What kept you awake last night? Was it the pile of presents under the stairs still waiting to be wrapped or the fact that there aren’t any gifts there yet? What on earth are you going to cook for your vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free cousin that won’t take three days' prep? Or maybe it’s the bigger issues stopping you from getting some shut-eye – at this time of year, we start to think more about our financial status, our family relationships and all the things we did (or didn’t) achieve in the past 12 months.
During the festive period, it’s more important than ever to get a good night’s sleep. While we are sleeping, our bodies and brains undergo a restorative process, making us better equipped to deal with whatever pressure may come at us the next day. In other words, if you sleep well, you’re less likely to break down in the middle of John Lewis because they’ve sold out of GHD straighteners for your niece. But, at this time of the year, it isn’t as easy as it sounds – when we get stressed, our brains create a hormone called cortisol, which sends adrenaline through our body, making it tough to go to sleep.
So, apart from lavender pillow spray, aligning our chakras and having a long, warm bath, what practical steps can we take to tackle Christmas, pillow-first? I spoke to sleep expert and author of Sleep Like A Boss Christine Hansen for her tips.
Train your brain to switch ON to autopilot
It might sound a little arduous at first, but practising the exact same routine every single night will eventually train your brain to go on autopilot to snooze town. “Going to sleep is a process – think of it as a car shifting down gears from the sixth into first, getting ready to stop,” explains Hansen, “so even if you are having a stressful time, if you do the same routine then your brain takes over,” she says. But apart from the obvious teeth brushing and book reading, what makes for a calming bedtime? “A couple of steps that I really like doing is opening the window, making sure there’s no clutter in your room, making sure that lights outside of your room aren’t too bright and preparing your clothes for the next day.” Anything that gives us an extra five minutes in bed the next day sounds good to us.
Invest in a real alarm clock
Yes, they still exist. Too often have I innocently gone to turn on my phone alarm and, an hour later, I’m lost in the deepest depths of Instagram. We’ve been told time and time again to stop looking at our phones before bed and we all – at least, I do – pretend to know what blue light is and why it is bad for us. “Every colour has a frequency and blue has the shortest frequency,” Hansen explains. “Artificial blue light has an even shorter frequency and the problem is that when it goes through our retina, it interferes with our melatonin production.” Melatonin is the yummy sleep hormone that tells our bodies it’s time to switch off – essentially the opposite of whatever keeps us addicted to scrolling all night. “The answer is quite simple,” says Hansen. “Just leave your charger in another room.” Sounds easy enough – until you sleep through your morning meetings. “You can still get alarm clocks that aren’t attached to your phone, so use those. Or you can put your ringer on very loud and you have to actually get up and turn it off!”
If you have a drink, choose red wine
Here’s the crux of it: if you want a good night’s sleep, don’t drink. Not a drop must pass your lips if you want to feel fresh the next day. Of course, at Christmas, this isn’t an ideal suggestion and, very often, it’s not even possible. “The mixture of the sugar and the alcohol interferes with certain stages of your sleep, especially the restorative deep sleep,” says Hansen, “but in the case of wine, these effects are seen more with white than red.” So, if you do have to drink – and remember, you shouldn’t – opt for a glass (not bottle) of red. “Red alcohol is a little healthier because it has resveratrol in it, which helps our DNA stay healthy and has antioxidants in, but is only healthy in tolerable doses. It will still affect your sleep, but less so.” Limiting your drinking to one glass of red wine might make the office Christmas party a little less fun, but you’ll thank Hansen’s sound advice the next day.
They’re called power naps for a reason
Once reserved for the elderly and toddlers, Hansen is a huge believer in naps. Although, admittedly, not all of us have a flexible enough job to make these a habit, they are good thing to adopt if you have some holiday to take over the Christmas period. “Naturally, our body starts to have a dip between 2pm and 3pm – it’s all to do with our natural rhythm. “Coffee just stops you from becoming more tired, but it doesn’t give you energy. A nap actually gives you around two or three hours worth of extra energy," she says. “Naps should be between 20 and 30 minutes, no longer than that.” According to Hansen, even NASA train their astronauts in the art of the power nap as a way to recuperate and rejuvenate their bodies after enduring long periods of zero gravity. And here’s the best bit – you have to practise napping to get good at them. It does have to be at the same time every day, though, so maybe it’s worth popping it in your calendar – the last thing you want to do is double-book your nap.
AND, FINALLY, GET THE RIGHT KIT
Buy lightly scented candles and low lighting for ambience, treat yourself to a new dressing gown and some woolly socks, and, 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 – I like linen, as it's breathable and gets better with age. Finally, if your mattress is more than 10 years old, replace it. Choosing one also doesn't have to be as overly complicated either – a simple medium-firm mattress will do the job. I've created an edit of some of my favourite sleep-time buys, below: