If you’re hoping for a happy, healthy sex life - and of course a happy, healthy body in general - one key ingredient is getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, insomnia, which includes difficulty in staying asleep as well as nodding off, affects most of us at some time in our lives - and twice as many women as men. So what can you do about it?
For habitual insomniacs, developing a regular winding down ritual - such as the repetition of a soothing bath, brushing your teeth, moisturising your skin and reading for 10 minutes (preferably something that isn’t too exciting) - trains your mind into recognising that you’re slowing down for sleep. It also helps to keep to regular hours. Late nights, lie-ins and daytime naps all affect the body’s natural sleep-wake rhythms, so it’s always best to get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even at weekends and especially after a sleepless night.
If you’re kept awake by worry, try ‘dumping’ it by writing a list or cathartic letter. It can be surprisingly helpful.
Certain smells also slow a racing mind. Guy Vincent, Aveda’s Head Perfumer, explains, ‘When you inhale aroma molecules, an electric impulse is sent to the part of the brain associated with memory and emotions where it creates a psychological reaction. An impulse is also sent to the hypothalamus, which controls the stress cycle in the body and can create a physiological reaction.”
Bedtime helpers include Aveda’s Stress-Fix Composition Oil, £23, with soothing French lavender, blues-busting clary sage and calming lavandin. Massage a few drops into damp skin after bathing. Or spray your pillow with Neom’s award-winning Scent to Sleep Perfect Night’s Sleep Pillow Mist in Tranquillity, £20. Its high concentrations of chamomile works on the nerves like a mild sedative, while patchouli and lavender oil provide better, deeper, longer sleep. In addition, Tisserand’s award-winning Sweet Dreams Aromatherapy Rollerball, £5.95, combines lavender, sandalwood and jasmine essential oils to ease an over-active, sleep-resistant mind. Apply it to your forehead, temples and chest.
Sometimes physical comfort, or lack of it, is the culprit that’s sabotaging your slumber. For example, an uncomfortable bed, especially one that’s more than seven years old, can apparently make you lose an hour’s worth of sound sleep. Also, since you need darkness for the production of melatonin, the molecule that regulates your sleep-wake cycles, a bedroom that lets in too much light is another potential sleep saboteur. Light pollution is a common problem in urban areas, so try wearing a sleep mask or, better still, replace thin curtains with blackout blinds. Blackout blinds also help insulate the bedroom, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
Further physical discomfort can be created by indigestion, so it makes sense to avoid heavy late-night meals. If possible, plan to eat earlier or at least try to choose foods such as turkey, oats and bananas which are reputed to have soporific properties. In addition, Montmorency cherries contain high levels of melatonin. A double-blind placebo-controlled study at Northumbria University found that drinking two daily servings of 30ml CherryActive Concentrate cherry juice, £8.99, for seven days, resulted in 25 minutes more shuteye and a 5%-6% increase in ‘sleep efficiency’.
Beware, however, of alcohol. Initially it may help you relax and nod off, but it invariably wakes you just a few hours later. Caffeine is another stimulant, so try going caffeine-free after 2pm. Herbal teas, on the other hand, combine aromatherapy with natural sleep-inducing ingredients such as valerian root, chamomile, lavender or lemon balm.
Obviously it makes sense to avoid anything that stimulates the body in the evening. For example, exercising too late in the day will boost adrenaline, so if you can’t swap the time of your exercise session, switch to more calming fitness activities such as yoga, swimming or even walking.
Something else that revs you up when you need to wind down is technology, so turn it all off about an hour before bed. Jessica Alexander of the Sleep Council, says, ’One of the key factors likely to be sabotaging your sleep is staying connected to the internet, perhaps on your smartphone, tablet or PC. It means you’re over-stimulating your brain instead of relaxing it and getting it ready for sleep.’
One exception to the no-stimulation rule is sex which triggers a variety of helpful hormones. For example, it decreases production of cortisol, one of your stress hormones, whilst simultaneously boosting sleep-friendly hormones such as oxytocin, aka the ‘cuddle hormone,’ which is released in response to skin-to-skin contact and helps to reduce stress and blood pressure, while helping us to feel calm and relaxed. Sex also boosts serotonin levels which calms and relaxes the body, and also helps produce melatonin. Men also produce prolactin at orgasm, which further induces relaxation and drowsiness.
Lastly, sex raises your body temperature so that, afterwards, you benefit from the cooldown that usually precedes sleep, plus it’s physically tiring. Both these factors should therefore help send you into dreamland more easily. Win, win.