South America here I come!

I’m very excited! Tomorrow I’m jetting off to Sao Paulo with my other half for a two week holiday in Brazil, Chile and Argentina. Even more exciting than that: the fun begins with a friend’s fabulous (I’m hoping!) wedding in Sao Paulo!

With the church ceremony taking place at 8:30pm – yes, you read that right! – and the reception at a club, I’m anticipating that it’s going to be a late one! Not that I mind – but of course I want to ensure that I stay awake and lively for the duration. After all, it’s not every day that I get to go to a Brazilian wedding!

The trouble is that 8:30pm in Sao Paulo is actually 12:30am in the UK. And my usual bedtime is normally around 10pm! Yikes! I need to plan my time well to make sure that I’m on top form for the big day! My plan is as follows:

  • Today: I’m planning on eating my evening meal later and going to bed a couple of hours later, to make them closer to eating / sleeping times in Sao Paulo.
  • Tomorrow (Thursday): A lie-in! I’ll be getting up later, so it’ll be easier to go to sleep later tomorrow evening. My flight leaves at 9:50pm, so I’ll watch at least one film on the plane before nodding off. I’ll then try to sleep for the remainder of the flight.
  • Friday: Land at 5:20am Sao Paulo time. We have a pre-wedding dinner that evening so this should keep me awake later and help my body to adjust to the new local time.
  • Saturday: The big day! Enjoy a lie-in and spend the day beautifying myself so I’m feeling great for the big paaaarrty!

Simple, right?

The really tricky bit will be getting a good night’s sleep on the plane since we all know that sitting up, with nowhere to rest your head, and no room to stretch out, is hardly an ideal sleeping position. I’ll certainly be following the Sleep Geek’s top travel tips, which really helped on my last overnight flight to Dubai. I am also lucky enough to be testing this travel pillow, kindly sent to me by the Sleep Geek for my 11 and a half hour flight:

The manufacturer says that this travel pillow encourages sleep in the most natural, comfortable position and that the L-shaped design minimises neck ache. Sounds pretty good!

I’ll be blogging my review on my return, so watch this space.

Amy x

Don’t forget! Clocks go forward on 27 March 2011

This weekend it’s time to “spring forward” into British Summer Time again. Whilst lighter summer evenings are something I’ve been looking forward to for a while, unfortunately it means losing an hour this Saturday night/Sunday morning. For many, this means an hour’s less sleep.

Changing the clocks is always a controversial issue. For a start, we tend to feel sluggish for a day or so after the change and resetting the time on everything from your cooker to your car is an inconvenience. But, according to one BBC news article from March 2006, the consequences of the clocks moving forward are more significant: there is an increase in road traffic accidents for a few days after the time change and the stock market slumps. Website www.goodtoknow.co.uk also cites an increase in the number of heart attacks and a higher chance of picking up bugs as being due to the change in the clocks. To read both thought-provoking articles, click here and here.

The controversy surrounding changing the clocks has sparked endless discussions and debates, and most recently the proposal of a “double summertime” here in the UK. This would mean the clocks moving forward by an hour from GMT in the winter (maintaining British Summer Time) and a further hour in the summer (applying a “double summertime”), to bring the UK’s clocks in line with Europe. The reasoning behind the proposal is that it would improve tourism to the UK. Despite widespread reports that the double summertime change would be included in the government’s tourism strategy this March, it is still being considered. To read about the pros and cons in a BBC news article from last month, click here.

Whatever your thoughts are on the matter, the clocks will go forward this weekend and you’ll be forced to adapt whether you like it or not. But there are things you can do to adjust more quickly – the key is to ensure that the lost hour doesn’t mean an hour’s less sleep. Here are the Sleep Geek’s simple tips:

  1. Reset your clocks on Saturday morning, then adjust your mealtimes and bedtime to the new time.
  2. Get up on Sunday at your normal time, based on the new time.
  3. On Sunday, expose yourself to bright light to help your body adjust its internal clock to the new time.
  4. Dehydration can make you feel worse, so drink plenty of water to keep your fluid levels up.

Let me know how you get on. Happy weekend everyone x

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?

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.

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.

How to cope with early starts

The Sleep Geek: A man in glasses who knows a lot about sleep

Rising earlier than usual often means getting less sleep than usual. In addition, the thought of getting up early can cause stress and worry, making falling asleep more of a challenge. The result of an early start is typically fatigue, lethargy and increased appetite. Simply put, you feel rubbish and want to eat rubbish.

Thankfully there are some simple ways to make an early start a little easier. The Sleep Geek has helpfully shared his tips for handling early mornings in his new article “Early Starts and Little Naps” – read it by clicking here.

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