Monthly Archives: May 2019

A leading expert’s tip for getting back to sleep if you’re tossing and turning

Last week I wanted to borrow British neuroscientist Matt Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” from my local library, but all copies were out on loan.

All 54 copies.

Yup, it’s a popular book, and sleep (in particular, people’s lack of it) is a headline-grabbing issue.

When Matt Walker gave a polished talk on this subject at TED last month, the compere asked what people should do if they find themselves tossing and turning in the night, unable to go back to sleep.

Walker’s advice was to get up, go into a different room, do some kind of activity (like reading), then return to sleep when feeling sleepy.

I tried this the other night and can attest to its effectiveness.

But even more than the suggestion itself, I loved Professor Walker’s analogy: “You’d never sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed waiting to get sleepy?”

Something smells good around here

With my work on the new fragrance/sleep/guided visualisation idea progressing really well, I’m becoming more and more fascinated by our largely ignored, but hugely powerful, sense of smell.

As a matter of fact, I’ve taken to asking people what their favourite smell is, and with the encouragement of a Stanford psychologist I’m actually about to ask you, too.

So far I’ve had almost as many answers as the number of people I’ve asked.

When you give individuals a completely free choice, the responses can be incredibly specific.

A case in point was a couple I recently met for the first time.

Her favourite?



The smell of diesel when there’s a lot of moisture in the air.

Like I said, people can often be highly particular about their olfactory preferences.

I wondered what would happen, though, if I asked you and our other readers to choose three favourite smells from a list of environmental aromas that a sample of the population have said they’re drawn to.

I know we all love a survey, so here’s a very simple questionnaire that I’d love your help with.

Thanks in advance for your contribution to it.

Once you’ve answered its single question you’ll be able to see the results as they come in, live.

I’m pretty sure this is going to be a revealing exercise.

Trust me, in fact. I have a nose for these things.

Scent Safari time

This past Monday morning, I decided to stir up my routine a little.

Rather than starting the car at 7 AM to drive to Stanford as usual, I took a walk downtown to get coffee.

It was bright and sunny, still a little cool, but one of those mornings that can feel delightfully heavy with promise.

So, rather than driving through stop/start traffic listening to the radio, it was just me and my feet, with time to think, space to notice what I passed.

And given our recent focus on the rich potential of tapping into our sense of smell as a way to lift emotional well-being, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that what struck me most was the amazing range and depth of fragrances.

Bushes and shrubs were in full bloom, breathing out the most gorgeous bouquets.

I stopped, I inhaled, and I felt pretty good actually.

And so now I’d love you to share this treat for the senses and the soul. When the weather next permits it, why not head outdoors for your own scent safari?

Depending on your circumstances, it could be anything from a full-on hike to a wander around the garden, but here are seven suggestions to help you make the very most of your mini expedition.

One quick public health warning first, though. Be aware of any allergies you may have, of course, and don’t place yourself at risk.

1. Take your time. Consider this an investment in your emotional well-being, so don’t rush things.

2. Breathe deeply. Give fragrances a chance to get right to the back of your nose.

3. Get closer to smells. You know that thing where dogs get their noses right into the centre of the action? Well they have a point. A wine expert does a similar thing with their nose and a glass.

4. Put a label on it. Rather than simply thinking about whether you like a smell or not, ponder hard about what different smells remind you of.

5. Gather homework. If something botanical takes your fancy but you don’t know what a flower or shrub is, take a picture with your phone, then look online to identify it when you get home.

6. Share your experience. When you’ve stopped to embrace an aroma, someone might pass you and smile or speak. If they do, engage a little. You might even make a new friend.

7. Activate your smell compass. Believe it or not, your two nostrils give you a kind of 3-D smell-power, enabling you to pinpoint where odours are coming from. If you can’t get right to the source, at least have a go at determining its approximate location (e.g. coffee from someone’s house, newly-cut grass from a back garden, etc.)

Different times of day will deliver different smells, of course, so this is a great excuse to try the exercise out more than once.

And if you do experiment with it, I think you’ll be happy you did.