30 In Style/ Wellness

How to sleep better (notes from an insomniac)

Sleep.  It is SO crucial to our health, but as we age we apparently get worse and worse at it.  This is especially true if you have children.  In my case, I feel like I can count on one hand the number of truly good nights of sleep I’ve had since my son was born 5 years ago.  First, it was because he had reflux as a baby and had to be fed little and often.  Now, my active brain keeps me awake over-thinking everything as I try to raise him well.  There is fascinating research on how the DNA of your children is in your brain, even long after you are dead, so no wonder I can’t sleep!  We are genetically programmed to be tuned to the frequency of our children, and for me that means one eye is always (figuratively) open.

In some ways, I feel a little fraudulent writing a sleep post because I am the WORST sleeper.   I’m almost certain that you sleep better than I do, and yet here I am writing about it!  I didn’t sleep well as a baby.  I slept very little as a child and dropped all naps at age one.  I was a terrible sleeper as a teenager and university student (famous for pulling several all-nighters in a row to study; I’d even start hallucinating sometimes).  In my twenties, my job in finance involved me getting an hourly phone call from a broker to wake me up and check the prices where currencies and bonds were trading and chart them all on graph paper.  In some ways, it was the perfect job for me as someone who didn’t need much sleep.  At one point, I even tried working for two companies simultaneously. One was working for a hedge fund by day, and the other working on the night desk of a currency broker.  It seemed to make sense since I was awake and graphing the markets 24 hours a day anyway.

There is a eerie enjoyable isolation that you feel when the rest of the world is asleep and you are wide awake.  Sometimes my best ideas, my best observations, and my best moments happen then.  I researched migraines when I first started to get them.  Artists, musicians, and writers often say that they are at their most creative right before the migraine sets in.  A ‘solar flare’ of creativity seems to precede the debilitating migraine.  Yet despite the discomfort, artists are grateful for the inspiration that the migraine infused into their art.  That is kind of how I feel about sleep.  Yes, I get anxious and angry as I watch the hours slide past on the clock waiting for sleep to wash over me, but somehow I am grateful for the quiet space it gives me to think and untie my mental knots.

As I get older, sleep is more of a necessity and less of a a luxury than it was when I was young.  I need to be well rested to have a good day.  I need quality sleep to be a good parent, wife, and friend, or else I’m ratty and short tempered.  Who wants to be around me when I’m like that? Even I don’t like me then! When I’ve touched on sleep in videos and previous blog posts, I’ve had so many emails thanking me for my recommendations that I decided to devote a whole post to it here.  Now that you know how much I struggle with sleep, here are the things that help me the most.

Zirben Wurfel–  The essential oil of the “Zirbe,” Swiss rock pine, or Arolla pine (scientific name Pinus cembra) helps me like nothing else.  A reader (thank you Anna!) kindly sourced another brand (linked below) that is easier to find than the ones I buy at the airport in Vienna (Here is Anna’s option for US readers, and an Amazon option of the same product for UK readers.  In case you didn’t see my YouTube video about it, the Rock pine only grows in the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.  For centuries, it has been used to help sleep, calm anxiety, slow the heart rate, and create a sense of well being in humans.  I sleep with a small pillow made of the wood shavings and I keep the wooden cube with essential-oil drops on the wood shavings near my bed.

The Calm App–  I have my best nights of sleep when I meditate before I go to bed.  Even if it is for 10 minutes, it makes a difference.  I’ve used lots of meditation apps and The Calm App is by far is my favourite.  There is a free two week trial, and then it is $30 a year or so.  The guided meditations keep my wandering mind on the right path, and their meditation series for anxiety has been life changing.  I can’t recommend this enough, but you have to make a pact with yourself that you WILL do it, not just download it.  I thank myself every morning when I’ve made the effort to meditate the night before.

Cotton Pyjamas–  I’m very sensitive to fabrics.  Cotton knit fabric (aka tee shirt fabric) is lovely to sleep in, but lately I want something a little extra… the bedtime equivalent of lighting a candle for dinner. I want a night time treat to look forward to and these Desmond and Dempsey pyjamas are IT for me.  The cotton is the perfect weight for this Goldilocks… neither too thick nor too thin, and the fabric designs are gorgeous.  I even wear the pyjama shirts with jeans for daytime. I love them so much I have bought three pairs now.  Given my fox love, OF COURSE I have the fox ones, as well as the fern print ones shown here, and also a navy shorts set with a Moroccan motif.  They’re stylish and they’re modest enough that I don’t have to change before breakfast when we have houseguests.

Electronic Purge– The hardest one for me is not to look at any electronic devices before bedtime.  I really try not to check Twitter or Instagram, but I often get sucked into the current political news on Twitter.  It plunges me into anger and anxiety at just the time I should be calming down and switching off.   I can only write when my son is asleep, so I often blog into the wee hours. Not only is the HEV (high energy visible) light bad for my skin, but the blue light causes insomnia by keeping my brain from producing the melatonin I NEED for sleep.   My new rule is no electronics one hour before lights out.  I break it frequently, but I’m really trying.  I subscribe to The New Yorker and reading one article per night in the most beautifully written English of any magazine in the world is a great bedtime treat for my brain.

Bedding– Part of my bedtime ritual is looking forward to the tactile sensation of  sleeping on good linens.  I only have solid white bed linens because that is what feels the most restful and peaceful to me.  I allow embroidery or textural detail (a favourite old set was white seersucker because I loved the almost paper towel like feel) but there is no colour.  I do have pale grey (or dark white as I call it!) edging on a few sets to match the decor in my bedroom, but no colour.  Bed linens are one thing I do not scrimp on.  I buy the most insane thread count I can find. I buy antique French linens.  I buy anything that feels luxurious, inviting, and conducive to rest.

While I’m on the bedding topic, I’m tempted to try one of these gravity blankets.  It is basically a thunder shirt for humans.  They work on the theory that deep pressure points are stimulated by the weight which relaxes us and makes us sleep better.  That may work for many people, but I’m seriously claustrophobic and it may make me panic rather than relax!  I would love to try one just to see though.  I’m just listing it here in case this appeals to you.

Rituals–  I can’t go to sleep if I don’t have a glass of water beside my bed.  Even if I don’t drink it, I need the ‘security blanket’ of knowing it is there.  I also have to have lip balm, nail oil, and a pen by my bed!  They’re little comforts that for some stupid reason have become part of my routine.  Why the pen?  It is just in case I wake up with an idea or something important I need to remember, because I always forget by morning.  I’d rather write it down than worry that I might forget, because worry will keep me awake.  It sounds a little OCD when I read this back, but I think it is more about me creating the most relaxing environment possible, without the urge to get up to go get something.

It isn’t rocket science, but those are my sleeping aids.  Even if I am not sleeping, I want to appreciate the relaxation time in my bed rather than getting stressed about not sleeping.  Sometimes that is the best I can do.  I think of my bed as a big, calm, white, ice floe in the constantly moving waters of everyday life.  Find rituals, scents, and textures that are personally calming for you and make your own ice floe as much of a haven as you can.  It is important.  If not sleep, at least gloriously restorative rest.

“Sleep is not a trivial issue. In our study it was associated with double the risk of a heart attack and up to four times the risk of stroke. Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease along with smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet. -World Health Organization

 

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Vanity And Me Style
    July 14, 2018 at 3:35 PM

    I don’t have any problems sleeping and consider myself very lucky. I had to stop by and take a look at those gorgeous Pyjamas though! xx

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 15, 2018 at 2:19 PM

      You are lucky. These pyjamas are a DREAM! I made sure I brought them with me on holiday today! xx

  • Reply
    chicatanyage
    July 15, 2018 at 2:52 PM

    Enjoyed this post. I will try the oil of Zirbe. I always envie people (like my husband) who sleep well. I definitely have bouts of insomnia and had great difficulty sleeping when my children were young. I do think that genetics play a large part in sleep. Both my parents, especially my mother and my brothers were not great sleepers. I find that regular meditation really helps plus I take 10 drops of magnesium at bedtime (it is a muscle relaxant). A hot bath with two handfuls of Epsom Salts is also very helpful. I also find that I need a routine and try to go to bed and get up at roughtly the same time.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 16, 2018 at 11:33 AM

      Let me know how you get on with the oil, Josephine. I also envy (and sort of hate!) people who fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. Lots of people in my family can have catnaps sitting up in a chair, or on the airplane. I’m pretty sure they must be from another planet!! I need to add magnesium back in again; I used to do that and forgot about it. Routine is key; making our brains expect sleep at exact times helps create the ‘automaticity’ that I want. xx

  • Reply
    Mithra Ballesteros
    July 15, 2018 at 3:16 PM

    You look absolutely darling in your pjs among those pillows. Makes me think of all the fun sleepovers I had as a kid.

    I have found that since I’m no longer drinking alcohol, I do sleep better. Less but better. And I loved your nugget about our kids’ DNA. But Lisa, you don’t mention the English trick that I sometimes rely on – warm milk before bed. Why do I think that works? Old wive’s tale??

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 16, 2018 at 11:28 AM

      I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to, and the quality of sleep I get on an alcohol-free night is definitely much better.

      I think milk has a relaxing compound in it that aids sleep for a lot of people, but I don’t drink milk, so I don’t use that one! Thanks for pointing it out though, because that is a good tip for someone needing to add that into their sleep routine. Everything is worth a try! xx

  • Reply
    Michelle
    July 15, 2018 at 4:54 PM

    Thoroughly interesting post Sparkles. Kiki & I were discussing her sleep yesterday as a matter of fact. She brought it up, saying she wants to go back to not having her phone by her bed because she can’t control herself.
    I’m so pleased she’s finally come around to what I’ve been saying all along. The phone before bedtime will mess up her sleep & become a bad habit she’ll struggle to break.
    I think it’s going to be a major issue for her generation. They all have their faces pressed up to the screen while they’re in bed.
    I’m sure many of them believe the phone helps them fall asleep. I know Kiki did until we talked about it a while ago.
    I let her come around in her own time because I don’t want it to be something I decide for her. Although I have to admit it was a worry.
    Like you, I know how important a good night sleep is. However it wasn’t until I had children that lack of sleep had such a negative impact on my every day life. When we’re young & bullet proof we take it for granted.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 16, 2018 at 11:24 AM

      Like Kiki, when I can’t sleep, sometimes I grab my phone and have a little scroll. Two hours later, after I’ve disappeared down some interesting political rabbit hole on Twitter, I realise how unrestful it is! I’m glad she’s realising this early on; we NEED down time for our brains to unwind and process things, not give them more data to deal with. I often find I have dreams about what I’ve been looking at on my phone (even Instagram, the horror!) before bedtime, so the influence is obvious. I really need my sleep and/or rest to be a good person… coffee only goes so far! xx

  • Reply
    Jean Lipham Oates
    July 15, 2018 at 7:40 PM

    Like grandmother, like mother, like daughter….Sorry! You didn’t mention entertaining yourself with taking down the wallpaper when you should be napping at the age of one!

    • Reply
      No Fear of Fashion
      July 15, 2018 at 8:43 PM

      Hahaha.. that is funny. Taking down the wallpaper. Like a little kitten. I used to inspect my nappy at that age. Great stuff to play with. Yuck for my mom.
      Greetje

      • Reply
        Lisa
        July 16, 2018 at 11:20 AM

        Hahaha, how awful for your Mom! xx

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 16, 2018 at 11:21 AM

      Yes, I suppose I can blame this one on my genes! xx

  • Reply
    No Fear of Fashion
    July 15, 2018 at 8:46 PM

    I feel bad for you, but perhaps it is meant to be. Perhaps you are destined to do great deeds in the extra time. I sleep rather well. Sorry.
    Greetje

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 16, 2018 at 11:20 AM

      I’m sort of used to it now, after so many years. I actually get angry at my husband for falling asleep within two minutes of being in bed, usually while I’m mid-sentence 🙂 You’re lucky to sleep well. xx

  • Reply
    Abby@Midlifecrisisnut
    July 15, 2018 at 10:18 PM

    Loved hearing from you Sleepless Beauty! I Sorry to hear about your night-night struggles though! I’ve had the worst sleep since the menopause, and right before that there was the kids. So yes, I haven’t really slept well for some 13 years. On the positive note, I absolutely adore your pjs and your bed linens, not to mention your super kings size bed! You look like a queen!!! Lot of love ❤️ xx Abby

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 24, 2018 at 3:13 PM

      Yes, children are little sleep-wreckers, aren’t they!? I love these pjs and linens too. So nice to hear from you, my love! xx

  • Reply
    LA CONTESSALA CONTESSA
    July 18, 2018 at 5:30 PM

    Sleep has been a bit BAD for me this past year………..I am a person who needs 9 hours to look my BEST and I can still take a NAP in the afternoon!I am amazed how fast I fall asleep these days………..within seconds of going to bed but I’m awake in the middle of the night for NO apparent reason!The husbands alarm goes off at 4 am…….sometimes I’m wide awake before it goes off……..other times I do not hear it!
    I remember my Mother always had a book beside her bed and would READ than be able to go back to sleep in the middle of the night!I think they have programmed WOMEN THIS WAY!!!!!!!
    YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL and I love your bedding!DO you like that TALL VELVET HEADBOARD?I have been thinking about one!!!!!!
    I have been OFF the computer lately………….so I’m LATE!
    XO

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 24, 2018 at 3:11 PM

      Oh the waking up in the middle of the night is such a drag, I do hate that. It takes me forever to get back to sleep if I allow even a single thought to take root in my head. Like your mother, reading always helps me sleep at night, and gives me good information to dream about sometimes!

      I do love the tall velvet headboard. We’ve had it for about 8 years and it has worn really well, despite my son using it as a climbing wall. xx

  • Reply
    Karen
    July 19, 2018 at 12:46 AM

    Silk pajamas and a silk pillowcase are what I love about going to bed. I also always need a glass of water and a small fan.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 24, 2018 at 3:07 PM

      Oh I love the idea of being all surrounded in silk. It sounds like I need to add at least a silk pillowcase to my routine. xx

  • Reply
    Is This Mutton?
    July 24, 2018 at 12:10 PM

    I always feel that sleep is one of the few things I’m any good at, although they think I;m mad at work because I’m usually asleep by 9.30 (I wake up at 5). I always put any devices on aircraft mode to avoid that distracting light flashing.I swear by silk pillowcases (to avoid a crumpled face) and reading something unchallenging (for me, the Tudors).

    • Reply
      Lisa
      July 24, 2018 at 3:08 PM

      Another good recommendation for a silk pillowcase, I’ve just placed an order on Amazon. You’re so lucky that you’re a good sleeper, Gail. xx

  • Reply
    whatlizzyloves
    July 26, 2018 at 1:58 PM

    Oh Lisa, I know exactly how you feel and I know we have discussed this on our group chat before now. I bought the Zirben Wurfel after seeing it on your YouTube video and highly recommend it too. There’s just something soothing about it isn’t there. Like you, I only have plain white bed linens, edged in grey and always get the highest possible thread count. I might invest in a silk pillowcase though as they seem to come highly recommended via the comments above. Sweet dreams lovely xxxx

    • Reply
      Lisa
      August 6, 2018 at 9:41 PM

      I’m so glad the Zirben oil works for you too; it really changes my mindset, somehow. Soothing is exactly the right word. Thank you, Liz xx

  • Reply
    geordiegrandma
    August 2, 2018 at 8:10 AM

    Love the post! I’m putting the Swiss rock pine on my list of things to buy – thanks for the tip.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      August 6, 2018 at 9:39 PM

      I’m so pleased! Let me know how you get on with the Swiss Rock Pine; people have really liked it. xx

  • Reply
    Tracy Patil
    August 4, 2018 at 6:58 PM

    Great post. Your pyjamas are lush and so is your bed. Insomnia is something I suffer from, menopause and medication are to blame in my case. Reading a book and having a glass of milk help. I usually do a few yoga poses for bedtime( which I found on Pinterest) The last thing I do is think about something pleasant, a holiday or a plan perhaps. I love your ideas and I’m going to give them a try too.😘

    • Reply
      Lisa
      August 6, 2018 at 9:38 PM

      Thanks so much, Tracy! I’m so crazy about these pyjamas; they’re so cosy. I like your idea to think about something pleasant before bedtime; I often dream and think about the last thing that I’ve seen. xx

  • Reply
    Stella
    August 10, 2018 at 11:13 AM

    I read this post when you published it on Facebook, while I was looking for something to read and finally sleep on a super insomniac night haha! I have a big bottle of water as a security blanket too on my nightstand. I just can’t sleep if it’s not there, so totally getting you on that one. What helps me is trying to make positive thoughts and imagine of beautiful things, or things I am grateful for, as most of the times the cause of my insomnia is overthinking and worrying about things.
    Thanks for the tips my dear! By the way those pjs are so beautiful!
    xoxo
    Stella
    http://www.stellaasteria.com

    • Reply
      Lisa
      August 11, 2018 at 3:05 PM

      Yes, gratitude is something I try to do before sleep too. I think that is such a good idea to put your brain on that track so it soaks into your subconscious mind. Thank you, I am loving the pjs too! xx

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