How well do you sleep? In a series of diary entries from women across the UK, Stylist is exploring one of our most prolific obsessions…
Here, a broadcaster and author explains why her life is too erratic for a sleep routine.
Name: Gemma Cairney
Profession: Broadcaster, author and columnist
Actual sleep: It changes every night
Ideal amount: 10 hours
3 words to describe your sleep: unexpected, needed, dreamy
Sleep quality: 6/10
Unfortunately my sleep patterns are as erratic as my wardrobe, as I don’t have much routine in my life. I’m juggling jobs (joyously), and I don’t have the responsibility of kids or a live-in partner, which makes for a full and exciting, yet routine-less time in my life. I do sometimes crave more structure and reasons for routine and I’m always looking towards it, but right now - if I’m offered the opportunity to jump on plane to Colombia or Ghana (as I have this year for example), I’ll take it!
Some nights, when there’s actually an opportunity for downtime, my head will be filled with stuff and I can’t sleep for love nor money, but other times I’ll be so exhausted that I conk out on a train journey. So the amount of sleep I get is pretty changeable. I did, however, spend years presenting various breakfast shows on the radio, so I’m quite good at coping without much sleep. I also know some tricks, such as listening to certain music to help me drift off. If I’m desperate, then I’ll play the Weightless (Ambient Transmission) album by Marconi Union.
The more grownup I become, the more I am trying to be in bed by 11pm. If I’m not out and about then I won’t just stay up watching TV pointlessly. I love my home and when I’m there, and I do manage to go to bed early, it will usually be after a long bath and face mask session. But if I was to keep a log of my bedtime, it would be between the extremes of going to bed either really early or really late – some nights I just get to that point where I think, ‘oh f**k it, I’ve ruined it now’.
Like most of the necessary things in my life, I have a love/hate relationship with sleep (just like exercise and boys). How well I sleep depends on how I feel, and that can be to do with what time of the month it is and where my hormones are at, too. If I feel grounded and happy then my sleep will be like that, and I’ll get plenty of it. But if I’m feeling exhausted, stretched or worried, then sleep will be hard to find. I keep an eye on Clue, a period tracker, and it gives me those ‘eureka moments’ where I think, ‘I’m not losing it, I’m just due on!’.
There’ll be chunks of time where I’m travelling lots and staying in hotels for work. But I make sure I have lots of pillows to set up as a kind of ‘cuddle fort’ around me. Every night I will take off my make-up and brush my teeth, of course, but some nights I’ll wear pyjamas, and some nights I won’t… It just depends on how hot I am. (I do love good pyjama’s though. I’ve got a silky pair I picked up in Denmark that make me feel incredibly sophisticated.)
I write a beauty column so I have lots of different products that I can use to take my make-up off at night. Recently, because I’ve been all over the place, I’ve been using a bar of Pears soap. This will change though; I’m not a creature of comfort at all, I live by the seat of my pants and am more a creature of instinct.
Once I’ve taken my make-up off and brushed my teeth I dive into bed. I like sheets and duvet covers that are made of jersey materials, because it makes me feel like I’m swaddled in leisurewear, the same sort of feeling you get from wearing a favourite, comfy T-shirt. At the moment my bedding is grey, which is quite out of character for me, in terms of interior colour choices. The rest of my room has a ‘lounge room at a Seventies disco’ vibe; I have navy walls and a navy rug designed by Zandra Rhodes, and a gold mirrored wardrobe.
I have a few things in my room that I love, such as a framed Destiny’s Child cover of a Nineties magazine called Touch. The other day I was shopping for a gift for my friend and the shop was selling packets of glow in the dark stars, just like the ones I used to have when I was a kid. I asked my friend, ‘am I too old for these?!’ and we decided that no one is ever too old for them. So I bought them and stuck them on my ceiling. They make me smile every single night that I look at them; the fact that I don’t have to ask anyone if they’re childish, as it’s my bedroom, is a symbol that I can do what I want, and that pleases me.
I also have a fireplace in my room which has crystals on it. Sometimes I’ll put them around my bed. I’ve got a giant rose quartz, which is meant to be related to protecting my heart. I bought it in a fossil shop in Wales and I love it. It’s so massive and heavy that it’s almost a weapon to protection too… a ridiculous hippy equivalent to having a baseball bat under my bed!
I’ve started thinking more and more about switching off technology at night. I’ve been trying not to have my phone near my bed, which I really enjoy because it means I don’t feel tempted to reach over and look at it when I don’t need to.
It can take me a while to drift off to sleep. It varies depending on what I’ve got on, but it usually takes around 40 minutes. Sometimes I’ll wake up because of a weird dream, but usually I sleep straight through the night.
One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard is when I was in a faff about something and my best friend said, “Gemma, sleep is power”. And it’s so true – sleep is so powerful.
Eye mask courtesy of Oliver Bonas