Editor’s letter: The mind trick I wish everyone knew

There’s all manner of theories out there about sleep. Why we never feel like we’re getting enough and what to do about it. I’m no doctor – though I could open a pharmacy with the contents of my bathroom cabinet – but I have a theory about why so many people struggle to get quality sleep. Welcome to my soapbox speech entitled ‘The tyranny of Fitbits’. Well, it’s the tyranny of any kind of tracking technology that people seem so obsessed with in our terribly modern age.

Currently my own phone is bombarding me with an ad that’s urging me to download a sleep-tracking app. It can report in the morning on how many hours I’ve slept, how much of that was REM sleep and how many times I tossed and turned. It claims to be able to tell me if I had a nightmare and even if – I kid you not – I’ve passed wind. What use is that last bit of info? So that I can apologise to the phone in the morning for being so unladylike?

This kind of technology, urging you to obsess about getting your eight hours of sleep, is the very thing that I believe will guarantee that you won’t. In our digital age, we’re too unnaturally concerned with monitoring sleep patterns, along with our heart rates, daily step counts, calorie intakes. Just because technology can do these things for us, doesn’t necessarily make it useful. In the case of sleep, I truly believe it’s damaging.

I once travelled regularly for work with a friend who would be so thrilled about a few nights in a hotel, with its promise of sleep unbroken by her baby twins. Yet, so many times, at breakfast she’d be almost tearful about her sleepless night. Room temperatures and clanging ancient pipes were often blamed, but I’m convinced it’s because she was concentrating too hard on the whole process.

A switch flicked in my own head many years ago: like breathing, sleeping is just one of those things my body does. It’s not like it won’t happen. So I could lie there at 3am, catastrophising about how awful the following day would be on my two hours of sleep – or I could accept that I would no doubt survive it. The ability to simply stop getting frustrated about sleeping is the very thing that helped me do it. To that end, I won’t even allow a visible clock next to me in bed – nothing keeps one awake more than watching the minutes tick towards dawn. So a glowing phone with its judgey fart reports has no chance.

Our feature on sleep, supports a lot of what I’m saying. It’s a fascinating look at the science of how our own brains can be our downfall, our saboteurs. But the good news is, it also means we can rewire ourselves. If you have defined yourself as an insomniac, I urge you to read Kate Mikhail’s piece with an open mind and a willingness to challenge your own thoughts about what will and won’t work for you when it comes to getting your best rest.

I really hope it helps.

Editor’s picks

A few things I’m coveting this week

T shirt

A great tee and all profits go to children’s charity. Spread a Smile T-shirt, £70, wyselondon.co.uk


Will fit my picnic blanket and the bottle of wine. Bag, £150, raefeather.com


Wear at home, on the beach and even to the office with smart trousers. Blouse, £110, jigsaw-online.com