There's an ancient Irish proverb that goes, 'A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book.'
As a beauty writer, I road-test hundreds of cosmetic products, but I can hand on heart tell you that the best, most long-lasting beauty boosters won't cost you a penny and are accessible to everyone. What are they? A healthy sleep routine and drinking plenty of water.
I realise this sounds like a tired old beauty trope, but sleep health is the cornerstone of our wellbeing, both physically and mentally. It may surprise you that until very recently, the science of sleep remained largely a mystery to academics. Now long-term studies have outlined how sleep affects our mental health, weight regulation, skin, cognitive ability, creativity and ability to fight disease.
In our culture of constant stimulation - smartphones, laptops, artificial lighting, Netflix, social media, constant connectivity - we have effectively created a false environment that has resulted in us being the only mammals that willingly delay sleep.
Sleep enemy number one must surely be the blue light emanating from our devices that disturbs our melatonin (sleepy hormone) levels. But our devices can offer some brilliant sleep aids, too. We can use them to access yoga nidra guided sleep meditations on YouTube, or pop on some calming music like - my absolute favourite - Max Richter's Sleep album (it is eight hours long). The composer worked with neuroscientist David Eagleman to align the music with the brain and the body's natural sleep rhythms.
So, in honour of yesterday being World Sleep Day, here are some practical tips and goodies to help switch us from 'wired and tired' to 'dozy and cosy'!
In this bestselling book, neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker digs deep into how sleep increases our ability to make logical decisions, recalibrates our emotions, heals our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, balances our mental health and regulates our appetite. DETAILS: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, €14, from Eason and bookstores nationwide.
Ditch alcohol before bed - it's been proven to make us initially sleepy but then acts as asleep disrupter after a few hours. Valerian has been used for centuries as a traditional natural sleep aid: it has a calming and antispasmodic effect (good for anyone with restless legs in bed). DETAILS: Viridian Organic Valerian Root, €19.50, from health stores nationwide and viridian-nutrition.com
A warm bath before bedtime is an age-old technique to help get in the mood to snooze. This is a specially crafted bath soak, made with naturally infused sleep remedies like clary sage, chamomile, lavender, andskin-softening aloe vera. Just drizzle a small amount into a hot bath and soak and drift away. DETAILS: The White Company Sleep Calming Bath Soak, €33, from thewhitecompany.com
Aoibhín Garrihy and Sharon Connellan's Beo sleep-inducing spray is a holistic, sustainable lavender formulation to be used before bedtime to encourage a calming, zen-like vibe before sleep. Beo Sleep Well Pillow Mist, €26, from Kilkenny Shop, kilkennyshop.com and beowellness.ie
Silk pillowcases are brilliant for our skin and hair (they help reduce frizziness and wrinkles) but for a more sustainable, ethical option try super-soft bamboo. Jo Browne bamboo pillowcases, €39.95 (set of two), from Meadows & Byrne stores nationwide and jobrowne.com
Taking a warm bath or shower before bed is a tried-and-true sleep aid. Voya has a whole line of organic washes and oils specifically made for aiding sleep. Voya True Tranquil Lavender Body Wash, €21.50, from salons and voya.ie
Rolling in the sleep
If you struggle to sleep anywhere that isn't your own bedroom, these little essential oil roller balls could be a handy travel companion. Just roll onto your pulse points: temples, neck, wrists and behind your ears. Tisserand Little Box of Sleep, €18, from Boots, Holland & Barrett, evergreen.ie and tisserand.com
If you're a heavy tech user, constantly on your device and feeling wired from too much screen time, try popping a Himalayan salt lamp in your bedroom. Why? The warm, amber toned light it emanates has been proven to increase sleep hormone melatonin. Pink Himalayan Salt Lamps, from €20, health stores, Carraig Donn and hardware stores nationwide.
Neom Organics have just launched their Bedtime Hero, a blend of 11 pure essential oils (chamomile is their hero calming ingredient) which helps prepare the mind and body for those dreamy Zs. Neom Bedtime Hero Calming Candle, €55, from Brown Thomas, seagreen.ie and neomorganics.com
Health scientist Tom Coleman specialises in fatigue and sleep research, and advises elite athletes on creating a healthy rest regime
Does Ireland have a sleep problem? If so, how serious is it?
There are many indications that Ireland is becoming more sleep-deprived. Data from different research last year indicated that only three out of 10 Irish people were getting the recommended 7-8 hours' sleep. Internationally we are about mid-table, but the outlook does not appear to be improving with more and more people reporting with sleep-related issues and anxiety.
What causes sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation can be due to circadian disruption such as an ever-changing shift pattern. It may also be down to medical issues like a hormonal imbalance. Typically, women going through the menopause will experience great difficulty sleeping due to vasomotor symptoms like night sweats and chills. Of course, stress and anxiety can compound or magnify other issues and cause sleep deprivation.
What are th effects of not getting enough sleep?
Most new tissues are made when we sleep: there is a good reason it's called 'beauty sleep'! Cellular regeneration, healing, soft tissues are all heavily influenced by good-quality sleep. When we miss out on sleep and combine this with poor diet, we can leave our skin dehydrated, dull, blotchy, especially around the eyes. This is down to not getting sufficient 'sleep cycles' and not going as deep into the restoration phases of sleep. We do know that sleep debt acts as an accelerant to ageing.
From a mental perspective, your brain function improves with sleep. Memory, mood and even intelligence are directly linked to good sleep.
What are the main causes of not having enough sleep?
Light pollution has contributed massively. We are exceptionally sensitive to light and our home environment has been polluted with bright white and blue light from bulbs and screens. Blue light in particular suppresses melatonin production in the brain, a key driver for sleep. Caffeine also interferes with sleep onset and quality, so try not to have more than 2-3 cups of coffee and not after 2-3pm.
Anxiety seems to be more prevalent for many of us, which can cause us to over-analyse especially at night-time.
Can you give us a workable example of a great sleep routine?
Just like our children, we need to start to wind down a couple of hours before bed. Do not eat at least two hours before bedtime. Put the phone and tech down 90 minutes before. A hot bath or shower should form part of a healthy routine. We might want to consider a magnesium supplement an hour before bed to help with nerve impulse. Meditation is hugely beneficial to restful sleep and easy onset. Keep your bedroom dark and wear an eye mask just in case; lavender spray on the pillow works wonders and a clean cool, clutter-free bedroom is very conducive to sleep.