Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

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I was never one of those kids who was afraid of the dark. I loved the cloak of invisibility that it gave me. And while there is nothing I love more than a bright, sunny day, I have become pretty obsessed with darkness over the years – not in an ominous way (as in ‘going over to the dark side’), but in terms of the important role it plays in my wellness.

You really ought to stay in a hotel room with me, sometime, to fully understand my obsession with darkness. I travel with a roll of black gaffer tape, the better to ensure a good night’s sleep undisturbed by the cockpit’s-worth of blinking lights that many modern hotel rooms feature. My first task, on checking in (even before switching on the kettle and attacking the free shortbread), is to eliminate as many of those lights as possible with two neatly-snipped squares of gaffer tape. Message lights on phones. TV control lights. Aircon on/off lights. Charging electrical gadgets. And of course, the light ‘leaking’ through the edges of the curtains.

What I’ve discovered is that gaffer tape can also be lightly stuck to pretty much any wallpaper (well, I mightn’t try it on a gold hand-painted mural) without damaging it. So yes, I am that weird (maybe certifiable) creature who gaffer-tapes the edges of the curtains to the hotel room walls – the most extreme example of which was in a ‘presidential suite’ a hotel once upgraded me to when they’d lost my booking. Last done up in the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, is my guess, it featured ‘shortie’ curtains that ran along the entire 10-metre window which I then taped every inch to the wall. Exactly what kind of bondage game housekeeping thought I’d been up to when the found the tape I’d peeled off in the morning and put it in the bin, I’ve no idea – but I did enjoy a really good night’s sleep. (Why don’t I just wear a sleep mask? Because – along with earplugs – I find them a bit claustrophobic. Fine on an aeroplane when there’s no alternative, but otherwise, a no-no for me.)

By now, you may well think I’m completely tonto. But in reality, light has a profound effect on sleep. I realise I’m an extreme example in terms of how even a small level of light affects me deeply, but it’s been scientifically observed that insufficient darkness throughout the night can lead to frequent, long periods of wakefulness. Of course, we’re increasingly aware of the impact of the blue light from our phones on sleep; I’ve written before about the fact that if I look at my phone (never mind computer) after about 8.30 pm, it’s the equivalent of drinking an espresso in terms of the effect on my slumber. But experts now agree that bedrooms should be as dark as possible – which includes (as we do at home) having blackout linings to curtains, and ensuring window coverings are fitted to avoid slivers of street light or early morning light from seeping in. (Ah, so that’s why the pelmet was invented…!)

According to Cheng Chi Lee, who studies circadian rhythms at University of Texas Medical School, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests we should seek out darkness for its surprising effects on health and behaviour. There’s one particularly fascinating study in which tamoxifen was used on cancer cells in mice. One control group was kept kept in cycles of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of complete darkness, while another the dark stage of the experiment was replaced with roughly the amount of light that might sneak under a hospital door. Even in such low levels, the cancer cells became resistant to the drug. And although this medical research was carried out on mice (and no, I’m not thrilled about that either), the scientists from Tulane University in New Orleans believe it could have implications for how cancer patients receive their treatment.

It’s well known that interfering with workers’ body clocks, meanwhile, can seriously impact on health. My hunch is that the winking lights in bedrooms and sleep environments will eventually be revealed to be more damaging than we currently understand. (But if you must have a clock with the time on? Make sure it has red digits, rather than blue or green; it’s been found to have the least impact on sleep.)

We were never built to live in such light environments as we enjoy now. For millions of years, people went to bed when it got dark and woke when it was light. Even now, when we’re lucky enough to find ourselves in nature, somewhere truly dark – and I support the Dark Skies movement, a campaign to eliminate light pollution – we feel connected to the universe in a way that feels truly primitive and (for me, at least) very, very grounding.

So while I’m eternally grateful to Thomas Edison for the invention of the light bulb – just miraculous, eh?! –it doesn’t surprise me at all to find that these unnatural, albeit low levels of night-time light may have impact on our wellbeing. If asked to make a list of our basic survival needs, food and water of course come top. Warmth, too. But I certainly know that darkness is essential for my quality of sleep, and my overall equilibrium. So if the Gaffer Tape Marketing Board is looking for a new ‘face’, I’m your woman.

Night, everyone. And lights out!

Does It Matter If You’re An Early Bird Or A Night Owl?

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Some of us leap out of bed in the morning with all the gusto of a Duracell bunny, while others don’t fire up their energy until later in the day. Aside from feeling a little groggy in the mornings, up until now there hasn’t been anything wrong with being a night owl. What morning birds achieve before work, they fulfill in the evening. Read More…

How To Boost Your Overnight Skincare Routine

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New figures suggest that we’re honing in on our overnight skincare routines. Sleep has always been big business, but now we’re as obsessed with boosting our skin as we are with getting enough shut-eye. According to NPD UK, sales of night creams in the UK have risen sharply in the past year and the night-time skincare market was valued at £43 million between October 2017 and September 2018. Read More…

Is Overtiredness Stopping You From Sleeping

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Whether they go forward or back, the change in the clocks can often impact our sleep. This weekend, they’re going back so we can all enjoy an extra hour in bed on Sunday morning, but be warned, the days are about to get shorter and the cold, dark nights are going to become longer.

Sleep, or lack of it, is big business. In the US, its been reported that some have resorted to paying anywhere between $1100 and $5000 a month on sleep coaches in a bid to ease their insomnia. On the other side of the pond, since the clocks went forward in March, there has been plenty of discussion about sleep – how much we should be getting, how to get more et cetera.

But more recently, experts have been suggesting that overtiredness could be impacting the amount and quality of shut-eye we’re getting. Physiologist and sleep therapist, Nerina Ramlakhan told the Guardian, ‘We have become restless as a society – and that places more demands on us when we get into bed at night.’

‘We have lost the rituals and practices that gave us little respites during the day. In the past, you would go to the supermarket and, while you were waiting in the queue, you’d daydream, be a bit bored, look around,’ she says. ‘Now, any window like that will be filled by looking at your phone, answering some emails, sorting out your Amazon account.’

How can you reduce overtiredness?

The obvious answer might appear to be get more sleep, but as Ramlakhan has explained, too many of us are in constant overdrive during the waking hours that we’re too wired to relax at night. We should be looking at ways the tweak our lifestyle and introduce moments of respite throughout our days.

While it is easier said than done, limiting the amount of time you spend on your phone can help. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that those who don’t switch-off from work-related emails and activities at home struggle to relax and recharge for the next day.

The iPhone Screen Time app is a good way to introduce time restrictions on emails, social media and various apps. Putting your phone on DND (Do Not Disturb) between the hours of 6 pm and 7 am can also help ease you off late night work emails and mindless scrolling of your Instagram or Facebook accounts.

As with every article on sleep, we had to drop in meditation and yoga. Both practices are good at helping you to switch off and reconnect with yourself. If the idea of an hour of Vinyasa Flow feels you with dread, try swimming or joining your local bouldering club – both require you to leave your phone in the locker and keep your mind focused on the activity at hand.

If you get those moments of tightness in your chest or want something to help ease your stress, look to Magnolia Rhodiola Complex, £26. It’s a supplement we recommend time and time again for the simple fact that it does genuinely offer some relief. Interestingly, new research has also suggested that your other half’s body odour can also help you to de-stress, so keeping a T-shirt aside could potentially do the trick too.

What if you still can’t sleep?

If you’re still struggling to sleep after introducing pockets of rest during the day, it might be worth looking at your bedroom environment. Is the temperature cool enough? Is there any light coming through the curtains? And, is there a noise that could be silenced? None of these things are particularly ground-breaking, but a lot of us don’t have good sleep hygiene. For instance, not eating an hour or two before bed, or partaking in an intense cardio class too close to bedtime.

Upping your levels of melatonin (sleep hormone) can also help you to drift off (Cherry Night, £25.95, by Viridian is a good option). But, this does take a week or so to take effect. If you want a little helping hand in the first instance, look to Sleep Tight, £25.50, which contains a range of relaxing and sleep-inducing herbs, including magnesium, oat straw and ashwagandha.

Could Tapping Reduce Your Stress Levels?

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We all have those moments when everything mounts up. For some it lasts for mere moments, for others it can go on for days or weeks. It could be a mammoth project at work, a renovation at home, or an amalgamation of overwhelming things. Even the toughest, most mentally and emotionally stable people waver on occasions. A tightness in your chest that takes more than a couple of deep breaths to loosen or a racing mind keeping you up until 3 am.

There are around three million people in the UK who suffer with anxiety disorders. While there are prescription medication that can ease anxiety, there are also plenty of natural remedies that don’t have any known side effects. Magnolia Rhodiola Complex, £26, is the one that Shabir recommends time and time again as the blend of herbs not only helps you to relax, but also makes your body more resilient to stress.

Over the past year or so, another technique has been receiving a fair amount of attention, tapping.

What is tapping?

Tapping, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), is essentially like acupuncture but without the needles. Instead, you use your fingertips to tap on the meridian pressure points outlined in Chinese medicine to help release blockages of energy.

While tapping is heavily influenced by traditional Chinese medicine techniques, it wasn’t invented until the 90s by a man called Gary Craig. Since then some practitioners have suggested that the technique can help ease phobias, chronic pain and addictions, as well as help reduce anxiety and stress levels by lowering your cortisol levels.

So, how do you ‘tap’?

Not everyone is going to feel comfortable about tapping various parts of their body in public, but there are a couple of options that can be done discreetly on a crowded bus. It’s also surprisingly easy to mentally get into it. Unlike meditation where you’re encouraged to focus on blank space, when it comes to tapping you hone in on the issue at hand and target the negative emotion or stress. At the same time you tap up to seven times on the key meridian points.

If you’re not au fait with Chinese medicine, the key points to ease stress are found on the side of your hand; the inner section of your eyebrows; to the side and below your eye socket; underneath your nose; on the crease between your lip and chin; your collar bone; just below your armpit; and the top of your head. If you want to follow a specific routine, it’s worth looking up The Tapping Solution, which offers short video tutorials and help finding tapping experts near you.

What are the alternatives?

For those who still remain unconvinced about tapping parts of their body, there are plenty of other methods to relieve moments of stress and anxiety. Breathing properly sounds very straightforward, but most of us don’t do it correctly. The result is higher stress levels and poor posture.

Getting enough sleep is obvious, but if you’re stressed out it’s likely that you struggle to drift off too. A lot of experts recommend partaking in at least two hours of good cardio exercise each week and avoiding eating at least two hours before bed.

There’s also some research to suggest that setting out a structured sleep routine can help. It might sound ridiculously simple, but when you think about it, do you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day? If you need a little extra help, Shabir recommends Sleep Tight, £25.50. It goes without saying that combining it with some light tapping could be just the ticket to help you drift off…

How Much Sleep Should We Be Getting?

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Eight has always been deemed as the magic number when it comes to the amount of hours we’re supposed to sleep each night. Yet most experts cast the net wider and suggest anywhere between seven and nine hours will ensure you look and feel good. While some of us are lucky to get six hours of shut-eye a night during the week, earlier this year scientists revealed that you can catch up on lost sleep by pressing snooze at the weekend.

But, before you get carried away and whittle away your Saturday morning in bed, this week a new study revealed that you don’t need as much sleep as you think. According to new research presented at the ESC Congress, between six to eight hours of sleep is the healthiest amount necessary to ward off heart disease and strokes.

The study found that those who had less than six hours of sleep were 11% more likely to develop coronary issues, while those who got more than eight hours were 33% more likely.

Author of the study, Dr Fountas said: “Our findings suggest that too much or too little sleep may be bad for the heart. More research is needed to clarify exactly why, but we do know that sleep influences biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation — all of which have an impact on cardiovascular disease.”

So, how can you ensure you get the right amount of sleep regularly? Here’s some helpful tips…

How can you get a better night’s sleep?

First and foremost, stop worrying about the amount of sleep you’re getting. The more you stress about it, the less likely you are to drift off. If you struggle to switch off and stop your mind from whirling, we recommend taking Magnolia Rhodiola Complex. It’s a natural remedy to help reduce anxiety and relax your mind.

Other tricks, such as keeping your bedroom cool and banning any digital devices at least an hour before you go to bed can also help. Upping your magnesium levels will also help. Despite being a key mineral, a lot of us are deficient in magnesium, which can affect our mood, energy levels and sleep patterns. The best way to absorb magnesium is by taking a bath with flakes. If you don’t have a bath, try Better You’s Magnesium Sleep Lotion and massage it into your feet before bed.

What are the best natural remedies for a good night’s sleep?

Shabir has written several pieces on Cherry Night by Viridian and regularly recommends it for the simple fact that it works. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and the lightly flavoured powder helps to top up your natural levels over time. You do need to persevere with this supplement though as it takes at least two weeks to feel the benefits.

If you prefer taking a capsule, try Sleep Tight by World Organic. It has a blend of magnesium, magnolia and tart cherries to help you relax, unwind and drift off. You just need to take two capsules an hour before bed.

What if you’re getting too much sleep?

When it comes to sleep the focus is often on not getting enough, but there are some people who feel like they can sleep forever and yet still wake up feeling groggy and tired. “This is often because you have too much cortisol, the stress hormone,” says Shabir. It’s worthwhile taking Magnolia Rhodiola, or looking into adaptogens, which help to reduce stress and boost your energy levels. “Moringa helps increase resistance to stress, whether this stressor is physical, chemical or biological,” says Shabir. “It also helps to bring the body back into balance no matter where the stress is coming from and it does not interfere with the body’s normal functions.”

Adding a couple of spoonfuls of Moringa Green Superleaf Powder to your morning juice or smoothie will help you feel a little more energised. And, you can sprinkle it on your salad or mix it into your soup to recharge throughout the day too.