Close your eyes for a second and consider what comes to mind when you envision a 'perfect night's sleep'.
Do images of big squishy pillows appear? Impossibly crisp white duvets? A beautiful woman lying in bed with her eyes closed as a deliciously smug smile creeps across her full lips?
What you’ve done there is think about an advert for a sleep product. One for a mattress, a new bed, a stop snoring product or overnight pantyliners which promise to keep you and your sheets free from errant leakage.
But what is a real 'perfect night's sleep'? One that’s eight hours long? One that occurs without disruption? One that leaves you feeling refreshed and rested and free of anxiety about the day ahead? Probably, for you, it’s some combination of all these things. For someone else, it'll be a different set of things entirely.
But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: the perfect night's sleep as we imagine it doesn't exist. 'Good' sleep is subjective and as long as there are people out there telling you that you're not having the perfect night's sleep, you will always feel like there's something you could improve – even you lucky 8-hours-a-nighters – whether that's waking at 2am for a wee or wishing you could have nicer dreams.
And there's plenty out there to give you the heebie-jeebies about poor sleep, or sleep hygiene, as we now call it. In the last few years there's been a huge rise in studies and reports into sleeplessness. Lack of sleep has been linked to everything from cancer to obesity, high blood pressure to poor fertility – hell, there are even claims that your rubbish sleep is partly responsible for the dire state of the British economy. And yes, while this may all be rooted in science, reading sensationalist headlines without any solutions puts the blame for your poor sleep and its consequences firmly on you. Which makes you feel like a failure – it's literally you and your inability to sleep that's causing these potential future problems for your body.
But of course that's not fair. There are 701 reasons way beyond your control which contribute to your struggle to sleep. From the ever-present lure of our phones and constant connectivity to a worrisome world, poor mental health, a likely less than ideal housing situation, money issues and more, it's amazing that millennials and Gen Z are getting any sleep at all. Feeling like you've failed every time you don't live up to this ad-friendly image of a perfect night's sleep is only going to make you worry more and in turn, sleep less.
How can we learn to block out the noise (and I know, there's so much of it and it's oh so loud) and try to celebrate the sleep we are getting? For the insomniacs out there that's probably very little sleep indeed but channelling your energy into the advert for the pillow that claims to help you breathe better won't help. Imagine shelling out £75 for the same mediocre sleep. How much worse will you feel that you didn't manage to become one of the smiling, well-rested models on the pillow's Instagram page?
This week on Refinery29, we're exploring sleep in a new series called Lights Out. We'll be tackling the reasons why you can't sleep and what to do about it, starting with all the ways your period and reproductive illnesses impact your sleep (no prizes for guessing that none of them improve it). We'll also be looking at antidepressants. As prescriptions rise, are we taking the effect of SSRIs on sleep seriously enough? Especially when one of the main symptoms of depression is, well, sleeplessness. We'll also be looking at sleep disorders; if you've ever experienced the horror that is sleep paralysis, make sure you take the time to read our account from a woman who suffered for many years. Her story of how she linked it to trauma occurring in her real life, and the steps she took to get better, will be up later in the week.
We're also going to hear from so-called 'good' sleepers; those annoying people who can hunker down anywhere and grab some shut-eye at the drop of a hat. What is their secret? Can we learn anything from them? We'll also be delving into the Scandi tradition of two duvets, one bed – a sensible alternative to a sleep divorce? We're also going to be heading straight to left field and getting your dreams analysed. Does the recurring dream about meeting your ex naked really mean anything? Or should you just lay off the midnight cheese snacking?
There's plenty more as well but one last thing to mention is that come Sunday, we'll be delving into that drawer that every woman has in her bedside table to find out what's really in it. Is it all vibrators and lube? Or perhaps something more sentimental? Team R29 are being brave and opening their bedside drawers for you to dive right in.
Sweet dreams and remember, a bad night's sleep is not your fault. The bar's just been set too high.