After her high hopes of feeling more rested than ever in lockdown were dashed, writer Megan Murray shares the simple tip that’s helped her ditch a foggy head in the morning.
Since I moved from London to Brighton in January, I’ve been searching for tricks to make my sleep work twice as hard. You see, although I now live two hours outside of the capital, I still work there, and for the first two months of the year before lockdown hit, I was boarding the 6.30am train into the city each morning.
Considering my previous commute was 45 minutes, this change was a shock to the system. Although my sleep quality was good I was getting a lot less of it and I dealt with this by literally throwing myself out of bed and speeding through my morning routine in half an hour, before I had chance to even realise that I was still tired.
When lockdown started, although I was obviously upset about not seeing my family and friends, I took some comfort in planning to get more rest with a later wake up time. But things haven’t exactly turned out like that.
Despite sleeping for longer, I’ve noticed that I’ve been waking up feeling foggy headed. Combined with a weighted, pressurised feeling around my head, I’ve also been struggling to open my eyes and wake up effectively. This has left me feeling sluggish and unmotivated – that is until I tried a super simple trick.
My dad has always told me to sleep with my window open, but presuming this advice was based on exactly zero scientific evidence I’ve mostly ignored him until a few weeks ago when I accidentally left my bedroom window open, and voila, woke up feeling breezier, clearer and more awake than usual.
Over the next few days I tested the theory by sleeping with my window open again for three nights in a row and sure enough every morning I felt much better than I had previously. To be sure, I then slept with my window closed for one night and could instantly tell the difference when my alarm clock went off the next day.
Is it just me or could this sleep hack help everyone wake up feeling fresher? I reached out for a professional opinion, speaking to Dr Kat Lederle who is a sleep therapist and founder of somnia.org.uk. I asked her if sleeping with a window open is actually beneficial.
She assured me that sleeping with a window open has many benefits, both physiological and psychological. Dr Lederle explains: “Research has shown that people who are sleeping in a well-ventilated room report feeling less sleepy and better able to concentrate the next day. What’s also been observed is that having a window facing onto green space or water can also support a healthy sleep.
“Of course, many people may feel uncomfortable with a draught in their room or are bothered by noise outside, particularly in cities. If this is the case, there’s absolutely no point in keeping the window open and being too uncomfortable to sleep – but if it’s something that is possible then everyone should try it.”
If you don’t feel safe to sleep with a window open, or as Dr Lederle says, the noise pollution in your area keeps you awake, she still advises that you try and create as much ventilation and air flow in your bedroom as possible.
“It’s important to have good air circulation, so open a window if you can. However, there is also noise pollution to consider. Something I do is keep the bedroom door open instead of the window because of the street noise. And where privacy is a problem, a fan or an air diffuser can help. For a cheaper alternative put a drop of oil into hot water and steam it,” she advises.
There’s also a lot to be said for the environment you create for yourself before going to sleep, especially in terms of scent and temperature.
“There is some research suggesting a beneficial effect of certain scents. However, if you use an oil with the firm expectation that this will solve your sleep problem, then it might be less helpful because you are likely to adopt an anticipating, expecting attitude which can increase tension and prevent restful sleep. However, if your aim is to create a comfortable and relaxing room atmosphere then it might be more likely to help. Some scents such as lavender can work on your nervous system and certainly any smell that you like has the potential to help you relax,” says Dr Lederle.
She particularly advises using lavender because it can lead to a deeper sleep and help you to feel more vigorously awake in the morning. Plus, it can put you in a more relaxed state by affecting your blood pressure and heart rate. Vanilla is also a good scent to try because it’s relaxing, while jasmine can promote greater sleep efficiency and valerian is thought to have sleep benefits when inhaled.
Finally, Dr Lederle says that temperature is just as important as having good ventilation in the bedroom because “as a species we evolved outdoors and not in well-insulated houses, which means our physiology is adapted to the natural change in temperature across the 24-hour day.”
“A cooler bedroom is better for sleep as this allows your body temperature to drop which opens the so-called ‘sleep gate’. But of course, you should not be freezing because that will make falling or staying asleep harder. Around 18C is a good guideline,” she explains.
So, could cracking a window be the golden key to getting the best night’s sleep you’ve had in ages? It certainly was for me!