Long Reads

Stylist Sleep Diaries: Why I can never switch off, even when I’m asleep

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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How well do you sleep? In a new series of diary entries from women across the UK, Stylist is exploring one of our most prolific obsessions…

Here, a hotel general manager explains how a strict sleep routine helps her juggle late nights with early starts - and always being on call.

Name: Samantha Fulton-Kandou

Profession: Hotel general manager at ME London

Ideal amount of sleep: 10 hours

Actual amount of sleep: seven hours, five minutes

Describe your sleep quality in three words: light, good, interrupted

Rate your sleep out of 10: 7

Sleep is very important to me – I plan my whole day and evening around the fact that I need to get a certain amount of it. My dream would be to nod off for 10 hours a night, but I usually aim for around eight. I’m an early bird and I always wake up first thing in the morning, so the earlier I can get to bed, the more sleep I can get. I use the bedtime mode on my iPhone to remind me to start getting ready for bed at 9.30pm. I normally go to bed around 10.45pm and wake up at 5.50am, meaning I get precisely seven hours and five minutes of sleep. 

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This doesn’t always happen though. I’m a creature of habit so I always follow the same routine, although sometimes an emergency will come up that needs my attention. As general manager, I need to be available. One night I might have a team dinner to attend, while other evenings there will be clients to entertain or events at the hotel that I have to go to. When we’re busy, which is usually two or three times a week, I have to stay late.

I find it really difficult to switch off when this happens. My mind will still be buzzing from such a hectic day, so I have to really force myself to relax and go to sleep. And even if I go to bed at 1.30am, my body clock will still wake me up at 5.50am.

Samantha relies on Kneipp products to make her feel sleepy

9.30pm: This is when I start preparing for bed. I’ll usually be downstairs in the living room so I’ll go up and take my make-up off. I don’t wear a lot because I have quite good skin, and although I know I should be using a cleanser and cotton wool pad, I don’t – I just use Nivea cleansing wipes.

Next, I’ll have a shower to wash off my day at work away. I always shower before bed because it makes me feel sleepy and relaxed; I use a Kneipp lavender body wash. I’ve been using it for 15 years but it’s not easily available in the UK, so whenever my friends go to the Netherlands or Germany they always bring it back for me. It’s the best. 

Whenever I find anything in the shops that might help me sleep better, I become fixated and have to buy it. Although, I once bought a scented mist that actually made my sleep worse because the smell was too strong…

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I usually shower for quite a long time, around 10 minutes, and I’ll also brush my teeth in there, too. I have two toothbrushes – one in the bathroom and one in the shower - it’s more convenient.

9.45pm: I get into bed, under the covers and try not to look at my phone again. I know the blue light will keep me awake longer, but sometimes I can’t help it. My phone has to be on and by my side because I’m always on call, but I silence all my apps like WhatsApp and Gmail. 

I’d have a panic attack if I lost it because it would freak me out knowing that someone wouldn’t be able to reach me if they needed to. Deep down I know I need to be alert in case anyone rings me. Even when I’m sleeping, I’m listening.

Once I’m in bed I’ll usually read a magazine or book – I like light reading at night, and nothing too intense. I love cookery magazines, or Homes & Gardens. I’ve also got a candle from Neom, which is natural and not too strong-smelling, and I light it to help me sleep.

Some of the beauty products Samantha relies on - including a Neom Organics candle

10.45pm: My phone’s bedtime alarm will tell me that it’s time to sleep. We have blackout blinds to block out the light in the morning, and I’m very fussy about bed linen. It’s very important for me to have big, cotton bedding – if I don’t have nice linen, I can’t sleep properly. I’d love to be able to change my bed linen every day but it’s not practical, so I change it twice a week and always get it dry cleaned.

I sleep with two pillows and I also like to have a proper mattress topper that’s really soft and makes you feel like you’re sinking into the bed. I took mine off for the summer because it got too hot, and I can really tell the difference.

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I usually wake up in the night, around 2.30-3am, when my five-year-old calls me to take her to the toilet. Sometimes I find it easy to fall asleep again, but often I just can’t. My brain is really active and it drives me crazy when I can’t switch it off, it’s so annoying! 

I try not to do anything else when that happens because I know it will wake me up completely. I don’t look at my phone, I just try to tell myself that it’s fine. This happens about once or twice during the week. Even if I do have a night like that, I’ll be so tired the next evening that I have an amazing night of sleep, so that keeps me going.

5.50am: My phone alarm goes off and I jump out of bed. The second alarm is set for 5.52am and I try not to let it get to that. I brush my teeth, put on my gym kit and drive 30 minutes to work. I park at the hotel then walk across the road to the gym, where I work out for an hour from 6.30am to 7.30am. Then I shower at the gym, using an invigorating shower gel from Rituals, and head back across the road to start my day at work.

Eye mask image courtesy of Oliver Bonas