d sleep for 12 hours every day if I could. Having said that, I figured that around 8 hours of sleep a night should be sufficient. Working backwards from 6am (since that’s the time I have to get up if I’m going to get up at the same time every day), I arrived at a bedtime of 10pm. That’s early, especially on the weekend. And who wants to get up at 6am on a Sunday?

Needless to say, I’m having difficulties with my new sleep schedule, and I’m only a week into it. I’ve already missed my new bedtime three times and consequently allowed myself extra time in bed the morning after to make up for it. It seems that sticking to a sleep routine and having a social life aren’t the most compatible.

I am enjoying the wind down period before bed, however. 8:30pm is now my official cut-off time for work or anything that requires alert thinking, and for those nights that I’ve stuck to it (most of them, honest!), I’ve definitely noticed that I fall asleep more easily. Scheduling time into my day to relax feels strange at first (it’s not very often that I plan time to relax without feeling guilty about it) but, oh what a pleasure! Taking a warm bath, reading a magazine, or preferably, reading a magazine in a warm bath, really do help to relieve anxiety and switch off a busy mind. If I’ve learnt one thing this week, it is the joy (and positive effects) of relaxation.