Let’s talk about sleep. I mean real, quality sleep.
I’m one of those people. I’m the person who cannot sleep because there’s a miniscule crack of light in the room, or a light from a charging iPhone, or the sound of someone’s radio two apartments away or….just name it and it probably keeps me up. I was the child who, when spending the night at my best friend’s house, did not sleep. I remember many and many times of lying next to my sweetly slumbering bestie (or besties at times) staring at the ceiling in the dark. I even remember my best friend’s Mom coming and lying in between us in an attempt to get me to fall asleep because everytime she checked to see if we were sleeping instead of chatting, I was not quite bushy tailed, but definitely wide awake. I knew every nook and cranny of my best friends’ bedrooms by heart because I memorized them by the next morning. To this day, as an adult, I still have major problems sleeping – and none of them are medically based (trust me I’m checking that out!). Needless to say, a lifetime of sleep problems have led me to researching what is disturbing my sleep so much…and even though I’ve already written about how to improve your circadian rhythm, I thought that it would be helpful to let you know about some of the products and strategies that have helped me to improve my quality of sleep over the years.
1) Black Out Curtains/Blinds
As I mentioned, the littlest bit of light in my room keeps me awake. This is one reason that I don’t have a television, radio or even a digital clock in my bedroom – because that little itsy bitsy light somehow always manages to hit me in the eye – and yes, even with your eyes closed, it makes a difference. So I’ve made my bedroom devoid of any digital light, but what about light I can’t really control? The one coming from outside of my space through that tiny crack in the curtains or diffusing through the weave of the curtain material? I’ve lived in this particular apartment for almost two years now, and about three months in, the landlord decided to make the garbage hut across from the apartment building “safer” by putting outdoor lights. Instead of doing downward facing fixtures, he just put the cheap outdoor lights that just shine everywhere. They do a BRILLIANT job of lighting up the driveway and entrance to the hut. They also do a brilliant job of shining directly into my apartment – including my bedroom. When it first went up, I could not sleep for weeks and resorted to my good old British Airways sleeping mask. I hate it though – I find it extremely uncomfortable which then takes me even further away from a good sleep. Thank God, though, I have been able to adjust the curtains a bit so that that little crack of light that always seem to enter a dark room has been minimized – and my money-saving landlord? Well he was smart enough to use blackout curtains – so once I solved most of the other light infiltration problems, I have been a bit more able to sleep. Black out blinds and curtains are a lifesaver – so much so that I even requested that my Mother puts some in my room all the way back in Trinidad for when I go visit!
2) The Perfect Pillow
I’ve yet to find the perfect pillow – I think that’s cause I seem to have extremely different preferences from most people. I also think I must have a heavier head than most people because I feel as if the pillows that I use die a lot more quickly than others. For example, I think the Luv Luv’s pillows last twice as long as mine do. Also, I have to make sure that there are no down ANYTHING on my beds, so I need an allergen-free synthetic pillow, in fact, at the moment I’m trying two new ones by Silentnight. What I have figured out through all my previous pillow testing, and from trying these pillows, is that I like a firmer, higher pillow. Unfortunately, although these particular Silentnight pillows are brilliant for allergies, they are a bit too soft for me. At the same time, I’ve been sleeping with them for over a week now and I feel a lot more refreshed than I have in a long time….perhaps I don’t need those high pillows after all? Anyway, the point of this is, whether you are a back sleeper, a front sleeper, side sleeper or upside down sleeper, make sure your pillow is perfect for you, whether you like a high one, low one, upright one, large one, shaped foam one, down one….just pay attention to how you are feeling when you are relaxing just before you sleep. You’ll figure out if you’re happy with your pillow or not. Or perhaps I’m nuts – cause the Luv Luv can sleep with any type of pillow – although he does snore less with the higher ones!
3) The Most Comfy Mattress
I was picky about my mattress even before I ever bought my own. My Mom was a Physiotherapist before she retired, so we always had very supportive mattresses, and I’ve been very picky about my mattresses since then. When I moved to this apartment, I was not pleased with the mattresses, but as a student on a tight budget, buying a new one was not an option. Since trying the Silentnight Sapphire Empress mattress, I’m in heaven. It’s like someone flicked a switch and my body is happier and my sleep quality is better…to the point that I’m thinking of cancelling my upcoming sleep clinic appointment! You know what’s even better? This mattress is not only incredibly supportive and comfortable (their website considers it a “medium” support), but it also ” features a Allergy UK approved Purotex probiotic cover to keep the mattress naturally hygienic and dust-mite free”. That is golden for an allergy queen like me because now I know that even if those fantastic little beings called dustmites manage to get past my numerous allergy covers, they still can’t get into my mattress and won’t be living in my bed at all. Okay fine, there are probably a few, but the amount of them in my bed has been ridiculously lowered thanks to using allergen free mattresses and pillows (thanks Silentnight).
4) Sleep Masks
As mentioned above, these are not my favourite solution to problems, but it is cheaper than moving house, more legal than vandalizing other people’s property (ie. smashing all the outdoor lights) and more sensible than making all the transparent elements of your bedroom opaque. In other words, it’s a quick and easy solution to a problem that is not easily solved otherwise. The ones I use are free ones that I received from flights on British Airways, but a lady at work recently got one delivered to the office that looked like they were the gold star version of sleep masks. These things were made of of a beautiful soft material that still (strangely) held their shape, had a lovely thick strap to keep it on your face and were moulded so that you had a bit of space between the mask and the eyes and of course, moulded so that your nose wasn’t squished. She told me she got it on Groupon (?) deal, I believe she said, but that they would normally cost £129 (!!!)…I am ridiculously tempted to go look for them…..I think she got them for around £40. Anyway, I don’t use sleep masks daily, but those days when I’m having loads of trouble falling asleep and everything seems to be affecting my ability to fall asleep my little crappy but free sleep masks help a lot.
5) Ear Plugs
I never tried these until I went on a trip to Venice with my classmates during my Masters degree last year. I shared a room with two classmates, one of whom was a crazy snorer. This is when I learned that I snore quite loudly too (cause apparently the Luv Luv was being nice and telling me I did girl snores…I should have known better – I’m from a family of snorers). Apparently, our third roommate for the trip was listening to “a symphony of snoring” (as she put it) before she pulled out her trusty earplugs. It worked brilliantly for her – and she said that she is very sensitive to sound when sleeping so she generally sleeps with earplugs, even when sleeping on her own.
I tried it a few times after, but I used those foam ones that you have to roll between your fingers to fit into your ear canal and then half of it sticks out…so I’ve found that those tend to fall out before I wake up. I don’t think that’s so serious for me because my problem is that I can’t fall asleep – but once I’ve fallen asleep, I stay asleep….very much asleep. In fact, in my younger years, during my first University experience, apparently there was a pub fight outside my dormitory that required firefighters to come hose down a crowd – and I slept through the entire thing. Then my roommate tried to open the door to our room quietly and I woke up immediately. Go figure.
Anyway, my younger sister is extremely sensitive to noise, and she uses ear plugs on a daily basis, but the ones she uses are transparent and gel-like and supposedly fit into your ears much more easily and in a much better manner. I have a few in my nightstand, but I am very careful with them because I haven’t found them in the UK. Then again, I haven’t really looked for them….I am sure they are available somewhere. Basically, if you are sensitive to noise, especially when you are falling asleep, perhaps ear plugs are an option for you?
6) Setting a Specific Sleep Schedule
You’ve probably read this one everywhere. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Try to wake up at the same time each morning. Set alarms to make sure you do. If you don’t go to bed at the same time each night, at least wake up at the same time each morning. This allows your body to set it’s internal clock to “awake time” and “sleep time” and will help it to relax more effectively when it comes to “sleep time”. I know it’s a common bit of advice, but it’s definitely a good one to do!
7) Maintaining a Sleepytime Ritual
Whether it be drinking hot milk, drinking tumeric milk, a hot bath, reading a book, aromatherapy, lotion and massage, meditation … whatever it is – make your bedtime a ritual. And try your best to not make it electronic – ie. no iphone, ipod, facebook, twitter or computer for at least an hour before bedtime. Decide upon your sleepytime ritual and practise it daily until it becomes natural to you – your body will recognise it and will allow you to relax and fall asleep faster. This relaxation will give you a quality sleep experience, letting you wake up feeling refreshed.
So these are things that I have been trying to practice for years – basically they are all helping me to create the perfect sleep atmosphere – a dark, cool, quiet and relaxing bedroom for a quality sleep experience. What do you do to to improve your quality of sleep?