Tag: sleep

How To Have The Best Staycation At Home This Weekend

With the UK on lockdown, you’d be forgiven for scratching your head a little when it comes to your weekend plans.

And yes, while you could clean your home or do some DIY, given the current climate we think it’s only right to take some time out for yourself. Use this time to switch off, relax and – dare we say it – have some fun.

But how to do that without leaving the house? Milla Lascelles, a holistic health and lifestyle coach from London, shares her tips for the ultimate staycation.

1. Set the scene.

“Sometimes all we need is to rework our habitat,” says Lascelles, citing that feeling you get when you rearrange some furniture, declutter your coffee table or pop some nice new products by your bath tub.

One way to create that staycation feel at home is to give your bedroom a quick and easy makeover. “I think before you do anything, make your bedroom a minimalist haven, similar to what you’d find in a hotel room,” she says.

“Declutter the room, fold your towels on the end of the bed, perhaps move that radio in your kitchen to your bedroom and invest in a brand new, cosy, white robe to hang on the back of your door.” (Or just giving your existing dressing gown a wash to freshen it up!)

In the morning, why not grab a tray and treat yourself to breakfast in bed?

2. Soak it up.

If you’ve found that a week of working from home or just general life stress has left you with tense shoulders, it might be helpful to run a bath to relax those muscles.

“Bathing is really therapeutic and the ritual allows the mind to slow down and rest,” says Lascelles. Turn your bathroom into a spa with bath oils and a face mask. Slice some cucumber for your eyes. Whale music optional. Get some candles on the go if you can and keep the lighting low. Go the whole hog.

3. Have a picnic.

Put a fancy picnic together in your garden – or, if you don’t have one, on your balcony or even in your living room. “Why not get your picnic basket out and and find a lovely spot in the garden where you can stay put for an afternoon with your family?” says Lascelles.

Pack some sandwiches, snacks and drinks, and you’re good to go. Just don’t forget your picnic rug!

4. Camp out.

If the weather permits, you could even sleep out under the stars in your own back garden, says Lascelles. This is a great option for those with kids.

Dig out that old tent or those sleeping bags that have been gathering dust, grab a portable BBQ (to make dinner with) and don’t forget your hot water bottles.

If you don’t have the outdoor space, why not build a cosy den indoors and sleep there instead – midnight snacks, fairy lights and blankets are a must.

5. Unplug.

While connection is key during the lockdown, it’s wise to give yourself time to disconnect for a little while. “Try and unplug from the noise when you can,” says Lascelles. “If anything, due to current circumstances, screen time is up so try and make your staycation weekend device-free in certain rooms in the house. 

“You could even try and carry this on throughout the coming weeks. You may feel uncomfortable at first and even become bored but you will adapt quickly and start to enjoy it.”

6. Get moving.

As it stands, we can all leave our homes once a day for exercise – so try and find a new route to explore. Preferably one where other people aren’t going or a place where you can keep a good distance from others. A good hour’s walk will leave you feeling invigorated and like you’ve actually escaped for a bit.

Failing that, treat yourself to an exercise class as you would if you were staying in a hotel with a gym, says Lascelles. There are plenty of online fitness classes to choose from – we tried them – and most can be done from your living room with no extra equipment needed. We even chatted to Joe Wicks about his one!

7. Get creative in the kitchen.

There’s something really nice and fulfilling about preparing a proper meal – whether you’re making it for yourself, or for others in your household. Pick a recipe, something you’ve never made before, and embrace the challenge. If you live with others, get them involved in making dinner too – then make sure you all sit down to eat together.

Make your own pizzas. “Not only is it cheaper it’s also a fun activity to get the whole family involved with,” says Lascelles. And if all else fails, order a takeaway.

How To Stop Coronavirus Nightmares From Ruining A Good Night’s Sleep

See the latest stories on the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite sitting indoors pretty much all day, every day, you may be feeling more tired than usual at the moment – and, yes, coronavirus is probably to blame.

Stress impacts on “both the amount of sleep we achieve and its quality”, says sleep specialist Dr Michelle Miller, associate professor in Biochemical Medicine at Warwick University. And few things are as stressful as a global pandemic. 

Perhaps the Covid-19 situation has left you struggling to switch off at night. Or you doze off – but wake more frequently than usual, and find it hard to get back to sleep. Fighting to get some peaceful shut-eye affects both our physical and mental wellbeing, says Dr Miller. Heightened levels of stress or trauma are also known to increase frequency of night terrors or “anxiety dreams” in adults.

“Sleep is important for memory consolidation [the process where our brains convert short-term memories into long-term ones] and immune function,” she tells HuffPost UK. 

Conversely, sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on mental resilience, making coping with the pandemic – and the precautions we are being asked to take – that bit harder during the day. It has also been shown to mirror brain activity in anxiety disorders and can exacerbate pre-existing ones.

“Lack of sufficient sleep affects emotional regulation, inhibition, control and judgement,” Dr Miler says. “It is associated with low mood, irritability and the inability to concentrate on performing tasks.” Which is why it’s important to address sleeping issues – but how can you best do this when you’re already feeling overwhelmed?

Sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works, recommends some proactive steps to regain control over your situation. If you’ve been struggling to fall asleep, she advises spending 10-15 minutes in the early evening writing your worries and thoughts down on paper. “Think about the thoughts you have when you are lying in bed feeling anxious and write them down,” she says. “The simple act of writing them down and seeing them visually in front of you can help alleviate their build in your brain.”

Getting the basics of good sleep right will also help. These include detoxing from the news cycle and social media before bed, trying to stick to a regular bedtime and wake time, and making the most of daily exercise (don’t skip it because you’re tired!)

“Have a light dinner and as varied a diet as possible, as many dietary compounds can boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and reduce the stress-hormone cortisol,” Dr Miller adds. “Try to exercise early in the day, not immediately before bed, and dim down your lights in the evening.”

Taylor also recommends listening to an audio book (hundreds have recently been released for free on platforms like Audible), having a hot shower or bath, then listening to a meditation or breathing exercise while lying on your bed. 

“All this allows us to maintain a sense of calm leading up to bedtime.”

If you’re worried about waking regularly, Dr Miller suggests it can help to remind yourself that it is completely normal to do so. “We sleep in cycles of approximately 90 minutes. If you wake up, remind yourself it’s not uncommon to wake up in lighter phases of sleep and try to settle down again,” she says. 

For those still struggling to drift back off, Taylor says there’s no point lying in bed tossing and turning. “All this does is build up our anxiety and stress levels and enhance our thoughts, which always seem more catastrophic during the night when all is quiet,” she says.

Instead, during this uncertain period, Taylor recommends building a ‘nest’ in another room other than your bedroom, if you have the space. “Make it a nice, comfortable space, with dim lighting,” she says. “Put a book, or headphones with audiobook or music ready. If you are not feeling sleepy within around 10-15 minutes, get up and go to your nest.”

However tempting it may be, do not look at your phone while visiting the ‘nest’. “Even a quick check of the phone with alerts on screen can be enough to trigger anxious thoughts,” Taylor says. “When you are feeling sleepy, go back to bed and hopefully you will find it easier to get back to sleep.”

For more article and tips, read The Sleep Edition from HuffPost UK. 

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.

The Best Mindfulness Apps That Will Help You Stay Calm

Many people are feeling uncertain or anxious about what’s happening in the world right now. Our version of normal is changing, but whether you’re practising social distancing or working from home for the first time, there are small steps you can take to bring some calm back into your daily routine. 

Mindfulness apps can be a really good way to develop a more manageable mindset, without feeling too overwhelmed. We’ve handpicked 10 apps to get you started, or if you’re an experienced user, new ones to try.

Some are free, some charge a subscription fee; all are designed to offer a helping hand in a worrying time. Just don’t forget to keep your phone clean when you’re using them!

The One Your Friend Has

Headspace – Free to download, optional monthly (£9.99) or yearly subscription (£44.99)


Meditation and sleep app Headspace is one of the best known on the market, offering the first 14 days free so you can get a feel for its 10-part basic courses before committing to a monthly or annual subscription. You can tailor exercises to suit your needs, whether you’re looking to get a better night’s sleep or manage stress and anxiety, in three, five or 10 minute bursts. Headspace CEO Richard Pierson announced on Twitter the app would be introducing services to help caregivers, healthcare providers, parents and workers, along with tools and tips to help talk to young people whose schooling is affected by coronavirus.

Download Headspace.

The Deep Breathing One

Just Breathe – Free to download

Just Breathe

This completely free app offers guided meditation with a teacher, music or timer in two, eight or 20 minute sessions. With soothing sounds, simple instructions, it’s brilliant if you’re new to meditation and need a bit of help in finding what works for you. We’d recommend trying it for eight minutes to get you started, long enough to get into a better headspace, but not too long that it takes you off task, especially if you’re working from home. But the longer practices are great for starting or finishing your day. 

Download Just Breathe

The Sleepy Celebrity One

Calm – Free for a one week trial, then an annual subscription (£28.99)


Calm has a great variety of meditations and bedtime stories to follow, narrated by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey. As soon as you open the app it plays outdoor sounds, from rain to waves, which you can adapt to your preference, and there are different meditation option dependent on your experience. It’s a welcoming bit of peace away from the chaos. 

Download Calm.

The Truly Escapist One

Portal – £3.99 for one-time download



If you’re struggling to sleep or suffer from insomnia, try Portal, a mindfulness app that has a wide selection of relaxing sounds from nature to enjoy quietly on their own or as an accompaniment to audiobooks and podcasts. The name is the aim: offering you a portal to a calmer state whether that’s a beach in Hawaii, or a lake in Japan, and each option comes with landscape imagery to really set the scene for you. 

Download Portal

The Naysayers’ One

Simple Habit – Free to download with an optional annual subscription (£38.99)

Simple Habit

If taking time to practise mindfulness feels like another thing on your to-do list, Simple Habit is designed for people who don’t or can’t find the time for a few minutes of self-care. The audio meditations are as short as five minutes but can make all the difference if you need to feel at ease. Choose topics that are relevant to you, whether’s that reducing stress on the commute you’re still having to do or relaxing post a social-distancing argument. We could all do with a bit of that. While there is a price tag attached to access more content, what you get for free is generous so don’t feel like you have to fork out.

Download Simple Habit.  

The NHS-Approved One

Feeling Good: Positive Mindset – Free to download with in-app purchases

Feeling Good: Positive Mindset

As one of the apps recommended by the NHS for managing your mental health, Feeling Good: Positive Mindset offers a series of audio tracks to help you build a more positive approach to things, particularly helpful if you know you’re prone to looking at the negative aspects of situations. It works to improve your overall mental wellbeing, concentration and confidence in approaching tasks, too, using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques. You get four free tracks accompanied by music and coaching to begin with, then a 12-track positive mental training audio programme available as an in-app purchase. The programme has been used by the NHS in Edinburgh for 12 years to help recovery from stress, anxiety and depression in over 75,000 patients. 

Download Feeling Good: Positive Mindset


The Gamified One

Thrive – Free to download


Another app with the NHS tick of approval, Thrive is game-based programme to help you take control of your emotions. Through meditation and deep-breathing tips, the aim is to manage negative thoughts and be more relaxed in how you deal with stressful scenarios. Meanwhile, the Mood Meter tracks how you’re feeling to guide you into recognising what changes you could make if you’re feeling many things at once and finding it hard to address them. 

Download Thrive

The Thoughtful One

Stop, Breathe and Think – Free to download with an optional monthly subscription (£9.99) or annual sign up (£54.99)

Stop, Breathe and Think

Before you start a guided meditation or quick yoga session with Stop, Breathe & Think, it thoughtfully asks you to check in on how you’re feeling physically and mentally, to help make your choice of activity that little bit more beneficial. There’s five minute sessions you can squeeze into your day or if you want something longer, there’s practices that go on upwards of 20 minutes. The free download grants you access to 30 activities, although if you did want to invest on an annual premium subscription then there’s over 100 more to use. 

Download Stop, Breathe & Think

The Social One

Insight Timer – Free to download, with an optional annual subscription (£55.99).

Insight Timer

If you prefer group meditation, Insight Timer is the app for you. You can invite friends to join you, see who iis meditating nearby or get a global view via a map of who is opting in too. Within it you can joining community group where meetups are encouraged and discussion topics are varied. It boasts a free library of 30,000 guided meditations, which comes with ambient background sounds to keeping you feel as zen as possible. 

Download Insight Timer


Why Am I So Tired After A Big Sleep? A Quick Guide

Your weekend lie-in might seem like a good idea at the time, but if you’ve ever woken up after a big sleep feeling even groggier than before you went to bed, you’ll know it’s not always for the best.

So why does this happen? Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School and co-author of Sleep for Success, tells HuffPost UK it’s because we’re throwing our systems out of sync.

Our bodies are creatures of habit, she explains. The circadian rhythm relies on structure, including: exposure to light first thing, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and adopting bed-time patterns that tell your body you’re gearing up for sleep. 

To put it simply: we love a good routine, so when we sleep past our usual wake-up time, our body (and brain) get confused. Cue, the grogginess.

We’re basically giving ourselves jet lag, or social jet lag, as scientists call it. “We may have actually tricked ourselves into thinking we have hopped in an airplane and flown to a new destination, making sleep the subsequent night also challenging,” says Robbins.

If you have snatched, shorter sleeps throughout the week, it’s probably not best to switch off your alarm on the weekend and sleep for hours and hours.

“When we cut our sleep short and have to ‘catch up the next night’ the stages of our sleep will be out of sync, causing us to wake up and feel disoriented after sleeping for longer than usual,” says Robbins.

The best sleep is one that is sufficient (7-8 hours ideally) and consistent, which means it follows a similar schedule from night to night – yes, even at the weekend.

“This allows our body to know when it is supposed to be tired and when it is supposed to awaken,” she says. “Our sleep will organise itself very efficiently within this window, slipping in and out of the various stages that allow us to wake up refreshed.”

So if you’re tempted to have a big kip, try to resist. The best option is to keep sleep consistently throughout the week and make up for lost sleep with a short power nap – 20 minutes should do the trick.

“This will pay back some of our sleep ‘debt’,” says Robbins, “without the tax of the groggy sensation after a longer than normal period of sleep.”

Self-Isolating For Coronavirus? Here’s How To Avoid Cabin Fever

Update: See the latest stories on the coronavirus outbreak.

One in five workers – around six million people – could be forced to stay home during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, prime minister Boris Johnson has said.

As cases of Covid-19 rise in the UK, more people are being encouraged to self-isolate in at attempt to reduce the spread of the virus, which so far has proven a particular risk to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

While self-isolating might sound like a dream scenario for the introverts among us, two weeks alone with yourself can very quickly become boring and frustrating. In some cases, people might find their mood is affected, says NHS England – people might feel low, worried or have problems sleeping. 

So what can you do about it?

1. Get on top of things.

Yes it’s not ideal you’ve got to stay at home for two weeks but think of it as a great time to do some of those things you’ve been putting off (like booking that dentist appointment or researching staycations). Reprioritise your wellbeing and happiness. Have a nice bath (or five), paint your nails, practise mindfulness, do some yoga. It all helps.

2. Use social media for good.

Social media should never be a replacement for physical contact with other human beings, but when you’re in isolation, you have to compromise. 

Instead of scrolling mindlessly through your feeds, use social media to connect with friends and family. Find new networks and communities, join or promote worthwhile causes – perhaps one of those helping the vulnerable during the outbreak – or reach out to others who appear to be struggling.

Make use of Whatsapp and Facetime. It can really help to lift our spirits to connect regularly with those we love. Failing that, do it the old-fashioned way and give an old friend (or your gran) a call. 

It’s good to stay informed about the best health precautions, but you don’t need to be glued to every single news update, as this can feed and fuel our fears. If you find it’s all getting too much, avoid the news, turn off notifications and mute specific words on social media.

And if you find yourself spending too much time online, limit your use to a certain time (ie. 6pm) each day.

3. Read a book (or three).

Reading is considered very therapeutic, so throwing yourself headfirst into a good book (preferably an uplifting one!) could work wonders for the soul. Why not revisit our favourite holiday reads – because you’re ‘kind of’ on a break.

When you’ve got your nose in a good book, time passes quickly and you find yourself immersed in an entirely new world – one where you’re not thinking about coronavirus. A study by cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis showed that reading for as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by a whopping 60%. In fact, it was found to be better at reducing stress than music, having a cuppa, going for a walk and playing video games.

4. Marie Kondo your room.

When Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow returned to the UK from Iran, he was told he had to spend two weeks in isolation. What did he do in that time? He organised his ties, of course.

If you’re house- or bedroom-bound, try to focus on what you can be doing to sort out the area you’re confined to. Is it finally time to have a clear out? How about putting up those curtains that have been sat in their wrapping for eons? Or tidying up that bedside table drawer that’s crammed full of junk? You’ll feel totally satisfied and fulfilled afterwards. Not to mention a little calmer.

My ties are getting hung up! pic.twitter.com/6cmNKqSV6b

— Jon Snow (@jonsnowC4) February 27, 2020

5. Buy yourself something nice.

It’s seriously crap being stuck indoors and you’re doing the best you can, so buy yourself something nice (online, of course). Bloom & Wild do lovely flowers you can have posted straight through your letter box or why not splurge on some new linen for the bed you’re having to look at and sit on day in, day out? Obviously if you’re being tested for coronavirus, or you’ve tested positive, you should be letting your delivery driver know that they should call you and leave the items on your doorstep when they arrive to limit interaction.

6. Prioritise sleep, but not too much.

You might want to sleep lots when you’re stuck indoors and bored, but don’t be tempted because it can really screw up your sleeping pattern. If you’re self-isolating, use the time to catch up on sleep (7-8 hours per night is enough) and don’t be drawn in by the temptation to nap for three hours each afternoon. Prioritising your sleep can help boost your mental health, but getting too much sleep can actually make us feel 10 times worse. Read more on sleep here.

7. Get creative.

Studies suggest that when we’re bored, we’re at our most creative, so use this time wisely. Write that book you’ve been putting off, paint that blank canvas, pen a poem or song, compose some music. Do something.

Alternatively, learn a new skill. YouTube is a great starting point. You’ll find tutorials for pretty much anything – whether you’re learning how to draw, knit, or even cook. If that’s not for you, why not download an app to help you learn a new language.

8. Dance

You’re confined to your room, you’re bored out of your skull, there’s only one thing for it: it’s time to dance. Turn up your music (upbeat songs only) and spend 20 minutes dancing around – not only will it boost your mood, it’s also a good way of squeezing in some exercise without leaving the house.

9. Focus on the future. 

Remember this is a temporary situation, it’s not forever. So why not focus your mind on the things you’re looking forward to in the year ahead? The weddings you’re attending, the holidays you’ve booked, the big career or house move, spending summer in beautiful beer gardens, going to the beach, landing that promotion. If we focus on the future, there’s less chance to catastrophise about the present.

Why Some Happy Couples Choose To Sleep In Separate Bedrooms

James* has been married for two decades, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that he and his wife started sleeping in different rooms.″[My wife] would constantly kick me awake to stop my snoring, then we would try to race each other back…

How To Nap At Work Like A Pro

Filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi has been caught napping on the job multiple times – and he’s more than happy to tell the world about it.

The 44-year-old shared a thread posted by a fan account, aptly named Taika Naptiti, and urged others with “Taika sleeping photos” to come forward and share theirs, too.

The photos show the Jojo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok director stacking Zzzs in various positions – including on a chair with no headrest, his head leaning so far back it looks like his neck might snap.

He’s also been papped napping in a pushchair, on benches, on the floor with his legs on a chair (classic), and in various vehicles. If day-sleeping was an Olympic sport, this man would grab gold.

Taika Waititi at the Oscars earlier this month.

taika naptiti: a thread pic.twitter.com/NgeRkDWr1C

— taika naptiti (@mcuwaititi) February 24, 2020

Napping at work may be frowned upon for some of us – but there’s definitely a case for doing it. One study found people who nap are more likely to be productive, happier and confident people – so it could actually benefit your output at work. A quick 30-minutes on your lunch break? Yes please.

James Wilson, a sleep behaviour and environment expert also known as The Sleep Geek, is a firm supporter of the work nap. He’s worked with organisations where groups of 40 people head to their cars for naps midway through the working day. “People are becoming more aware of it, there’s a clamour for things like nap rooms and nap pods,” he tells HuffPost UK. “I think it should be socially acceptable.”

Wilson is, however, cautious about telling everyone to nap throughout the working day, because it could disrupt nighttime sleep for some. So, the questions you need to ask yourself are: does a nap affect your sleep at night? And are you tired during the day? If the answer is no, then yes – you’ve passed the test. You’re fit for a work nap. 

You might want to nap at work if you’re working long shifts to get projects delivered, or if you work unsociable hours, says Wilson. Or you might want to have a quick snooze if you’re feeling unwell. Night owls who struggle to adhere to the typical 9-5pm working day may also feel the need to nap more, he adds.

Naps can be beneficial if you tend to exercise later in the day, or you’re off on a big night out.

So, how can you make the most of a work nap? 

Don’t nap for more than 30 minutes, says Wilson, otherwise you may enter a deeper stage of sleep and wake up feeling worse than when you started. Not ideal when you’re at work. “Naps should be short,” he adds. “It’s about alertness and productivity, it’s a quick energy boost.”

Aim to nap before 2-3pm because the closer you nap to bedtime, the harder it’ll be to go to sleep at night. If your workplace isn’t nap friendly (yet), grab 40 winks on your lunch break. But if they encourage flexible working, you might be able to settle in for a quick snooze after lunch – or whenever suits you.

Make sure you’ve got a good location to nap in. This could be your car if there’s not any space in your office to sleep, or a meeting room you book out for 30 minutes. Wilson used to nap in the toilet cubicles at work – a routine he managed for almost a year. A comfortable spot is probably best, though – Wilson recommends tracking down a sofa with low arms. Pointing out Waititi’s unusual sleeping posture in some of the photos shared online, he adds: “We don’t want to be waking up feeling like we’ve gone 10 rounds with Tyson. You could be napping and end up spending a fortune on chiropractors.” Investing in a turtle wrap pillow could be handy, allowing you to nap on-the-go (planes, cars, trains) or at work – wherever the mood takes you.

You also need to make sure the atmosphere is right to nap in. Take specific sleep tools with you to help you drift off quickly, suggests Wilson. This could be a blanket with a partner’s perfume on, an eye mask (if you usually sleep with one), or some headphones so you can listen to sleep meditation or music. “Create a bit of a routine that says to your body: I’d like to nap now,” he adds.

If you can’t nap at work, get outdoors on your lunch break and do some light exercise – even if that’s just walking around the park. It can help you push past that afternoon slump. And if you try to nap, but can’t seem to fall asleep, don’t beat yourself up about it, says Wilson. It probably means you’re getting enough sleep at night.

Stop Reading Into Your Sex Dreams – And Start Enjoying Them

You’re reading How To Get Off, our series celebrating bodies, pleasure and fantasy.

Sex dreams can be fun, thrilling and occasionally mortifying – particularly if you wake up and realise you dreamt about someone off limits. But, as BACP-accredited counsellor Deshara Pariag says, “it’s completely normal to dream about sex, because sex is a normal part of life”. 

There’s also science behind it. The neural firings in the brain – which happen when we sleep – can fire up our libido, says therapist Pam Custers, prompting various bodily responses: wet dreams, sleep orgasms or, as Sex Education’s Dr Jean Milburn (Otis’ mum) calls them, nocturnal emissions. “Because our brain is firing, we can get aroused in our dreams,” says Custers. 

Studies have shown men and women experience increased blood flow to their genitals during REM sleep. A healthy man has up to five erections per night, with each one lasting 25 to 35 minutes. And a study found women could orgasm in their sleep simply by thinking about touching their clitoris – one woman’s heart rate increased from 50 to 100 beats per minute, respiration from 12 to 22 breaths per minute, and she had a “marked” increase in vaginal blood flow. 

When we’re dreaming, the emotional (limbic) part of the brain goes into overdrive, while the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex – which controls executive functions like working memory and cognitive flexibility – is under-activated. 

As a result, the cognitions we experience during dreams are “highly emotional, visually vivid, but often illogical, disconnected and sometimes bizarre,” Patrick McNamara, a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine, told Time. Chances are, many of us have had some truly baffling sex dreams.

So, should we pay attention to them? They’re very rarely a reflection of our awake state, says Custers. In fact, we may dream about someone we don’t want to dream about in that way at all – a study of 3,500 people found 20% of women and 14% of men had sex dreams about a person who was off limits.

Just because you’ve dreamt about having sex with your boss or next door neighbour, it doesn’t mean you suddenly fancy them. “It simply means that part of a snippet of your experience is being integrated into this REM sleep, which is like a soup of hormones and psychological processing,” explains Custers, who is a member of Counselling Directory.

Because our brain is firing, we can get aroused in our dreams and that’s perfectly normal.Therapist Pam Custers

A lot of the time, sex dreams generally mean nothing at all, and many people will wake up, laugh it off, and take it with a pinch of salt. But that’s not to say people never read into them – it varies from person to person. 

Some believe there can be underlying meanings to these dreams – if you know where to look. Dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg believes if you have a sex dream about someone, it’s not necessarily because you desire them, but more that you want to be like them. “Sex in a dream isn’t as much about a physical union you want, as it is about a psychological union you need,” she told Bustle. “When you dream of someone in that way, there is likely [to be] something about them you need to incorporate into your own life or into your own behaviour.”

Counsellor Deshara Pariag acknowledges there may be times you might want to reflect on your sex dreams a little more – when you feel deeply impacted by the dream, perhaps. For example, you might be dreaming about having sex with a stranger if you’re not satisfied with your sex life, or sex with an ex if you have unresolved issues. You may also keep having a recurring sex dream.

If this is the case, it might be useful to unpack what’s going on in your dream. One way to do this, says Pariag, is to write an email to the person you had sex with in your dream, not to send it to them, but to express what’s going on for you in the dream. This can be a good way to get things out of your brain and help you push forward with why you might feel this way.

Dreams about sex might leave some people feeling vulnerable. This can especially be the case for those who’ve experienced abuse – disturbing dreams or flashbacks can be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ammanda Major, from the charity Relate, says if your dreams become disturbing, it may be helpful to explore why with a therapist or counsellor.

Ultimately, though, your sex dream could mean anything – and it could mean nothing. “For the vast majority of people, sex dreams aren’t anything to worry about,” Major adds, suggesting there’s a tendency for people to “overanalyse” what their dreams mean. “They’re a healthy expression of something – and what that something is might be quite hard to determine.” 

Moral of the story? Enjoy those sex dreams, and stop stressing. 

How To Get Off is our answer to Valentine’s Day, celebrating bodies, pleasure and fantasy – whatever your relationship status. We’ll be exploring what really gets us off in 2020, looking at sexual awakenings, toys and erotica, and real-life experience.

Your Child Is Having Their First Sleepover. Here’s How To Boss It

My daughter turned eight last weekend. She celebrated with her first sleepover. 

I know. The phrase every parent said to me as they dropped their child off that afternoon (delightedly, might I add – because they were then heading out for dinner and wine) was: “You’re brave. Good luck.”

I did stop, for a moment, to wonder exactly what I was thinking when I agreed to host six seven-year-olds for an entire Saturday night, from 4pm until 10am the next morning. But the tradition of a sleepover is a rite of passage. I vividly remember the fun, excitement and sugar-highs of going to friends’ houses 30 years ago, and that’s something I want my kids to experience, too – even with the very real risk of at least one child crying and wanting to go home. 

I was 10 years old when I had my first sleepover. Unlike my daughter, who chose to do ‘makeovers’ in her bedroom with her friends, my mum blindfolded us all to play a game called ‘Nelson’s Grave’, in which you hand around innocuous items like peeled grapes and cold spaghetti. You’re then told a spooky story that makes you believe you’re holding body parts like eyeballs and intestines. Only… unlucky for my friends, my uncle was a butcher. We really were holding cold intestines – and a pig’s nipple. 

Understandably, perhaps, I’ve never forgotten my first sleepover – and I’m sure my daughter won’t either. Not least because she had some very firm ideas for what it was going to entail. She created a 38-point plan – yes, 38! – of activities, ranging from “wake up” and “have a disco” to “read books and tell each other things about the book” – all before 6.30am. 

There was also the (frankly adorable) point 36 – “my friends go home” – followed by 37, “wave out of the window”, winding up with 38: “Sleepover accomplished”. 

Sleepover accomplished.

In fact, she was so excited at the prospect of her friends coming over for an entire night that she created her own calendar countdown; carefully writing out the days and dates next to tiny squares and diligently ‘ticking off’ every morning for two weeks leading up to the big day. 

And that’s the thing about sleepovers – or more accurately, about being a kid: there’s beauty in the simple things. It’s something us grown-ups often forget, because we’re so bone-achingly tired all the time, beaten down by the pressures of life. 

For my daughter, though, the promise of a sleepover was inextricably linked to the prospect of fun, laughter and friendship.

On the night itself – because that’s what you really want to know about, isn’t it? – there was so much joy. From the pleasure of sharing pizza, popcorn, a ‘midnight feast’ (at 9pm) and a cacophony of giggling; to the childlike hysteria over a ‘kissing’ scene in the PG-rated family film, and a gentle fight over who got to cuddle ‘Kevin’, the giant carrot

When it was time for bed, they spent hours cackling in the bedroom until they exhausted themselves in the early hours of Sunday morning. And while the reality of it may also have involved grown-ups getting increasingly grumpy after midnight – with various threats to send everybody home and strict rules on absolute silence – it’s a joy I know my daughter will always remember.  

There was even joy in the tears and tiredness the day after. A bittersweet recognition of having experienced something wonderful, amidst the sadness that what she had looked forward to for so long was now over. 

Point 38 was right. Sleepover accomplished – even if at times it felt like nobody would ever sleep again. 

If that hasn’t put you off, and your child is having their first sleepover soon, don’t make the mistakes I did. Here’s how to survive the first all-night party. 

Don’t give them too much sugar. 

Some sugar is inevitable, of course. My daughter had popcorn and a packet of Oreos to share with her friends as the token ‘midnight feast’. But tread carefully. That way sleepless hysteria, lies. Extra tip: make the ‘midnight feast’ a lot earlier than midnight. Say, 9pm. 

Don’t expect anyone to go to sleep before 1am. 

We tried to foolishly impose a ‘no talking quiet zone’ at 11pm. Mistake. They were still giggling and chatting at 12.30. Choose the latest time you can handle, set that as the boundary, and stick to it. 

Keep the other parents on speed-dial.

It didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard lots of stories from other parents of kids getting teary-eyed and wanting to go home at bedtime. So keep the other parents on speed-dial – or, at least, warn them not to drink too many cocktails, as they may need to come and pick their child up. 

Prepare yourself for a very early start.

It doesn’t matter how late they finally give in and go to sleep, they will still wake up at the crack of dawn. Best thing to do? Tell them the night before they can go downstairs and watch TV by themselves “as a treat”, allowing you to grab a few extra minutes in bed. It’ll all add to their sense of fun and independence.

Accept there will be tears.

There will be tears on the night itself (there will also, probably, be a couple of arguments) and the day after, once your child realises it’s all over – until next year. Get tissues. Be gentle. Steel yourself. 

Know that the next day will be a write-off.

Don’t plan anything for the day after a sleepover. Your child will be a demon. Stick to a film and something low-key – preferably nothing that involves them having a tantrum, in public – and an early night. 

And, as the parents said to me: you’re brave. Good luck. 

We Tested Common Happiness Advice. Here’s What Actually Worked

For years, experts have been recommending the same healthy lifestyle habits to reduce stress and improve your mood. (In fact, we published a list of them recently.) The advice stands the test of time for a good reason: Studies show they work over and over again.

But we live in 2020, when our lives are directed by our phones, busy schedules, the news cycle and more. We’re so burned out at work that it’s become an official medical diagnosis. The pressure to have it all, and to balance it once you do, is immense.

All of this makes some of the most common happiness tips ― like meditating or setting aside 10 minutes of your day to go for a walk ― feel kind of… impossible?

So, we decided to sort through a few of the suggestions and give you a list of which happiness habits are worth trying and which were a bit more difficult. Several people in the HuffPost newsroom volunteered to practice one habit for a month.

Here’s how it went:

What Definitely Worked

Getting outdoors can really boost your mood.

Doing a quick daily meditation.

Research shows meditation can alleviate stress and increase your overall mood. One of our editorial directors committed to the practice this month by using the Headspace app and doing a three- to five-minute meditation each day. His conclusion? “I was surprised at how much it helped me.”

“The more I did it, the better I felt ― and not just when I was meditating,” he said. “By spending a little time each day trying to quiet ― or just slow down ― my mind, I began to try it when I wasn’t meditating. Like, if something was driving me crazy at work or I had a frustratingly slow commute, I’d stop, take a second, do some deep breathing and I was shocked at how much better I instantly felt.”

Walking outside for 10 minutes a day.

Studies show that getting outside and around greenery, even if only briefly, can make you happier. But we often stay chained to our desks or get lost in our weekend tasks instead of taking a real break. A senior culture reporter on our team decided to take on the challenge of spending time outside as a way to give his mind a reprieve.

“Being a New York resident working in digital media, I’m aware I spend far too much of my time indoors ― my doctor tells me I have a Vitamin D deficiency, even ― and am completely reliant on screens,” he said.

But the habit worked ― and even provided an added benefit.

“To my surprise, I felt the biggest shift in management of my weekend time, and found my productivity went up substantially,” he said. “Given the mild weather we’ve experienced in the Northeast thus far this winter, I found it easy to [extend] my 10-minute outdoor commitments beyond that time frame. Often, I’d feel compelled to talk a longer walk, visit a new neighbourhood or run a much-overdue errand.”

Practising grounding exercises.

Similar to meditation, grounding exercises make you more mindful in the moment and help quell anxiety during stressful times. Experts recommend engaging your senses: Pick five things you see, four things you can physically feel, three different sounds you hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

A senior audience editor tried practicing this exercise over the past month. He squeezed it in whenever he had a few moments waiting in line or commuting. 

“The few times I did it on the subway was quite calming — I found myself noticing little things like conversations going on between old friends or couples in my car, the slight noise bleed from a podcast someone is listening to, even the clickety-clack of the wheel on the track,” he said. “It made me feel more connected to the city and reminded me to pay attention to things around me a bit more.”

The main problem he found was that a few minutes didn’t feel like enough, and that longer meditation sessions might be more useful. Still, not bad for a quick trick.

Reading before bed.

There are a host of happiness-related perks that come with reading a physical book ― especially before you go to bed, since it gets you away from sleep-destroying screens. 

Our executive editor tried reading every night before bed to reap some of these benefits, because she felt she didn’t read enough last year (and because she wanted to increase her happiness, obviously). She succeeded.

“I read three books in January, which is more than the last six months of last year,” she said. “And I felt better about myself at bedtime because I wasn’t lamely clicking around Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or all three, in search of I don’t know what.”

Practicing the habit didn’t come without its challenges, including a struggle to keep up with it consistently and the need to spend time processing a book (which is difficult right before you turn the lights out). That said, she’s excited to continue reading before getting that shut-eye. Win.

Finding a therapist.

Talking to a professional can do a great deal to improve your wellbeing. You don’t need to be dealing with a crisis or a severe mental health issue to go to therapy (but, of course, the process definitely helps with those things, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking assistance for them).

A senior reporter in the newsroom decided 2020 was going to be the year he tried therapy as a way to navigate some major stressors in his life. The result?

“It definitely, definitely helped me,” he said. “I think one of the biggest barriers to people getting therapy or other mental health help is how intimidating the process can feel.”

That said, not everyone can get access to therapy. (“One of the biggest limitations, of course, is cost and insurance. It can be a tricky thing to navigate,” the reporter said.) Programs like Talkspace and BetterHelp aim to alleviate some of those problems, and there are also other ways to make mental health help less expensive.

What Was A Struggle

Establishing a good sleep routine is important, but a challenge.

Establishing a solid sleep routine.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never been slangry (that is, angry from a lack of sleep). Sleep can alter our moods drastically. Experts stress that it’s vital to create a solid, consistent rest routine where you get six to eight hours of sleep each night. One of our front-page editors volunteered for this task.

“To do this, I tracked my sleep using a Fitbit Blaze,” she said. “That helped me to realise that I sleep so much better ― longer and more soundly ― on the weekends. During the week, I’m so stressed out by work and the news that I sleep less and wake up more often.”

Unfortunately, with major stories like the Australia wildfires, impeachment and the coronavirus ― just to name a few ― the news in January was hardly kind to our mental health. (Shout-out to the masses of people who are also too buzzed by the news to sleep: People in media feel your pain.) That made it difficult for our editor to get her sleep in check.

“By the end of the month, I was neither more rested nor happier. In fact, the opposite was true,” she said. “However, I was more educated about my sleep cycle. Since I could see the benefits, I am determined to keep trying.”

Reading self-development books.

Reading a book by someone you admire or someone who overcame struggles can help you reframe your own perspective. An audience editor put this theory to the test by turning the pages of self-help books. It ultimately didn’t go so well.

“I learned that most self-development books aren’t totally my style,” she said. “I tried to read a few of the popular ones, like ‘The Four Agreements,’ but found the books to be a bit lofty.”

“However, I was able to find one that resonated, ‘Find Your Fuckyeah: Stop Censoring Who You Are and Discover What You Really Want’ by Alexis Rockley,” she continued. “I realise that this book probably said all of the same things as the other self-help books that I tossed, but it felt more grounded in science and facts, which I appreciated.”

Countering negative thoughts.

Many experts recommend pushing back against automatic negative thoughts to improve your happiness. You can do this by asking yourself a simple question in the moment: Does what I’m thinking accurately capture what’s really going on?

One of our audience editors said she often ruminates on worrisome thoughts and potentially catastrophic outcomes, which is why she was up for this particular challenge. And while it did work, it wasn’t necessarily the easiest habit to stick to.

“It was exhausting at times to recognise and challenge every single negative thought throughout the day for a month, so there were times when I would just intentionally not practice the habit,” she said. “When I did recognise I was having a negative thought, sometimes I would beat myself up for thinking that way to begin with. Over the month, I tried to be more patient, consistent and accepting of the process.”

Overall, she’s hoping to be more vigilant about how she talks to herself, and she said the exercise did help with that. But as a general tip, it is a little lofty. Plus, some mental health experts say it’s important to let yourself feel all your feelings ― including the crappy ones. Pushing aside every single negative one might not be completely beneficial.

That said, this doesn’t mean these tips don’t work. Happiness is not one-size-fits-all, so the habits that stick won’t totally be that way, either. However, it was nice to get a sense of what was realistic and what was more of a challenge. Hey, we’ll try anything in the name of joy (and journalism).

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