For years, Elly Shariat had been burning the candle at both ends.
“I’d start my days around 6 a.m. and I’d begrudgingly force myself to go to sleep at 2 or 3 a.m.,” said Shariat, a Los Angeles-based entertainment publicist.
Her big “aha” moment came around her 35th birthday, when she got into her car one night and found herself too exhausted to drive.
“I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I couldn’t focus on the road, and there was no way I could continue working the way I was,” she explained.
Shariat turned to sleep aids to help solve her problem. When that didn’t conquer her sleeping woes, she decided to try some lifestyle changes. The busy professional looked to the world Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness bible, and found some tips on “clean sleeping.” Figuring she had nothing to lose, she attempted to give the trend a whirl.
What is clean sleeping?
In her latest book, Goop Clean Beauty, Paltrow raves about clean sleeping, often referring to it as the biggest health trend of 2017. In a nutshell, the concept involves making sleep a priority above anything else, including diet and fitness. And, according to the actress, it plays a crucial role in “determining your appetite and energy levels.”
It’s not her worst idea. The concept of prioritizing sleep certainly sits a lot better with professionals than many of the suggestions that have stemmed from Paltrow’s often-criticized lifestyle brand. In the past, Goop has recommended vaginal steaming to balance female hormones, sleeping with a $66 jade egg inside your vagina as a means of boosting feminine energy, and adding a teaspoon of Sex Dust (a blend of “superherbs that help combat the effects of stress”) to your morning smoothie.
Clean sleeping, experts say, is a quality habit to try to attain.
Paltrow “is absolutely correct about poor-quality sleep being shown to negatively effect weight and metabolism,” said Dr. Joseph Krainin, the chief medical adviser for SoClean, a company that sells equipment for sanitizing sleep apnea machines. “Regularly sleeping six hours or less is associated with weight gain and hyperglycemia, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. She is correct also about the negative effects of poor-quality sleep on mood and cognition, including working memory.”
There are, of course, many pieces to Paltrow’s clean sleeping essentials. The process doesn’t involve just hitting the pillow every night. Goop recommends sleep-inducing products and habits it claims help you get an optimal night’s rest, like massages and moisturizing creams.
Below is a selection of Goop’s advice on how to get clean sleep, with sleep experts’ take on what works and what you can probably leave behind.
Getting at least eight hours of sleep a night (ideally nine or 10)
“Most adults do not need nine to 10 hours of sleep a night,” explained Dr. Joseph Krainin, a neurologist in Charleston, South Carolina. He tells patients to opt for seven to eight hours, and warns that “some studies actually suggest a higher mortality among adults that habitually sleep any longer than that.”
Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule (and aiming to be in bed each night by 10 p.m.)
“Going to bed at the same time every night is important,” says Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program. “It keeps your internal circadian rhythm happy and makes it easier to fall asleep.”
He suggests, however, that instead of stressing out about trying to achieve an unrealistic goal of a strict 10 p.m. bedtime, that you find a time that works best for your individual schedule and stick to it.
Avoiding technology before bed
“Blue light from phones and iPads suppresses melatonin,” said Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator. “Also, all of that stuff you are looking at ― emails, news, political rants ― are not conducive to relaxation and sleep.”
Limiting afternoon caffeine
“Avoiding caffeine later in the day can definitely aid in a good night’s sleep,” Cralle confirmed.
Banning bedtime snacks and keeping a regular 12-hour fasting window in your day
Kansagra says not to eat too close to bedtime and just leave it at that. Fasting is not necessarily required.
Doing a fancy meditative practice called Yoga Nidra to reap the benefits of sleep without actually sleeping
“I have not seen evidence that anything ― aside from sleep ― can provide the beneficial effects of sleep,” Kansagra.
But if meditation relaxes you, Kansagra is all for it (after all, research shows it has incredible health benefits). He just advises using it as a means of inspiring sleep, not as a replacement.
Giving yourself a trigger-point head rub and pre-bed foot rub
“Anything that helps your body relax is likely to benefit your sleep. If rubbing your elbows with mayonnaise helps you relax, go for it! Do what works for you. And if that means a foot massage, then more power to you,” Kansagra said.
Sleeping with an $80 copper pillowcase to combat wrinkles and bacteria
Krainin calls “snake oil!” on this one. Comfortable bedding is ideal, but no need to spend a ton of cash for it in the name of rest.
Supplementing with magnesium to help your body relax
Kansagra notes that the role of magnesium in sleep still needs further research in order for medical professionals to arrive at a conclusion. “Giving magnesium to otherwise healthy individuals can lead to diarrhea, which can certainly worsen sleep. Most sleep physicians would not routinely recommend magnesium supplementation,” the MattressFirm sleep health consultant explains.
All in all, Goop is definitely on to something by trying to make sleeping well a trend.
“Paltrow is absolutely right about clean sleeping’s core principle in that sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing and that people should start prioritizing sleep if they want to feel their best,” Kansagra said.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to be following her suggestions step by step and rubbing expensive lavender lotion on the soles of your feet each night.
“At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that our biology has not changed, our behaviors have, leading to a public health crisis of sleep deprivation as the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has stated,” said Nancy Rothstein, the director of the CIRCADIAN Corporate Sleep Program. “So, keep it simple and listen to your body! It knows what to do and when.”
Putting clean sleeping to the test
While Shariat didn’t run out to buy the copper pillow, and admits to failing at pre-bed meditation, the once sleep-deprived professional says adopting some of the clean sleeping habits made a massive difference in her life.
“Going to sleep around the same time each night and waking up at the same time each day was probably the easiest one to implement quickly,” she said.
In order to pull it off, Shariat told her clients she was no longer able to field late-night messages and that calls were never urgent enough that they couldn’t wait until the next day. She also cut down on caffeine by eliminating midday coffee beverages.
Shariat got deep in her program and said she has actually stuck to Paltrow’s full 12-hour nighttime fasting rule.
“I’m not a big breakfast person anyways, but I did used to snack before bed, and now I just don’t. So once I eat dinner, that’s that, until the next day,” she explained. “I feel less heavy at night and it’s actually helped a ton by relieving heartburn issues I used to experience late at night.”
The foot massage didn’t make the cut, especially with the pricey lotions, but Shariat does give her body some nightly love by massaging her hands, fingers and wrists. And right after, before turning in for the night and making sure her blackout curtains are perfectly in place, she follows Paltrow’s technique of making her pillowcase smell more indulgent by using a lavender pillow mist from Bath & Body Works.
“This is something I used to do in college, and frankly, I don’t know why I stopped,” she said. “The second my head hits the pillow, I just feel like I’m in another place, and the soothing scent helps me fall asleep with ease ― something that I’ve had a lot of trouble with over the past few years.”
Shariat’s biggest hurdle was the rule about no electronics at night. To try to limit her use, she removed the TV from her bedroom and banishes her other devices to the kitchen instead. That way she’s not tempted to check them during the night or have them interrupt her sleep.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t take a lot of what Goop says seriously,” said Shariat, who says she now gets nine hours of sleep a night and is much better at her job because of it.
“I knew all too well that vaginal steaming wouldn’t end all that well for me,” she continued. “But I’m really happy I didn’t just brush clean sleeping off as another crazy Goop trend, because it’s been life-changing!”
We might have to give this round to Goop.