“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow”

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” ~ Charlotte Brontë

I don’t think I was alone in feeling a tad panicky in the run up to Christmas. As I mentioned in my last post, my other half and I hosted Christmas for the first time. Whilst a lot of fun, the preparations – the decorations, the present-buying, the wrapping, the cooking, not to mention the last-minute cleaning – were overwhelming at times. I had lists and lists of lists and my Ocado order (booked months in advance) was updated on an almost daily basis with an extra pint of milk or an extra tin of biscuits, just in case….Of course there was far too much food (we’re still working our way through the chocolate biscuits) and a great time was had by all, but I’m sure I’ll be fretting again when December rolls around!

Weighed down by my festive stresses, I didn’t get around to writing about the link between worry and sleep disruption, as I’d intended. But, as they say, better late than never….

Whether it’s agonising about cooking your Christmas dinner, pondering what to buy your best mate for Christmas, or bigger worries concerning your career or finances, anxiety has a big impact on the quantity and quality of our sleep:

  • The Sun newspaper reported on 16 December 2010 that sleep problems are more common during the festive season because people worry about buying presents, seeing relatives and Christmas finances. Read the full article by clicking here.
  • A 2010 study by Slumberland showed that nearly three-quarters of British workers are struggling to get a full night’s sleep because of work worries. In a survey of 3,000 adults, 69% said that work problems make it difficult to sleep. And even when we do drop off to sleep, the survey revealed that one in three dreams about work at least twice a week. The survey also showed that 39% wake up at least once during the night fretting about their careers. To read more, click here.
  • On 5 October 2010, the Mirror newspaper reported that adults lose on average 68 minutes’ sleep a night worrying about money, according to a study commission by Boots and the Tony Ferguson Weightloss Programme.  You can read the full article by clicking here.

And it’s not only us mere mortals who are kept awake at night fretting; A-listers are suffering too. In October last year it was reported that Rihanna struggles to sleep because she’s constantly thinking about her work.

Despite my pre-Christmas anxieties, I found ways to wind down and sleep in the run up to Christmas. Here’s some ideas that work for me, give them a go when you’re feeling stressed:

  • If you find yourself dwelling on worries when you go to bed, try writing them down before you hit sack. This exercise helps to prevent problems from keeping my mind active at night when I should be sleeping.
  • If you’re prone to waking in the night with worries on your mind, keep a notepad and pen by your bed – then if you do wake in the night with a problem on your mind, you can write it down and go back to sleep.
  • Try to keep your bedroom tidy and clutter-free. Piles of paperwork and unwashed clothes aren’t conducive to a restful night’s sleep and can add to your anxiety.
  • Remove your clock, alarm clock or mobile phone from sight – clock-watching during the night will only remind you that you’re awake and increase your anxiety.
  • Don’t forget to follow your usual, relaxing, bedtime routine – or if you don’t already have one, create one. What you do in the final moments of your day can really help to prepare you for sleep. For me, this means spending the last few minutes of every day – sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes half an hour – in bed with a light novel or magazine (nothing too engaging or stimulating otherwise I’ll never put it down!) whilst listening to the gentle, soothing sounds of Classic FM.
  • Breathing exercises in bed can help to induce sleep when you’re feeling stressed. The NightWave Sleep Assistant guides you in a session of deep breathing whilst you lay comfortably in bed (read my review of this product – COMING SOON).

Until next time, sleep well! x

How to beat the snore…..simply by wearing a t-shirt to bed!

I’m very lucky in many ways. But there’s one thing – I’ve come to realise – that I should be particularly thankful for: my other half doesn’t snore!

It’s not something I’ve often thought about. That is, until the new addition to our little family brought it home to me – literally. My puppy, Louis – a beautiful French bulldog – spends most of his life rasping and wheezing and snorting, poor little mite. And whilst I consider Louis’ snoring habit to be one of his endearing idiosyncrasies, I’m grateful that I don’t have to listen to him take each noisy breath whilst I’m trying to sleep (he sleeps downstairs, you see).

Honestly, I can’t imagine what it must be like to put up with the rattling racket of a snoring bed-mate, every night. Yet millions of people across the country do. According to an article written by the Director of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association in spring 2007, “Current trends in the treatment of snoring & sleep apnoea”, every night an estimated 15 million snorers in the UK disturb the slumber of their bed partner and other family members, with noise levels reaching in excess of 90dB! 90dB is around the same noise level as a lawnmower, and only 10dB less than a chain saw or pneumatic drill! Crikey, I hope those unlucky folks have good ear-plugs!

And, I’ve learnt, it’s not just sleep quality that’s affected by your bed-buddy’s snoring – a partner’s snoring can have a huge, detrimental, impact on your relationship. Studies have found high divorce rates in couples where a partner snores. And snoring is also a common factor in why more couples are now sleeping apart. According to one American study in 2001, Dr Mansoor Madani found 80% of snoring couples slept in separate bedrooms! Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m truly shocked!

I bet Kevin Jonas’ wife, Danielle, isn’t so surprised. It was reported earlier this month that the Jonas Brother has a snoring problem, which forces his wife to sleep in a separate room, putting their baby plans on hold. Similarly, according to newspaper reports this August, Eastender Sid Owen and his fiancé, Polly, sleep in separate bedrooms due to him snoring “like a rhino”.

While I count my blessings, I urge all snorers out there to take action now to get their relationship and love-life back on track. How? Well, there are a number of things you could try:

  • If you’re very overweight, losing some weight will often reduce snoring.
  • You could try sleeping on a firmer pillow. A pillow that’s too soft can exacerbate snoring.
  • Quit smoking or at least stop smoking just before bedtime.
  • Don’t drink alcohol in the evening.
  • Watch what you eat before bed – don’t eat too much and avoid dairy products before bedtime, as they can cause mucus build-up.

But, of course, you want a quick-fix solution, right? Well, give this a go: the Anti-Snore T-Shirt. That’s right, a t-shirt!

Recommended by more than 600 doctors and dentists in North America, it works simply by correcting sleeping position. Research has shown that over 60% of snorers will stop snoring or snore less when sleeping on their sides. The Anti-Snore T-Shirt has inflatable bumpers on the back which ensure you do just that! It costs £45 from We Love Sleep. It’s just a shame they don’t do them in tiny sizes for my snuffling pig-dog!

Finally, a tip for those poor sleep-deprived partners of snorers: If you’re having trouble convincing your other half to take their snoring habit seriously, try video recording them snoring. And if listening to themselves snort and rattle doesn’t encourage your partner to do something about it, stick the recording on YouTube for the whole world to see and hear! Good luck!

Snoring could be a sign of a terrifying breathing disorder called sleep apnoea, whereby the sufferer frequently stops breathing when they are sleeping. If you are concerned that you may have sleep apnoea, you should seek medical advice.

Wearing my confused face

Heaven is…..waking up on a Saturday morning and knowing that you don’t have to get out of bed. You can pull the covers right up to your chin, roll over and doze……mmmmm.

You can imagine my pleasure (picture big cheesy grin) this morning, when I read that my weekend lie-ins are in fact good for me. The Telegraph website reliably informed me that “A single lie-in is all that is required to replenish the brain and boost energy, alertness and attention span after a week of restricted sleep, the study showed”. Then, imagine my disappointment (cue sad, puppy-dog eyes and wobbly bottom lip) when I read on the BBC website, just a minute later, that “A lie-in at the weekend does not counter ill-effects of lack of sleep during the week, a study suggests”. What? Two studies, with completely different results? How confusing. No, no…one study, two contrasting interpretations….

Now, lets look at the details in those news reports: The study, “Neurobehavioral Dynamics Following Chronic Sleep Restriction: Dose-Response Effects of One Night for Recovery”, reported in the latest issue of the journal Sleep, was a sleep deprivation experiment on 159 healthy adults, aged 22 – 45 years. All the participants spent 10 hours in bed on the first two nights. 142 participants were then restricted to four hours in bed each night (from 4am to 8am) for five nights in a row. They were then allowed a single night’s “recovery sleep” of varying lengths, up to 10 hours. The other 17 participants made up a control group, who were allowed 10 hours in bed every night.  During the experiment, all participants were asked to complete tests every two hours while they were awake.

As expected, the study found that the participants whose sleep had been restricted performed consistently worse in the tests than the control group. After just one lie-in, test scores improved and the more “recovery sleep” they had the better they did. But, even after 10 hours of “recovery sleep”, the sleep-restricted participants had worse test scores than the control group for reaction times, lapses of attention and levels of fatigue. Dr David Dinges, the study leader, is quoted as saying “The additional hour or two of sleep in the morning after a period of chronic partial sleep loss has genuine benefits for continued recovery of behavioural alertness. The bottom line is that adequate recovery sleep duration is important for coping with the effects of chronic sleep restriction on the brain”.

The conclusion: A weekend lie-in can help you to recover from lost sleep during the busy, working week, but 5 lie-ins in a row is even better!!!! My happy face is back!

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….

When size matters….

Mmmm, I love my bed. I could happily live in my bed, it’s that lovely! Not only is it soft yet supportive and super comfy, it’s also big! I like having space to move around, and my king-sized beauty gives me room to wiggle and turn, without jabbing my other half in the ribs each time I roll over.

Whenever my other half and I voyage up north to keep the parents happy, we’re forced to downgrade to a double. And, inevitably, our sleep suffers. Too short for my other half’s 6ft 4in frame and too narrow to breathe frankly, a double just doesn’t cut it for us.

It’s not just me being a princess. Studies have shown that couples sleep better in a bigger bed. In a press release for the Sleep Council in 2004, bed expert Jessica Alexander says “Before trials only 15% said they would buy a larger than standard bed while afterwards, 50% said they would”.

And it’s not surprising that a double bed can reduce restful sleep when you learn, as I did recently, that sleeping in a double bed with your partner provides each of you with only slightly more space width-wise than an itty bitty cot mattress! Fat chance of sleeping like a baby, then!

If you’re thinking about buying a new mattress, check out the Sleep Geek’s handy guide, by clicking here. And don’t forget my top tip: size really does matter!

Could a lack of sleep be making you fat? UPDATE

Since I wrote about this in May 2010, a new research study has come to light that reinforces my earlier conclusion – that your sleeping habits could be to blame for those extra pounds.

The research study, “Sleep problems and major weight gain: a follow-up study” by P Lyytikäinen, T Lallukka, E Lahelma & O Rahkonen (published online in the International Journal of Obesity on 8 June 2010), shows that middle-aged women who have trouble sleeping are more likely to gain weight than those who sleep well.

The study followed over 7,300 middle-aged (40 to 60 year old) women and men for five to seven years. The researchers found that the women who had reported suffering from “frequent sleep problems” (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep on at least 14 nights in the past month) at the start of the study were more likely to report a “major weight gain” (11 or more pounds) over time than the women who slept without difficulty. Even when other factors, such as physical and mental health and lifestyle, were taken into consideration, the link between sleep problems and major weight gain remained – for the women, anyway.

Strangely, there was no association found between the men with troubled sleep and major weight gain, however. Whilst the reason for this difference is unknown, it’s possible that the fewer male participants (1,300 men compared to more than 5,700 women) could have made the link more difficult to spot.

Lead researcher, Peppi Lyytikäinen, told Reuters Health that while the findings do not prove cause-and-effect, they raise the possibility that improving sleep quality might help stave off excess weight gain.

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.

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.

Could a lack of sleep be making you fat?

I spent the weekend in the lovely English countryside with my other half. It was wonderful….until 5am yesterday morning when we had to drag ourselves out of bed – after around five and half hour’s sleep – and drive back to London for my other half’s 7am start time.

After the initial shock of getting up in the middle of the night (it felt like that, anyway) I felt exhilarated by my early start. The sun was coming up as we drove and by 6:30am I was in London and ready to start my day, having already listened to the morning news on the way in.  I’ll admit it, I felt rather smug.

Things started to go downhill at about 9am. I suddenly felt tired and lacking in energy. Despite my usual daddy-bear-sized bowl of porridge only a few hours earlier, I also felt very hungry. I wanted thick white toast smeared with butter and jam. And Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. And chocolate biscuits.

I managed to get through the day, succumbing to my rumbling stomach only once or twice more than usual. It took sheer determination to stop myself from finishing off the box of Maltesers in the cupboard though.

I mentioned my increased appetite to my other half, after polishing off three large chicken fajitas for tea last night. He, too, had felt especially hungry that day – although he is constantly hungry so I’m not sure how remarkable that is!

I reflected on our conversation later that evening. Was our greediness that day a consequence of our lack of sleep the night before?

First thing this morning – after an early night and a glorious eight hours of sleep – I did a spot of research. And there was my answer in black and white: according to a number of scientific studies, a lack of sleep increases feelings of hunger, which can lead to eating more and gaining weight.

I found three 2004 studies[1], that had all found a link between sleep and the hormones that are involved in regulating appetite – ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry and leptin, which suppresses appetite. These studies found that people who slept for shorter durations had increased ghrelin levels and reduced leptin levels. Wow!

One of these 2004 studies, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, also found that sleep deprivation affects our food choices. In that study, when sleep was restricted, the participants craved calorie-dense foods with high carbohydrate content.

In a recent study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March 2010, the participants (healthy, normal-weight young men) took in 22% more calories, on average, when they’d slept for four hours the night before, compared to when they slept for eight hours. The average calorie increase after a night of restricted sleep was about 560, equivalent to a Dominos cheese and tomato pizza!

This is fascinating! The results match my own experience completely – increased appetite, craving carbs and eating more calories than normal. What an eye-opener.

So, the next time you’re feeling extra peckish, consider whether your sleeping habits could be to blame. And, if you’re trying to lose weight, getting some more quality sleep could be the key to shifting those pounds!


[1] Karine Spiegel, PhD; Esra Tasali, MD; Plamen Penev, MD, PhD; and Eve Van Cauter, PhD (7 December 2004)“Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite”, Annals of Internal Medicine, vol 141: pp 846-850

Does the lack of sleep make you fat? (7 December 2004) Bristol University Press Release

Shahrad Taheri, Ling Lin, Diane Austin, Terry Young, Emmanual Mignot (December 2004) Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index Public Library of Science Medicine