Tips and Tricks for Beating Insomnia

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A couple of weeks before Christmas, I couldn’t sleep.  No – before you ask – it wasn’t because I was buzzing with excitement for the big day and that bloke with the beard to sneak a little something for me under the tree (…I’m talking about Sunny, obvs) – I just couldn’t sleep.  It started off with the odd night where I’d roll over at 4am and then struggle to get back to sleep, but before long even nodding off in the first place was impossible.  I was starting to even dread getting into bed (my favourite thing!) because I knew that I’d just be staring up at the ceiling waiting in vain to drop off.  I’d put up with it for an hour or so before I ended up throwing the duvet off and stomping downstairs, scowling at Sunny who was snoring away so easily (how dare he!?).  It actually got so bad that I became stressed; I’d burst into tears of frustration because I was SO BLOODY TIRED and desperately needed to GET SOME SLEEP – so why couldn’t I!?  Insomnia.  Ugh.  We’ve all been there, right?

I’m not sure what exactly triggered my little Christmas special episode of insomnia, but when I found myself listening to Stephen Fry talking about lavender fields at 3am and still wasn’t nodding off – I knew I had press the reset button on my nightly routine.  I did a lot – a loooooot – of research (…zombie-eyed googling at 2am, 3am and 4am) in the midst of my little sleep crisis, and eventually something “clicked” into place and I did nod off.  What it was specifically, I can’t say – but here’s how I adjusted my routine… 🙂

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Full disclosure?  I DID NOT WAKE UP LIKE THIS.  My husband should be so lucky. Ha!

…During the Day

If you think a nightly routine only applies to the evening, think again!  What you eat and drink – as well as what you do and think – during the day all have an effect on whether you’ll get a good night’s sleep the moment your head hits the pillow.

1. Keep Your Mind Busy but Stress-free: 

Sometimes stress isn’t the problem, but eliminating it from your day will always be helpful when it comes to getting a solid eight hours at night – so give yourself a break!  Stay physically and mentally active, get in some light exercise (but no later than 7pm as it raises core body temperature) and keep your mind busy – for me, that’s always by doing something creative like baking, writing or taking photographs. 🙂

2. Avoid Napping:

If you’ve had a week of rubbish, interrupted sleep then the temptation to sneak in a couple of hours during the day is going to be tough to resist. But resist, you must!

3. Say Goodbye to Caffeine after 2pm: 

During those desperate, sleepless nights I read a couple of articles that suggested cutting caffeine out completely.  I was desperate, but not that desperate – no way was I saying goodbye to my morning cuppa. But, I did have a little bIt of a wake-up call (literally, ha!) on just how much caffeine I was taking in every day.  So I swapped out my afternoon brew of darjeeling for chamomile tea and cut down on chocolate too (yep, sadly chocolate has caffeine in it, who knew?).

4. Eat Foods that are high in Melatonin: 

So, melatonin is a hormone that works to control your body clock – most importantly, your sleep cycle.  The level of melatonin in your body rises in the late afternoon – preparing you for sleep – and then drops in the morning – causing you to wake.  The amount of melatonin your body produces can be disrupted by the lack of daylight in the winter, but also the food you eat.  Honey, Walnuts, Cow’s Milk, Cherries, Bananas, Yoghurt, Oats, Chicken and Leafy Greens all naturally contain Melatonin – so try and weave them into your diet for a better night’s sleep. 🙂

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…An Hour Before Bedtime

I’m a stickler for routine – I love having a specific bed time every night, and keeping a consistent schedule helps your body’s natural rhythms.  I like to head off to bed at 10pm (not even embarassed by that, I love being in bed early!) with a mind to nodding off before 11pm.  But a whole hour before that is probably what you’d call “winding down” time where I start readying myself for a good night’s sleep.

1. Minimize Screen Time: 

Time to put the phone down and dim the lights.  Blue light especially, which is emitted by mobile phone screens, computers and televisions tricks the body into thinking that it’s daylight (remember, Melatonin levels rise when it’s dark…), so it’s time to switch off – literally.

2. Make Yourself some Moon Milk:

Moon Milk – if you’ve never heard of it – is basically just an instagrammable cup of warm milk (“Hot Milk, but make it Instagram!”)… with an added melatonin boost thanks to a few extra (pretty) ingredients.  But hey, it works!  Traditional Ayuverdic Moon Milk contains a ground up, stress-relieving herb called Ashwagandha – but, you can add any melatonin-rich ingredient you like.  Mine’s made from cow’s milk, a tablespoon of honey and a good glug of cherry juice which gives it it’s dreamy pink colour.

3. Take a Bath or a Hot Shower:

There’s a little bit more science to this one than you’d think.  Yes, baths and hot showers are relaxing – but it’s all about body temperature.  Your core body temperature needs to drop before you can drift off – so, in theory, jumping into a hot shower an hour before you hit the sack will encourage that drop once you get out of the steam and into a cooler room.

4. Write down your Worries:

We’ve all been there. You’ve had a long day, you’re tired and ready to hit the hay, but as soon as your head hits the pillow the world and its worries start playing on your mind.  So write them down! The trick is, that once you’ve scribbled a worry or distracting thought down onto paper, you’re giving yourself permission to stop thinking about it. If you’re not currently worrying about anything (lucky you!) then writing down what’s on your mind will still help focus it ready for sleep – whether that’s simply keeping a diary or writing a to-do list for the next day.

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…Just Before Bedtime

It’s time to turn in.  But what can you do between the moment you head up the apples and pears and when you slip between the sheets to help you nod off more easily when the time comes?

1. Prepare your Bedroom:

So obvious, but make sure your bed is comfortable! That’s about more than just having a comfy mattress; make sure that your quilt isn’t too heavy or hot, the sheets allow your skin to breathe (Sunny’s always joking that I’m like the princess and the pea because I’m a stickler for 100% cotton; it’s cool and breathable – percale just doesn’t cut it for me) and that the pillows support your head.  Make sure the room isn’t too warm (apparently between 18 and 21 degrees is just right) and switch your phone to sleep mode.  Spritz your pillows with a relaxing scent; Sunny swears by the This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, while I’m a fan of Olbas Oil (the smell reminds me of home and it keeps me breathing through the night).

2. Kick Pets Out of the Bed:

Sorry Bungle! Sunny and I both agreed that our beloved Goldie can roam freely about the house at night and sleep wherever he’s most comfortable – but when it comes to bedtime, our bed is out of bounds.  He takes up a lot of room!  He can jump up first thing in the morning, but not last thing at night.

3. Listen to Music/Meditate/Read a Book:

Everyone’s got their own way of slowing down their mind and nodding off, whether that’s reading a book, listening to a playlist of calming music or even meditating.  Before Christmas I tried a few sleep apps with guided meditations and relaxing stories – but honestly? None of them worked for me.  There’s tonnes out there though, so if you are struggling to switch off, give them a shout.

4. Herbal Remedies:

I’ve got some tablets that I picked up in America for when I can’t sleep; they work for the odd night where I’m struggling to sleep due to pain or illness, but they’re not the sort of thing you’d take every night during a bout of insomnia and don’t do anything to get you back to your natural sleep cycle. Over Christmas I tried the Bach Rescue Remedy Drops for the first time after hearing good things, and I did feel like they helped to relax me and – in the very least – alleviate my anxiety around falling sleep.  You can either pop a couple of drops straight onto your tongue, or spike your bedtime drink. 🙂

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…In Bed

The whole catch around falling asleep is that it involves doing absolutely nothing!  There’s nothing specific you can do to tell your brain to shut up and switch off, which makes it all the more frustrating when you just can’t get there.  So, what to do?

1. Breathing Techniques:

Again, blinking at my phone at 3am over Christmas I read a little bit about a few techniques that help you slow down your breathing, relax and drift off.  Try the “4-7-8 Technique”:

Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds…
…Hold that breath for 7 seconds…
…Then, breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds.
Repeat.

2. Don’t Count Sheep!:

IT DOESN’T WORK.  It’s just too easy.  Instead try something a little more difficult, like counting backwards from 100 in threes, or try visualizing specific details of somewhere you went on holiday, a room you know well or a journey you take every day.  Another trick that worked well for me was one where I lay flat on my back and then started clenching and relaxing my muscles one by one for a count of five – from my feet all the way up to my face.  If I wasn’t fast asleep by the time I reached my head, at least I was very, very relaxed.

3. And if you do struggle to fall asleep?  Don’t panic!  Get up, then try again:

If you don’t fall asleep within half an hour, don’t just toss and turn for hours getting more and more frustrated – get up.  Go into a completely different room and read a book, go downstairs and make a hot drink (no caffeine though!), make a list or do a crossword puzzle… and then come back in an hour and try again.

Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to getting a better night’s sleep?  Let everyone know by commenting below! 🙂

Why I’m Making Habits instead of Resolutions

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Happy 2019!  I’ve gotta admit; it feels pretty good to be back in the swing of things (even if the first thing I marked in my brand new diary was a dentist appointment for today – the most Monday-est of Mondays…).  To be completely honest with you, this post was supposed to be a recipe for Thai Noodle Soup, buuuuuuut the truth is that I spent a little too much time on the sofa during the Crimbo Limbo scoffing cheese and chocolate and binge-watching You on Netflix instead of prepping Blog Posts.  NO REGRETS.  You’ll just have to stay-tuned for that recipe, but until then how about a good ol’ chin-wag about Resolutions instead?

For the record, I’m not a fan. I’m a pantser not a planner by nature with absolutely zero willpower (see Netflix and Chocolate binge above and the fact that I bought a five pack of jam donuts this morning ten minutes after my dentist appointment…) and so the prospect of waking up on the 1st of January a new and improved version of myself complete with a laminated list of goals for the year ahead in hand is not only enough to bring me out in a cold sweat but absolutely and completely bonkers.  For a start, I’m lucky if I even get out of bed on the first day of January, and who the hell wants to pile that kind of pressure on top of themselves on the very first day of a new year anyway?  It’s so easy to make those ambitious, slightly vague statements on New Years Eve with a glass of champagne in hand, isn’t it? Before you know it, it’s February and – just like the champagne – you’ve lost your fizz and all your grand plans have fallen flat.  That’s resolutions for you.

But hey – despite all of that – I still can’t resist that squeaky clean, brand spanking new, fresh diary feeling you get at the very start of a new year. Of course, there are a few things I’d like to change and try my hand at this year, but instead of making resolutions, I’m making new habits.

Why? Well, the problem with resolutions is that they’re usually a bit vague (I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to save more money) and/or a bit extreme (I’m never eating dairy again, I’m going to read 50 books) with no realistic plan in place to actually achieve them.  They demand perfection without a blink at the planning and hard work that needs to be put in; so it’s really no surprise when we flunk out come February. Habits on the other hand, are specific changes in behaviour that need a bit more thought and planning to put into practice.  Habits become a part of your daily routine – you have to actually make time for them – and so they’re much trickier to break and a more realistic way to achieve a new goal.  They’re more about the long road to perfection than perfection itself.

For example… 

RESOLUTION
“This year, I’m going to get fit.”

HABIT
“This year, I’m going to go to Pilates class every Wednesday night at 7pm.”

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“This year, I’m going to find a new job.”

HABIT
“This year, I’m going to spend an hour every Tuesday night between 8 and 9pm applying for jobs.”

See what I’m saying? Think of it this way; the resolution is the goal, the habit is the plan you’re going to put into place to make sure you achieve it! …Or that’s the idea, anyway. 😉

So, which resolutions am I hoping to turn into habits in 2019? Honestly, they’re all really boring! Firstly, I want to read more books (she says, for the third year running… resolutions, ugh!); I love reading, but I’m terrible when it comes to making time for it. So this year I’m scheduling in an hour of reading time every day between 5 and 6pm. Be there or be square! Secondly, I want to add some more recipes to my midweek meal repertoire, especially some healthy ones. I’ve got a handful of go-to recipes that I’m getting bored of making all the time, so I’ve decided that I’m going to make it a new habit to spend an hour every Sunday researching a brand new recipe to cook for dinner during the week. And thirdly, I want a cleaner house (See? I told you they were boring!). Just before Christmas it became very clear that my old cleaning routine just wasn’t cutting it (the whole house was pretty much buried under a layer of Bungle’s fur…), so this year I’m going to try and set aside an hour a day to keep on top of the cleaning, one room at a time.  If I come up with something that works, I’ll let you know.  And that’s it! For now, at least…

So what about you? Are you making any changes this year? Also now’s the perfect time to let me know if there’s anything you want to see more (or less!) of here on the blog in 2019. Let me know in the comments! Hope you’re having a great start to the year! 🙂

Goodbye 2018

And just like that, we’ve hit the end of the road!  Goodbye 2018!  It’s been an amazing year full of surprises, amazing food and friends (which always tend to come hand in hand!), two incredible holidays (I dipped my toes in Canadian glacier water and the Gulf of Mexico this year…), a giant inflatable pineapple, an engagement (congrats little brother!) and a very mischievous bundle of blonde fluff.  Despite how it looks through the lens, I’ve had my own little share of heartbreak too over the past twelve months – but on the whole, I really, really can’t complain; I’ve had the most incredible year.  So, here’s to 2019 (that’s insane), and to you, lovely reader; thanks for sticking around, and I hope that the new year holds only the most amazing things for you and your favourite people.  Happy New Year! ✨



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Blwyddyn Newydd Dda (Happy New Year!)!  See you on the flip side!

*How to Host a Banging Christmas Party in 10 Steps

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Can you believe that it’ll be Christmas Eve this time next week!?  Crazy!  How many Christmas Parties have you been to so far?  If you haven’t, then I’ll bet you’ve got one coming up this week.  Or are you hosting one yourself?  If so, then this post’s for you.  Hosting at Christmas is one of my favourite things to do (I love planning and organising around Christmas more than any other time of year), but it can also be really stressful (in fact, I wrote a whole post about it here).  So here’s my ten step guide to hosting a banging Christmas Party.  Cheers! 🙂

1. Invitations

Christmas is the busiest time of year for get-togethers and partying HARD.  Office parties, family dinners, drinks “and nibbles” with the neighbours, Black Friday Blowouts… So get that guest list written and those invites sent out as soon as you can to make sure that everyone on your guest list is wide open and able to come along.  It also gives them plenty of time to get those RSVPs in, so you can kick back and get down to planning the good stuff… (i.e. food and booze 😉 )

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2. Dress Code

When you’re writing out your invitations, make sure you let your guests know what they’re expected to wear.  Is it a super-casual friendmas with drinks and games?  Or are we talking bow ties and tiaras – or something in between?

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3. Parking, Logistics and Warning the Neighbours

Maybe this one ought to be done and dusted loooooong before you send out those invitations.  Hosting any party is tough; it’s easy enough to invite everyone around before considering how it’ll actually work.  Like, how will your guests get to your place?  If they’re driving, where can they park without pissing off the neighbours?  And speaking of the neighbours, will they mind you hosting a noisy Christmas Party (and do you care?)?  Which rooms are off limits?  Do you have enough space to host five people?  Ten people?  Your whole neigbourhood?  Where are all the coats and bags going to go?  Shoes – on or off?  Also, what’s your budget when it comes to food and drink?  Get the big questions answered and out of the way as soon as you can – it’ll save problems further down the line or worse, on the night. 🙂

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4.*Food

“Oh Baby, all I want for Christmas is fooooooooood!” Now let’s down to the good stuff!  Because let’s be honest, the best thing about Christmas is stuffing your face, innit?  Before you hit the supermarket, before you even get down to making a list (and checking it twice 😉 ) think about what kind of party you’re hosting because the kind of food you’re going to be serving will depend on that.  Are you planning on serving up a full Christmas Dinner complete with pigs in blankets and a flaming pud?  Are you putting on a “help yourself” buffet?  Or are you just serving up snacks?  Or, are you going to take the weight off and ask everyone to bring a dish (in which case you probably should mention that in your invites, right?)?

Personally, I love putting on a Christmas Buffet and pretty much do it every single year for my family on Boxing Day.  It’s easier than putting on a full Christmas Dinner, you can get it all ready before hand (instead of spending the whole party slaving away in the kitchen!), and everyone gets a little bit of what they fancy.  My go-to every Christmas for party food is *Marks and Spencer because they’re all so easy to prepare, taste amazing and there’s such a fab selection (even for vegans – with these vegan sliders). A festive scoffing sesh in my house just would not be complete without their pork belly squares, profiteroles and baked Camembert – which this year, I have to say is the best yet with its spicy and sweet chilli glaze (the only reason there’s no photo is because it got annihilated within seconds).  Yum!

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5. Party Games

It wouldn’t be a party without a little entertainment, right?  So have a think about how you’re going to keep the good times rollin’ in between catch-ups and conversations.  How about putting on a pub quiz Big Quiz of the Year style with questions based on things that have happened in the past twelve months?  What about a few drinking games to get the juices flowing?  Or go all out with a monster game of Cards Against Humanity. 🙂

6. Drinks

Once you’ve finished planning your shopping list, make a drinks list.  Check your drinks cabinet (i.e. the cupboard under the sink if you’re like me!) and see what’s in stock and what’s running out.  Put all the drinks and mixers somewhere easily accessible so your guests can help themselves throughout the party.  If you’re feeling fancy come up with a few festive cocktails in pitchers or create a suggested drinks menu! 🙂

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7. Deck the Halls

If you haven’t already got your Christmas Decorations up, now’s the time!  Consider which rooms you’re going to be using and get them looking festive with fairy lights and garlands.

8. Christmas Playlist

If you’re like me then you’ll already have one of these babies on your Spotify just ready and raring to go!  I don’t like to have a playlist that’s just chocka full of pure Christmas though – I mean, there’s only so many times you can hear The Pogues before banging your head against wall.  I’ve got all the usual numbers old and new, but I like to mix it up with some classics and a few hits from the past twelve months.  I also LOVE sneaking in a few Vitamin String Quartet covers.  If you’ve never looked them up on Spotify, its basically a group of LA-based musicians who work at recording new versions of well-known songs using a string quartet.  There’s something kind of festive about their music, and it’s fun watching people hear a song they recognise reworked in a totally different way.

9. Game Plan (timings etc)

I like coming up with a game plan before a party, especially when it comes to food.  I like to know exactly what time I need to put the oven on, put food in, take food out etc… Making a list helps me keep on top of things and saves a lot of stress on the day.  It’s also great if you’re co-hosting – that way you don’t have to keep touching base with each other, you can just check the game plan!

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10. *And if you’re going to a party…

Don’t forget to take a little something for your host!  It’s good manners and is always well appreciated.  Sure you could take a bottle of something, but how about spoiling them with an extra special box of chocolates?  This box of fancy chocs from Marks and Spencer not only looks gorgeous, but is an absolute treat.

Thanks to Marks and Spencer for the fabulous food and drink! Happy partying! 😉

*This post contains gifted items, read more about what that means here.

 

Review: What Would Boudicca Do?

Do I really need yet another book on women’s history?  I’ve got a whole shelf sagging full of them at home; from Hypatia to Mary Queen of Scots, you name it, I’ve probably got it.  So do I really need yet another one?  Yes.  Yes I do.  Always.  Because just when I think I’ve read about every Warrior Queen and babein brainbox from the annals, I pick up another book and discover ten, twenty, thirty more inspiring women that I’ve never heard about.  Where the hell were these women when I was growing up?  How come school history lessons are still centered around great men and their great deeds?  How the hecky-pecky did I go thirty two years without knowing about Hedy Lamarr?

Thank God Women’s History is having a moment, and long may it reign – because as it turns out, no matter how clued up you think you are about it, there are still so many great women and their great deeds (and misdeeds 😉 ) to read about.  Which is why books like What Would Boudicca Do? are a great way of clueing yourself in on a whole handful of history’s most remarkable women rather than digesting one big brick of a biography at a time (which I’d totally recommend doing once you’ve found your historical soul sister 😉 ).

What’s unique about Foley and Coats‘ book is that you can flick through and pair up your modern day problems with a historical woman and be inspired by the way they overcame something similar.  Read how Mae West stayed body positive, how Akiko Yosano learned to love her boobs, how Catherine the Great dealt with the whole of Europe gossiping about her, and how Emily Dickinson defied FOMO.  Short and snappy chapters with beautiful illustrations, it’d make a great gift for someone who’s just got the Women’s History bug and wants to find out more.

Five other feminist books on my wishlist this Christmas…

1. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

“You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who flaunts it, who’s too brazen, too opinionated – too much. Sometimes, she’s the life of the party; others, she’s the focus of gossip. She’s the unruly woman, and she’s one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.”

I really fancy this one!  Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Petersen analyses eleven modern pop culture powerhouses like Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian and Hillary Clinton and looks at why we love to love them – or hate them for being too something.

2. What Would the Spice Girls Do?: How The Girl Power Generation Grew Up

“The Spice Girls gave a generation their first glimpse of the power of friendship, of staying true to yourself, of sheer bloody-mindedness. And the girl power generation went on to kick-start a new conversation around gender equality.”

If you grew up dancing to Wannabe on the playground like I did and still know the words to 2 become 1 (my husband shocked me the other night by repeating them word for word – proof positive that The Spice Girls really did rock a whole generation), then you’ll be just as eager to read this one as I am – especially ahead of their tour!  One of the reviewers over on Amazon calls it “a love story to the girls we were and the women we are” and I love that.

3. Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses your History Teacher Forgot to Mention

“For hundreds of years we have heard about the great men of history, but what about herstory?  In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history.”

Another collection of inspiring tales about badass babes from history, but this time a whole book of badass British babes like Marie Stopes, Beatrice Shilling and Anne McLaren.  Yes please!

4. Life Honestly: Strong Opinions from Smart Women

“Life Honestly is a complete guide to modern life from some of today’s most talented and insightful writers including Bryony Gordon, Dolly Alderton, Natasha Devon, Lauren Laverne and Yomi Adegoke.”

If trawling The Pool is part of your every day online routine then this is right up your street.  A book full of inspiring, smart articles with fresh points of view on every day issues from motherhood to relationships.

5. Becoming: Michelle Obama

“In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.”

Yes!  Love her!  I was flicking through a magazine the other day and found an interview with Oprah that Michelle did to promote her book and after reading a little anecdote about her first night alone post-White House and how she made herself some cheese on toast and just enjoyed sitting on the porch with her dogs I knew I wanted to read it.

Happy weekend!  (…and happy Christmas shopping!)

*This post contains affiliate links; you can read more about what that means here.