Dog tired

What an angel!

So, this happy – but weary – looking photo of me and my gorgeous puppy, Louis, should help to explain my absence over the last week or so.

Looking at his angelic little mug, you wouldn’t believe that my lovely Louis has spent the last nine (painful) nights barking and howling, and generally doing everything he possibly can to keep me and my other half from sleeping. The key to stopping the wimpering and wailing  – so we’ve been told – is to ignore him. And so, save for a brief lapse on night two, we’ve stuck to our guns and tried – really, really tried – to drown out the high-pitched whining with the calming symphonies of Classic FM, with the hope that somehow we’ll nod off…

Of course, we look like participants in a sleep-deprivation experiment.  For the last week I haven’t been able to think straight, or concentrate, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forgotten the end of my sentences. Every time the morning alarm screams that it’s 5:15am – time to see what gift Louis has left for us this morning and give him his first feed of the day – I wonder when I am ever going to get a full, uninterrupted, eight hours sleep again. Not in the next few weeks, that’s for sure.

But somehow I’m feeling almost human again today. Look, I’ve actually managed to write two whole paragraphs. That’s a step up from last week’s efforts! My savior is the short, sweet little word: the “nap”.

This weekend my other half and I have taken every opportunity to snatch an extra 40 winks. Well, actually, an extra 20 minutes or less or an extra two hours or more, because we’re “good” at napping. Yes – before you ask! – there is such a thing as a “bad” nap! It’s one that lasts for more than 20 minutes but less than 2 hours, and leaves you feeling dozy and disorientated. Not good.

As it happens, after having played his new favourite game of “chew the laptop charger” for the last 20 minutes as I’ve been writing, Louis has just found a little spot to snooze between my feet. Which means only one thing for me: it’s time for a cheeky 19 minute nap…..

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

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.

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