On Friday night, I slept through for the first time in a couple of weeks. When I woke up in the morning and realised that I hadn’t spent half the night pacing the kitchen, waiting for a mug of hot milk to spin round in the microwave, I almost punched the air. Finally, a day that wouldn't start on the back foot.
I'm well aware that I'm not the only person watching milk boil at 3am. The NHS says having problems sleeping affects one in three adults and I realise that my bout wasn’t an extreme case (in fact, a pattern of waking up in the middle of the night isn’t technically classified as “insomnia”.) I know that insomnia can be a debilitating problem that can impact people's lives (a nod here to all sleep-deprived parents and carers).
Having enough sleep is one of the biggest factors in affecting a person's wellbeing – above careers or money – according to a new survey by the National Centre for Social Research, out today. The poll found that more rested people were happier than those who struggled with their sleep. And while I know it would be too simplistic to say that the solution to the problem is “buy yourself a good mattress”, I do think a good bedroom helps, and by “good” I mean calm and uncluttered, and not one long due a clear-out, like mine. After all, there is a proven link between sleeplessness and mess, which acts as visual reminders of the day ahead and unfinished tasks.
It's important that comfort should win over style, too. Light gauzy curtains may look fabulously chic on the pages of a homes magazine, but if the street lights outside are so bright they keep you awake all night, what’s the point? Your vintage-lit bateau bed may look beautiful with your new House of Hackney wallpaper, but if it is rickety and squeaks when you so much as breathe, is it really something you want to spend a third of your life in?
A sleep-friendly bedroom requires a subtle alchemy of ingredients, but just a few small changes can make a difference. If you're going through a stressful patch, move your phone in another room or under the bed, as its blue light suppresses the melatonin in your brain that makes you sleepy. If you're waking early, buy blackout linings. John Lewis stocks ones with special thermal inners that will also block out draughts. Soundproof your room with deep-pile carpets and plush rugs, and make sure doors and windows are shut properly and don’t rattle in the wind. Have a soft wool dressing gown within grabbing distance – kitchens can get cold in the middle of the night.
When it comes to a bedroom scheme, I would almost go as far as saying that you need to err on the slightly dull side
If you are prone to noisy thoughts waking you up, pop a notepad under your bed so you can jot them down straight away and deal with them in the morning. And introduce air-purifying houseplants, such as peace lilies and mother-in-law's tongue; they emit oxygen at night, improving the air around you, so that you sleep better.
When it comes to a bedroom scheme, I would almost go as far as saying that you need to err on the slightly dull side – keep the big design statements for “public-facing rooms”, like a sitting room and kitchen. Subtle decoration will calm the eye and mind, so ditch big bold prints and hang small pictures on the wall, placing them at eye level so you can look at them when you’re lying in bed. In the same vein, choose paint shades that are soft and gentle or dark and cosy, and do yourself a favour and save the disco pink for another room.
If you’re one of those people who gets too hot for duvets, or if you sleep next to a human furnace, switch to bed sheets and blankets. You can also try John Lewis’ special temperature-controlling bedlinen, too. And keep the top of your bedside table clutter-free. You only need your bedside lamp on it – I repeat: you don’t need any other distractions.
Finally, if your mattress is more than 10 years old, replace it. It might not be the most exciting purchase in the world, but it is necessary. To choose the best one, the general rule is to assess how you sleep. If you sleep on your back, you probably need medium-firm; if you like to be on your side, soft is best. Firm mattresses are good for people who sleep on their fronts and if you do a bit of everything, experts recommend medium-soft, as it will mould to your body but provide you with a bit of support. (On a side note: if you’ve got small children, protect it against accidents with a mattress topper.)
And the small change I made this weekend? I bought two new sets of Puderviva bedlinen sets from Ikea. They’re a bit more expensive than ordinary cotton covers, but they wrap around the body nicely and feel softer and warmer on the skin. Bed sheets are often overlooked when making a bedroom more sleep-friendly and I think it’s worth investing in good-quality linen and Egyptian cotton, which, like denim, gets softer with age as you wash it.
It was a tiny tweak and although I slept better than I had done for weeks, granted it might not work for you. However, anything that I've suggested here – anything that ups the comfort factor, improves a night's sleep and makes the bedroom a nicer place – will always get my vote. And I know I will appreciate my new bed sheets next time I'm up at 3am, sipping hot milk. Sweet dreams.