Rethink: Sleep

An illustration of a man eating a bed with a knife and fork but putting a slice in his eye.

Having trouble nodding off? Anatomē founder and London member, Brendan Murdock, explores our current relationship with sleep

By Corinna Burford   Illustration by Andrey Kasay   Thursday 28 May, 2020   Long read

As our lives still continue to change dramatically – somewhat weekly, if not daily – it can be challenging to get a good night’s sleep. As well as understanding this sentiment first-hand, it’s also backed up by my conversation with Brendan Murdock, the founder of anatomē. The London-based wellness company provides consultations on nutrition, as well as sleep. ‘During this time, we’ve had a lot of appointments with customers experiencing distress about sleep,’ he says. ‘For many people, living in lockdown has been fraught because of issues such as work and income. The common theme is inconsistent sleeping, not sleeping well and insomnia.’ Unfortunately (and you’ve probably anticipated this before I’ve even written it), there’s no quick fix. But, there are some simple changes we can make that can help our bodies relax and prepare for a more restful night.

Embrace routine
‘The most common issue that people are facing has been the lack of structure to their day. In order to sleep at night, during the day it’s important to factor in exercise and work, and also to compartmentalise those things a little bit,’ says Murdock. ‘Even simple things like doing your bed laundry once a week can help,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing nicer than getting into freshly laundered sheets. And making your bed in the morning is a really important practice. Try not to get into an unmade bed like you left it from the night before.’

Downtime should also fit into this structure. ‘As you’re getting into the routine of working, it’s also important to switch off and reduce your news engagement,’ says Murdock. ‘Binge-watching TV, and then getting into bed to catch up on the news and emails, is not going to aid sleep.’ 

Time your exercise wisely
‘Doing a variety of different exercises every day is vital. We know this, and you should structure high-intensity workouts in the morning, and then lower intensity in the evening,’ explains Murdock. ‘At night, it’s not the solution to do high-intensity exercise where you’re getting your brain active.’

In the evening, he says, ‘a more nourishing and nurturing exercise could be a yoga class or Pilates. There are fantastic online courses and live classes, as well as meditation sessions. If you’re able to set a room diffuser during a meditation or yoga class, then at the end of that you’ll be more ready to sleep.’
A man with his head buried in a mattress.
Create new bedtime rituals 
‘We’re encouraging people to do a lot more routines in the evening to tell the body it’s time to sleep. The whole nature of sleep is training the brain that it’s time to go to bed, both physically and emotionally,’ says Murdock. Incorporating a warm bath or shower into your routine is a good place to start. ‘While we have time, it’s good to take more baths during the week to relax your body while creating a new ritual,’ he says. 

If you spend a lot of time in your bedroom during the day, making small tweaks to the appearance of your room before bed can help as well. ‘A lot of this goes into the visual training around sleep,’ Murdock says. ‘If you have a plant in your room, you can take it out at night, or even just change the throw on the bed.’

Explore essential oils
Using an essential oil blend in the bath, shower or on your skin can help to relax your mind and body before bed. ‘By applying a sleep oil, ideally about 30 minutes beforehand, there’s a relaxing absorption and an inhalation thing going on. But the scent also engages the memory and sensory receptors, telling you it’s time to go to sleep,’ says Murdock. ‘It’s about applying these oils on sensory points around your body, which are from the tops of your feet to your wrists. Once you get used to applying it and you’re thinking about the application, then you start associating it with relaxing.’

There are many different varieties of essential oils that can be used for sleep, including anatomē’s own, complex blends, which lead with lavender, frankincense and blue chamomile. But the main goal, says Murdock, is to find one that works for you. ‘It’s important to choose something that you’re really connecting with emotionally, because you have to love what you’re wearing in bed.’

If you wake up, don’t check your phone
‘What a lot of people do when they can’t sleep is to pick up their phone, which is the worst approach,’ says Murdock. ‘There’s lots of research around the screen and how it interacts with your brain, particularly as so many people use their phones as alarm clocks. If you can, try not to look at yours in bed.’

‘If you wake up or you’re suffering from insomnia, a good routine to get into is to reapply your sleep oil or pillow spray, and to re-engage and focus on the simple act of breathing,’ says Murdock. ‘Taking a moment to lift your hands to your face, and filling your head and chest with a little bit more oxygen, is another form of telling your body that you need to go back to sleep.’ It’s OK not to drift off immediately, but the most important thing is to avoid panicking. ‘Sometimes people will wake up having had a nightmare and their body is seizing up,’ says Murdock. ‘In that moment, sleep can feel unnatural. So, when you’re trying to relax, it’s important not fight it and keep thinking “this is an awful experience, I can’t get back to sleep”.’
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