A to Zzzzz ... the unusual secrets of how we get to sleep
Everyone has their own bed-time rituals
The interrupted sleeper
Richard Madeley, broadcaster
I go to bed between 11pm and midnight, but cannot settle until I've done three things.
First, I fill a pint glass with water and put it on my bedside table; I get incredibly thirsty during the night. Then I check my pencil-sized torch is working okay so I don't wake [his wife] Judy by putting on a light when I use the bathroom. I wake at exactly 3am every night needing to take a leak. Is this normal or a sign of age?
Finally, and most importantly, I write a list of everything I have to do the next day. If I miss any part of the ritual, sleep’s a stranger.
The night owl
Hannah Betts, writer
I am a lifelong nocturnal creature, so much so that I don’t even merely qualify as an insomniac, rather a “disordered sleeper”. I experience savage nightmares. I frequently stop breathing, waking gasping for air.
I’ve tried everything from acupuncture to antidepressants, cherry capsules to crystals. The only thing that has ever been of any use was ditching booze and caffeine. I do like a hot bath, and cashmere bed socks are bliss. Sometimes, my beloved – a lark – will indulge me with facts recalled from his geography A-level that are tedious enough to propel me into slumber.
My greatest sleep-altering discovery has been melatonin: a naturally occurring hormone that some of us are deficient in. Dose me with 3mg and I sleep in the manner of an actual human, even while our new puppy jumps on my head.
The clean sleeper
Rangan Chatterjee, GP
Each morning I make sure I get outside in the natural light for at least 20 minutes. Daylight is incredibly important for setting your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which I found out when researching my book, The Four Pillar Plan.
I never drink caffeine after midday – a large coffee at noon will still be in my bloodstream at midnight. From 8.30pm, I totally switch off, and I refuse to do anything that requires too much brain power. My laptop is closed, and I try my best to switch off my phone at 8.30pm (though I don't always manage it). It’s certainly not easy – I’m as addicted to my smartphone as the next man, but it’s important to try. I then spend a few hours reading in my bedroom with a dim light, before my heads hits the pillow at 10pm. Sometimes I take a bath. If I do all that, I can usually enjoy a night of good quality, deep sleep.
The early riser
Richard Arnold, TV presenter
Coming between me and sleep is like coming between me and a good margarita: you’d better sleep with one eye open.
I’ve been on and off breakfast television for the best part of 20 years, which means I always head to bed at 8pm sharp in time for a 4am wake-up call the next day. My routine is rigorous: eye masks, electric blankets and pillow spray are all involved, as are my super-strength ear plugs, which are designed for recreational shooters. I rarely drink alcohol in the evening, which becomes tricky at boozy work events – sometimes I have to put my tap water into a long-stemmed glass to fend off the repeated “why aren’t you drinking?” inquiries.
And if all that doesn’t work, I top it off with some melatonin supplements, which reliably send me off to the Land of Nod.
The midlife insomniac
Jane Kellock, entrepreneur
I had zero trouble sleeping until my two children arrived. Then, like many new parents, I fell into a terrible sleeping pattern. When they were teenagers, I would wake up at 2am wondering whether they were home from a night out, or worrying whether they were doing enough revision for their next exam. My sleep improved when they left for university, but next came the menopause.
Now, at 57, I’m a midlife insomniac. I drift off to sleep about 11pm, before waking with a hot flush at about 3.30am. I usually stir again two hours later. For a long time, my body would wake me, then my mind; I’d clean the house at 5am, or make that night’s dinner. But since seeing a therapist I’ve learnt to control my own thoughts.
I’m offered all the usual advice – no technology, no caffeine, no alcohol, medication – but I want to learn how to handle my insomnia myself.
The eight-hour disciple
Claire Cohen, Telegraph women’s editor
Truly, I sleep the sleep of the dead: like a teenager, I can easily rest for 10 or more hours, undisturbed, every night. Any less, and I start to panic that I won’t be my “best self” the next day; weekends and holidays are planned around my sleep and if it involves getting up at 6am, you can forget it.
Most important is my silk eye mask, while pyjamas (not too tight) and socks are critical. Heatwaves aside, for most of the year not one inch of my flesh is exposed in bed, other than the section between cheek and chin. It’s a wonder I found someone to marry me.
I am a devotee of relaxing baths with a camomile tea in hand, an episode of The Archers playing. I also put my phone aside each evening, and always turn it to silent when asleep. As for waking, my alarm clock lights up the room like the rising sun and tweets the dawn chorus at me, but even that can’t make up for the knowledge that, left undisturbed, I could have slept sweetly on.
The dinner ditcher
Justin Webb, Today presenter
I try to go to sleep by 8.30pm when I am presenting on BBC Radio 4’s Today the next morning: annoyingly, many Londoners think that’s too early and continue to make a noise around me, so sleep, particularly in summer, is pretty fitful.
I used to ask what was on the programme the night before, but then spent the whole night tossing and turning, wondering if I was going to mispronounce Jeremy Hunt’s name, or crash the pips or forget the name of the newsreader. So I stopped asking and, bingo, sleep is more restful. And nothing is revealed that might disturb it until the alarm goes at 3.15am.
The best recommendation is don't eat anything – or drink – if you are going to bed early and getting up before it is light. You feel so much better if you are hungry when you wake.
The tech addict
James Cook, technology correspondent
I’ve come to consider anything over five hours of sleep a night to be an achievement, even a luxury. I typically go to bed in the early hours of the morning and wake around 7am feeling exhausted. I immediately reach for my iPhone to check what news has happened in the few hours I’ve had my eyes shut.
A former boss once called me “the man who never sleeps”; it’ll often get to 1am or 2am by the time I force myself to prepare for the night’s rest. That’s when I’ll get out a brick-sized biography of someone like Leon Trotsky, and read a few pages before finally nodding off.
– © The Daily Telegraph