If hunger-induced anger warrants its own word (hanger, if you missed it), there should definitely be something to describe the irritability caused by tiredness. I’m going to go for ‘tirritable’ – but according to health pros, this is the least of the problems associated with lack of sleep. Obesity, diabetes and difficulty conceiving, are all up there, along with depression and an early death.
But it doesn’t have to be this bleak! There are ways to get a better night’s sleep, aside from cutting down on coffee (every expert’s top tip). According to psychologist Hope Bastine, ambitious go-getters could benefit the most from a bedtime routine. They’re the worst sleepers, she says, explaining, ‘for those of us who are really performance driven, we resent sleep because it hinders our production.’ Hope says we need to re-educate ourselves to think of sleep as something that’s actually good for us.
Hope gives me her guide to getting a good night’s sleep, along with advice from nutritionist Lily Soutter, light-focussed ChromaYoga founders Nina Ryner and Clara Baker, and the men behind the mattress of the moment, SIMBA, James Cox and Steve Reid.
1. Orgasm: Whether you’re by yourself, or with someone else, it’s the climax that counts. Bastine gives a thumbs up to sex toys and adds that orgasm aside, intimacy with another person releases oxytocin which is ‘the best thing you have against insomnia.’ Your bed, she says, is for sex and sleeping – work and watch TV elsewhere.
2. Turn on the red light: Buy a new bulb for your bedside lamp, because red and orange lights allow us to produce the melatonin we need to get to sleep. Blue, on the other hand, suppresses melatonin production, so if you’re working in the evening, download Night Shift for your mobile and f.lux for your laptop, to turn the screen an orange hue. ‘Remember to turn down the brightness!’ add Ryner and Baker.
3. Drink gin: Cocktails are sugar bombs and beer is heavy, so for the best night’s sleep drink vodka or gin, says Soutter. Mix with soda water and a dash of lime but, ‘avoid tonic water – that’s also a sugar bomb!’ she adds. But this isn’t about our waistlines: ‘When you have a sugar high, it results in a blood sugar crash, which stimulates a stress response, making it difficult to drift off.’ A glass of red gets the Soutter sanction and white’s alright if you drop in ice-cubes.
4. Ditch the mattress myths: ‘People think, “I’ve got a bad back, I need a firm mattress” – well, that’s balls!’ says Cox, who tested SIMBA on the profiles of more than 10 million people at The Sleep to Live Institute. ‘If the mattress gives the right support, it can be soft or firm,’ he explains. Reid agrees that the mattress market is confusing, ‘going into a shop and jumping on the end of 200 mattresses doesn’t make any sense.’ It’s fun though, right? Anyway, what’s the answer? Naturally they say SIMBA. Cox concludes: ‘People spend six to eight hours a night on their mattress – it’s key to getting a good night’s sleep.’
5. Breath deeply: Fast shallow breathing is linked to anxiety and stress hormones – neither of which will get you to sleep. The yogis say, ‘Focus on deep, long, slow breaths. Try breathing in for a count of three, and out for a count of three.’ You can build up to longer counts, making your exhales longer than your inhales, eg breathing in for three, and out for six. Forward folding postures, they add, are ‘relaxing, grounding and good to do before bed.’ Sit with your legs crossed or the soles of your feet together, and lean forwards.
6. Wind down: Bedtime routines are not just for kids – Bastine says adults need to mentally and physically prepare to go to sleep. She suggests switching off devices an hour before bed, dimming the lights, and taking a bath with magnesium salts as ‘it’s an effective way to relax the muscles, especially the shoulders, if you’re stressed.’ Writing lists can be useful, ‘so you’re not worrying about what you have to do tomorrow.’ She also suggests a gratitude diary. A what? ‘It’s literally what went well today, what didn’t go well today, and what you’re grateful for. The top three things for each.’
6. Embrace carbs: Protein combined with carbs is our best bet for a good night’s sleep, says Soutter. ‘Loads of people forget carbs – they think they’re not meant to eat them at night time, I’ve no idea why.’ It’s because we’re all on a diet, I tell her. ‘Carbs can induce sleepiness,’ says Soutter, reminding me that lack of sleep is linked to obesity. ‘When people haven’t had enough sleep, they eat an extra 385 calories the next day, and it tends to be quick fix food – so it not only changes the amount we eat, but it also changes the food choices we make!’