Heather Darwall-Smith ’ s book , The Science of Sleep : Stop Chasing a Good Night ’ s Sleep and Let It Find You , is published by DK at £ 14.99
“ It ’ s a biological truth that we have to sleep . Our body knows how to do it . So what is it that stops us doing it ?” Heather Darwall-Smith , a psychotherapist specialising in sleep-related issues , has been trying to answer this question for years .
Her new book , The Science of Sleep , uses a bold visual approach to try to simplify some of the more complex concepts around sleep , seeking to answer 100 of the most common questions she hears in her clinic . But Heather ’ s advice for those of us seeking better slumber is actually quite straightforward .
It ’ s all about making a space that you actively want to be in . And there are no rules for that , other than your personal preferences . “ Sleep is a sensory process , so I encourage people to think about using the five senses in the bedroom ,” she tells us . “ So is your room decorated in a way you visually like ? Do you like the touch of your bedding ? What sounds do you like in the room ? How do you want it to smell ?”
These are personal choices unique to each of us and Heather is keen to
recommend that people find their own rituals . “ What are the things that you could put in place that become a trigger for the brain that makes the association with ‘ I ’ m going to sleep now ’? It ’ s very individual and should absolutely be rooted in pleasure .” She likens it to training a baby : create consistency , do the same things , at the same time , over and over again to tell the body it ’ s time to go to sleep . This consistency also applies to Heather ’ s one golden rule : get up at the same time of day , every day . “ That consistent timing sets your circadian rhythm for the day and signals to the body that in 12 to 14 hours you ’ re going to start producing melatonin , which makes you sleep .”
Human bodies follow the solar process of light and dark , and as the circadian rhythm is reset by light , there are various things we can do to help this process . Heather ’ s advice ? “ In the bedroom it ’ s really important to get it as dark as possible at night and then flood the room with light first thing in the morning . Flooding the system with light resets your body clock and tells your brain , ‘ it ’ s
time to wake up ’. In the winter , you can use daylight bulbs in your ceiling
Which makes blue-light devices in the bedroom a big no-no . The blue wavelength is the most stimulating as it stops the production of melatonin . “ The light disrupts your sleepiness and tells the brain to wake up ,” warns Heather . “ And because it ’ s such a concentrated amount of light in a small space it ’ s basically like shining a torch . Using a device between 11pm and 4am is pretty much disastrous to
Finally , Heather ’ s keen to dispel the eight-hours-a-night myth . “ The idea that we ’ ll close our eyes , sleep for eight hours and wake up refreshed is absolutely not how it works .” Instead , she says , what we need is good quality sleep , for a consistent , regular amount of time . And this is also a very individual requirement .
“ Do what feels nice for you ,” concludes Heather . “ It doesn ’ t need to be more complicated than that .” →
Find out more about Heather ’ s
work at heatherdarwallsmith . com