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This is what an insomniac's bedside table looks like
January 16th 2020 / 0 comment
From everyday essentials to desperate measures, this is what sleep-challenged GTG editor Victoria Woodhall relies on to get through the night
I'm someone who has been sleep-challenged for most of my life - my mum used to give me a nip of brandy when I was a teenager and stressing about exams (70s' parenting, I survived). I was, and still am, a classic over-thinker and worrier.
Experts all agree that good sleep routine starts in the hours leading up to it and I know from experience that the quality of my sleep is a reflection of how well I have processed my day; the more I'm hanging on to things and ruminating, the less chance there is of letting go. To combat this, I start every day with either yoga - a self-practice of Mysore-style Ashtanga which, although intense, is beautifully quiet and meditative. Or a 20-minute meditation, which I've finally cracked thanks to a course in Vedic Meditation (the type that Harry and Meghan do) at the London Meditation Centre, which I can't recommend highly enough. It finally made meditation a habit for me.
Both these practices help me to hold on to things much less - and if I have had a bad night, they instantly give me energy to face the day. It takes discipline and time - and if you think you don't have time, I hear you. I have two children to get to school and a full-time commuter job to work around. But I've trained myself to become more of a morning person. It's hard when you've had a troubled night, but stick with it. I don't always succeed, but 80 per cent is good enough.
By my bedside, I keep an arsenal of things that I turn to if I know that falling asleep is tricky or in case I wake up at stupid o'clock with no chance of dropping back off. I don't need all of it all the time and sometimes none of it works - but here’s my bedside list in order of everyday essentials to desperate measures.
Slip Silk Eye Mask, £50
Putting my eye mask on is like a signal to my body that it's time to sleep, the gentle weight on my eyes is soothing the for the nervous system. The one in my picture was a Christmas gift and is by Olivia Von Halle, £75. It's the most comfortable one I have tried and is large enough to block out most light. I have a few more from Slip £50 as well as cheaper silk ones from Amazon for £12.99.
Why so many? I toss and turn so much that they always migrate in the night, so I like to have more to hand to reach for without waking myself up unduly - and some in the wash.
This lavender, vetiver and chamomile pillow spray beats all the other pillow sprays hands down. Many fellow troubled sleepers have messaged me to say that this too is their top pick.
Healthspan High Strength CBD Oil Drops, from £13.95
Taking CBD sublingually is said to be better than tablets as it goes straight to your bloodstream. There's no firm evidence yet as to the relationship between CBD and sleep, but it's said to help with wellbeing. I know several people anecdotally who say they sleep better with it and miss it when they don't take it. I'm still not sure, but I take it anyway. Read our doctor's explainer on CBD here.
Magnesium is also a must for me I also take Healthspan Magnesium tablets £7.95 for 90, which have a good dose of 375mg per tablet (100 per cent of the NRV or recommended daily dose) as well as B vitamins to support the nervous system.
A bite splint - from £500
This for me should go right at the top of my list. I have been wearing this guard (a bit like a bleaching tray but a little more sturdy) on my bottom teeth to combat tooth grinding for about ten years after my dentist Dr David Cook of the London Holistic Dental Centre explained the link between teeth grinding and poor sleep - it stops you getting into the deeper more restorative phases of sleep because you are constantly active. I was transformed from the first moment I wore one, once I'd got over the shock of the cost. Admittedly I was so desperate for decent sleep at that point I would have paid double. I used the money I had saved some to redo my floor. To this day, it still has the old lino on, but I don't care, I sleep so much better so my days are better. It's now my most treasured possession.
A non-taxing read and a notebook and pen
My bedtime routine always starts with reading (currently Emily Maitlis' brilliant memoir Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News, £7.49). I always have something that I know won't trigger any anxious thoughts if I find myself having to start my sleep routine all over again at 2am, because I'm still irritatingly conscious. The Magic of Sleep: A Bedside Companion by Calm, £6.69 has some great anecdotes, tips and illustrations and makes a lovely gift if you know someone who's going through a tough sleep time.
I always have a notebook and pen to write down my to-do list or if I'm playing over a conversation or an argument. I almost never go back and check what I've written. The simple act of putting my thoughts on paper is a way of letting them go, of delegating them from my brain and letting the notebook take the strain. There's good evidence that journaling can help manage anxiety and depression, although I've never been so dedicated as to do a Bullet Journal.
A.Vogel Health Dormeasan Sleep Valerian and Hops Oral Drops, £10.50 for 50ml
Valerian and hops are time-honoured herbs for helping you sleep. The smell and taste of valerian is unmistakeably 'old socks' whichever way you take it whether that's in tablet, tincture (my preference - swift and effective) or tea (Elle Macpherson makes the best: WelleCo The Super Elixir Sleep Welle Fortified Calming Tea Caddy, £48). If it gets past midnight and I’ve been lying awake for ages, 25 drops of this tincture by A Vogel in water help knock me out.
You can’t buy melatonin, the sleep hormone in the UK so anyone going to mainland Europe or the US is tasked with bringing me back some tablets. Whenever I've been on trips abroad with other beauty editors there's always a rush on the airport pharmacy to stock up. I've just discovered these drops from trusted French supplement and skincare brand Aime which you can order online. I take the recommended 13 drops before bed under the tongue for 1mg melatonin, which is quite a low dose. It's combined with the adaptogenic herb ashwaganda, which helps manage stress and has a pleasant lemony taste.
I bought this heart-shaped rose quartz crystal with my late mum and it always reminds me of her. It’s all about feeling safe, the message your nervous system (specifically the vagus nerve, which helps regulate stress) needs to hear for sleep to happen. It's quite literally my touchstone for being looked after as a child. Rose quartz, if you are into crystals, has the energy of love and nurture.
If I wake ridiculously early, I plug into Radio 4 on my radio (ask me anything about Farming Today). I try not to have my phone in the bedroom. I love this Acoustic Sheep headband with embedded earphones. It's super comfy and you can drop off wearing it without being woken by that awful jabbing ear pain you get when you've worn earphones too long. Yes, podcasts would be a good idea, but I refuse to do any scrolling in the bedroom (blue light, notification angst and all that). I just go straight to the radio and listen to whatever is on, the more boring the better. After decades of this, I can pretty much recite the Shipping Forecast.
Prescription tablets for sleep and hormonal balance
Zopiclone is the most commonly prescribed sleeping tablet (you can read about it on the NHS website here) and is used to treat bouts of insomnia but only on a short term basis (usually two to four weeks) as it can become less effective also addictive long-term. I take this as a last resort if I know sleep isn’t going to happen any time soon and it's not too late at night (you can feel groggy in the morning if it hasn't worn off). One pack lasts me a few years.
There's definitely a stigma around taking sleeping tablets and as someone who's known for takes the yoga/healthy eating option when offered, people are surprised that I would resort to a chemical cosh. I resisted for years, but I've grown to be more of a pragmatist and never normally need it for more than three nights on the trot. Whatever gets you through - and this has saved me from the desperate weeks of sleeplessness I used to experience, which took a heavy toll on my mental health.
Hormonal changes in perimenopause can also wreck your sleep. I've found having my hormones levels checked incredibly helpful. On the advice of the brilliant consultant gynaecologist Dr Tania Adib I now take a low dose of progesterone in tablet form (available on prescription from the GP). It's linked to sleep in that it produces the neurotransmitter GABA, which aids sleep. Progesterone levels but drops towards the end of the menstrual cycle if there's no fertilized egg. The result is that some women can feel anxious and wired just before their period (in my case a few days before). What's even more annoying, is that in perimenopause and menopause, progesterone production naturally tails off anyway which is a double whammy for insomniacs. Thanks to a good doctor, my pre-period insomnia bouts are a thing of the past.
For the morning after a bad night and for life. I have almost as many mats as I do eye masks. I love this velvety eco one with uplifting slogans. Phantai donates 10 per cent to Young Minds, the young person's mental health charity. It's also washable, with a microfibre top and rubber base.
Victoria is Editorial Director of Get The Gloss. Follow her @victoriawoodhall