How well do you sleep? In our series of diary entries from women across the UK, Stylist is exploring one of our most prolific obsessions…
Setting the tone for the night looks different to everyone, but writer Ava Welsing-Kitcher relies on comforting food, scents and lighting, plus a calming bathroom session to unwind and clear her head.
Name: Ava Welsing-Kitcher
Ideal amount of sleep: 8 hours
Actual amount of sleep: 7
Describe your sleep quality in three words: Patchy, light, anxious.
Rate your sleep out of 10: 7/10
I’m a decent sleeper. Some nights, I’ll be out like a log and wake up refreshed and ready to take anything on, and the effects of that sleep often dictate the entirety of my day. Other nights, I’ll really struggle and subsequently drag myself through the day, with equal doses of moodiness and lethargy. There’s no way to control which kind of sleep I’ll end up with, which is something I’ve gradually had to learn and accept.
I’ve consciously changed my relationship with sleep over the past couple of years, as I used to really worry about not getting enough and thought I was abnormal because I wasn’t a solid, dead-to-the-world sleeper like some of my friends and family. Now, my sleep routine is less focused on ensuring I get a perfect night’s sleep, and much more relaxed, which in turn actually helps me to settle rather than toss and turn in frustration.
I have a few items which I use with the intention to create some calm, and it’s more about the association I have with them than the actual products themselves. That might not make much sense now, but hopefully all will be clear by the end of this article. And just to note: every beauty product mentioned has been sent to me in the past as a press sample, but I would definitely spend my own money on each of them.
8.30pm: I’ll switch on the TV if I’m home alone (it makes me less scared) and bring my speakers into the bathroom with me to play whatever playlist I’m in the mood for. I try and listen to mostly podcasts while on public transport so that I have something about my commute to look forward to, and by the time I get home I want to zone out rather than listen to conversations.
I light candles and incense, and if I feel drained or like I’ve carried a lot with me all day, I’ll light a stick of palo santo or sage, crack the window, and let the smoke cleanse the space and my body. It’s an ancient spiritual ritual originating from South American communities, and I recently learned that the popularisation of both in Western wellness culture has meant that the palo santo tree and white sage bushes are being farmed unsustainably. This makes it difficult for those communities to access what’s rightfully theirs, so I’m using up what I’ve already bought – any substitute suggestions are very welcome!
Anyway. I then take my make-up off before having a bath or shower using a FaceHalo, £7 – these replace 500 make-up wipes and remove every scrap of make-up, and I think I’ll use them for the rest of my life. They’ve replaced my micellar water and cotton pads, require water only, and they’re so much better for the environment.
FaceHalo Makeup Remover
In the shower, I use Dr Bronner’s Organic Lavender Castile Soap, £12.39, to help me relax, then finish with ilapothecary’s Beat The Blues Bath and Shower Oil, £29, if I need some extra TLC. I’ll occasionally use Herbivore’s Amethyst Scrub, £38 (it feels so indulgent and the jasmine sambac scent is heavenly), or a couple of generous handfuls of bath salts by Westlab, £6.99 – they’ve got different scent blends like Cleanse (lemongrass and grapefruit) – or any other brand that I come across in our beauty cupboard. I go through bath salts quicker than toothpaste!
I have to moisturise and oil my body right after the shower, and this will never change. I love Superdrug’s Vitamin E Body Cream, £2.25 (I occasionally get eczema and this is a saviour), or Sol de Janeiro’s Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, £18 – the salted caramel-pistachio scent gives me a big sugar craving and the texture is decadently rich. I finish with Liha’s tuberose-infused Idan Oil, £39, which smells like nectar of the goddesses and was created by two brilliant British-Nigerian women in Hackney.
I use CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser, £9.49, then use May Lindstrom’s Jasmine Garden Facial Mist, £62, for its amazingly uplifting scent. It seriously shifts my entire mood. I alternate between Herbivore’s Prism Exfoliating Glow Potion, £52, and their Bakuchiol Serum, £45, each night to exfoliate, then finish with CeraVe’s Facial Moisturising Lotion, £11.99. I’ve found that having a simplified skincare routine that’s also oil-free has given me the best skin of my life, and frees up a lot of time for me.
When I have the energy, I use an amethyst roller or rose quartz gua sha to iron out the tension that’s built up in my face (my jaw is almost permanently clamped shut), and really work my products in deeper. I’m lucky if I do this even once a week, to be honest – I feel so much better post-massage, and get well and truly lost in the action of it. It’s like meditation.
9.30pm: Right, it’s time to drag myself out of the bathroom. If I didn’t scoff dinner down as soon as I came in, then I’ll cook it now. Sometimes I’m guilty of having lots of pitta or naan bread and tzatziki for dinner (which is not clever or funny, I know) or a million cream crackers with loads of butter, but I find that I sleep really badly when I don’t have a proper meal. Now that it’s getting colder, I try and make one-pot dinners that hug me from the inside out and keep me full until I fall asleep. I’m currently obsessed with a sweet potato, salmon and coconut curry with lots of turmeric and herbs that I experimented with last week.
I’ll curl up with this on the sofa and watch something – I’m loving Wife Swap US, and Netflix’s Big Mouth and Living With Yourself right now, or South Park or Peep Show if I need a proper laugh. During this time, I’ll do what I call a mind dump: dropping everything I need to do, big and small, into my Reminders app. This can be anything from ‘take the bins out’ to ‘write that article’, and it means that all those niggly little reminders aren’t buzzing around in my head while I’m trying to sleep.
11pm: Waking up to a tidy room has made a huge difference in what mood I’m in when I wake up, so I try and put my clothes away and sort everything out before I get into bed. I’ll light incense and candles again, spray the room mist version of that ilapothecary bath oil - one spritz fills the room with happy neroli vibes, and the scent works its way to the rest of the house. An old flatmate once demanded to know what the smell was while on another floor, because it made her so immediately uplifted.
ilapothecary’s Beat the Blues Room Spray
I crack my window, and smudge my room with palo santo again. I occasionally get sleep paralysis, and as woo woo as it might sound to some, I’ve recently been speaking out loud while smudging to set and solidify intentions, clear out fear and negative energy, and create a safe space. Whether this actually works doesn’t matter to me – I think there’s strength in mindfully declaring these things for the sake of feeling like you have some kind of control over them.
As soon as I’m done tidying, I turn off the overhead light to send a message to my body that it’s time to relax. I put on my fairy lights and pink Himalayan salt lamp, £24.99, to turn my room into a glowing womb-like grotto. I’ll set my Lumie Bodyclock Luxe, £199.99, to sunset mode before I get into bed. I’ve had it for a week and I’m in love – it emits either a warm sunset/sunrise-toned light or a stark white light as you settle down to sleep, which gets darker and darker until fully out.
I get SAD pretty badly at around this time of year, and I’ve already noticed that I wake up in a brighter, more optimistic mood in the morning. I get unreasonably anxious about my alarm not going off in the morning and often wake up at intervals beforehand to check I haven’t overslept. Since getting my Lumie lamp and using the sunrise setting (that gradually gets lighter from half an hour before my alarm), I can gently crack my eyes open, see that the fake sunlight is still quite dim, then calmly drift back to sleep. The lamp is quite pricey, but they have lots of other options from £39.98 at Lumie.com.
Lumie Bodyclock Luxe Wake-Up Lamp
I put a few drops of Spirit of Hemp CBD Oil, £33.50, or Aime’s Sleep and Glow Melatonin and Ashwagandha, £39, under my tongue, and spray This Works’ Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, £19.50, all over my pillows. While the tinctures seriously mellow me out (more sluggish and snoozy than relaxed, though), the combo of them with the pillow spray usually makes me drift off within twenty minutes. Not always, so I try not to rely on them or swear by them, but enough to make a difference.
I generally fall asleep between 11pm and 12.30am watching Netflix (bad habit, but it drowns out my brain chatter). I’ll wake up maybe an episode later to close my laptop lid and turn out the lights, then plug my earplugs in. I’ve worn them every night for over eight years now along with a silk eye mask (although I usually rip this off midway through the night), as I’m a super light sleeper and trust I’ll hear a fire alarm or burglar through them. I should wean myself off them but… not right now. I also hold a little ball of selenite crystal while I drift off. It’s soothingly smooth, so I kept picking it out of my crystal collection to sleep with, and later discovered that it’s said to be perfect for insomnia as it calms and clears the body and mind.
I used to get really anxious and pretty angry if I struggled to fall asleep, or woke up during the night. Since reading Fast Asleep, Wide Awake: Discover the Secrets of Restorative Sleep and Vibrant Energy by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan (£12.99), I’ve learned that humans are wired to wake up at intervals as a safety precaution, so there’s nothing wrong with it. The book really has opened my eyes (ha) to how we value sleep, how we’ve been sold the idea that we’re not getting enough sleep (that’s a whole other article), plus free practices like in-bed yoga and helpful positive sentences to play in your mind when you can’t nod off. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Main image: Ava Welsing-Kitcher/courtesy of brands