I confess I have long had a perverse fascination with all things GOOP. For the uninitiated, GOOP is Gwenyth Paltrow’s newsletter-turned-lifestyle-website where you can purchase your very own and very practical white linen shorts for only $295. GOOP has brought us vaginal steaming and jade vagina eggs. GOOP is one of the bizarre treasures of the internet age. So when I found out that GOOP has published a book about Paltrow's "clean sleeping routine," I knew I had to try it out.
GOOP’s mission, such as it has one, is essentially how to take Gwyneth Paltrow’s rarified life and make it attainable for the rank-and-file. GOOP readers know that the magical purity of Gwyneth Paltrow infuses literally every element of her life—waking and otherwise. It was only a matter of time before GPal gave us recommendations on how to be our best dreamers. I took this sleep regime out for a spin because I really love sleeping, and I wanted to know how Gwyneth catches her zzzs.
"Clean sleeping" is a practice outlined in the book Clean Beauty, which is written by GOOP's editors. GOOP's idea of clean sleeping is mostly a fancied-up version of basic sleep hygiene: establish a regular sleep routine with the same bedtime/wake up time, keep your bedroom dark, and thrown in some copper-infused bedding and yoga nidra meditations.
The book draws on the advice of medical authorities to bolster its claims on how you should adjust your sleeping habits. (It's worth noting, however, that of these medical experts, only Dr. Rafael Pelayo specializes in sleep. Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Laura Lefkowitz, who consulted on sleep in the book, both focus their practice on diet and nutrition.) Chapter 5 is devoted to the ins and outs of clean sleeping, which were as follows:
- go to bed at the same time every night (even on the weekends)
- don't use an alarm
- disengage from technology (no watching TV in bed, no reading on my iPad in bed, no checking email, etc.)
- manage light in your bedroom (basically by making it as dark as possible)
- wake with the dawn (or use a dawn simulator, which is a basically a timed full spectrum light that glows and wakes you up with fake natural light)
- use copper-infused pillow cases (to prevent wrinkles)
- meditate before bed
- fast for 12 hours total (so eat on a 12-hour schedule)
- don't drink caffeine after noon
- don't use sleep aids
I get migraines often, and not getting enough sleep is definitely a trigger for them. So while I generally sleep pretty well, I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve my sleep. I'll try just about anything if there's a possibility of better sleep at the end of it.
Some of these pieces of advice — things like stay on a regular sleeping schedule, stay away from caffeine in the afternoon, and don't watch TV in bed — are pretty standard pieces of vetted sleep hygiene. But a lot of these, like the copper pillowcases, were new to me. So I was psyched to try them out.
I spent the first night of the experiment making my bedroom a proper space for clean sleeping. I immediately realized I did not plan this as well as I could have. I did not have magical wrinkle-fighting copper-infused pillowcases, and the local Target did not have them in stock. So I put some old pennies in my regular old cotton pillowcase and hoped GPal in her wisdom would smile upon me. I don’t care about wrinkles, so I figured if there was one rule I could cheat on, it was this one.
The yoga nidra meditation I used for this experiment is 33 minutes long. Any parent knows that is way too long to sit still doing nothing, and my kid wasn't having any of it. No enlightened relaxation for me.
The second step was to black out all of the electronic lights to make my room as dark as possible. Clean Beauty actually suggests that you remove all electronics from your room, but I don't have a big place, and I have a toddler who wanders in the night, so I didn't want the house to be totally dark. I could not find any electrical tape in my house and forgot to pick any up on my Target expedition, so I improvised by coloring Post-It notes black with a Sharpie, then taping them over the LEDs. It worked well. I also hung an extra sheet over my blinds to make it extra dark.
I turned in for the night. I usually do night time meditations, but I tried one that I considered extra-long and extra peaceful one. I got unfocused and distracted; the meditation backfired. Ultimately, I slept well, but went to bed late due to all the clean sleeping preparations.
The next two nights were a wash. My kid kept climbing in bed with me and chatting while I was trying to do the nighttime meditations. GPal swears by yoga nidra, a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping that is supposed to be deeply relaxing, but it's not clear to me why you're supposed to do it right before bed. Is it supposed to ease you into dreamland? I'm not sure. Only the Gwyneth knows. In any case, the yoga nidra meditation I used for this experiment, which was posted on GOOP's site, is 33 minutes long. Any parent knows that is way too long to sit still doing nothing, and my kid wasn't having any of it. No enlightened relaxation for me.
My kid is also an active sleeper, and all of his rolling over made the pennies in my pillowcase jangle in the night, which kept waking me up. And since he’s only six, he wanted a night light, so there went the serene darkness.
Also, it was at this point that I began to realize that, while not a morning person, I am a breakfast person. The 12-hour fasting mandate proved difficult. This tenet of clean sleeping is related to clean eating: it's all about cleansing the toxins out of your metabolism. I don't actually care how many toxins are in my metabolism, just how hungry I am, but for the sake of the experiment I fasted, and it made me hangry.
Over the past few days, I’d been getting over a cough. On Day 4, the cough came back with a vengeance. I coughed through the night. It was one of those situations where every time I started to fall asleep I would cough, and then I’d be awake again. I stuck to the rules, though. No sleep aids. No TV. No reading on my iPad. No turning on the lights. Just the jingle of the pennies in my pillowcase, and the coughing, and the utter, unrelenting boredom hour after hour.
Finally, the cough went away. With the readout of my clock covered up, my room became a cave, an odd place where time no longer existed. I think this was supposed to make me feel relaxed and soothed, but over the last few days, it actually caused me great anxiety. The feeling that my room is a pocket outside of time, combined with the rule that I’m not allowed to set an alarm, led me to oversleep three days straight. The problem is no matter when I go to bed, my body definitely wants to sleep past my mandatory wake-up window for my job.
I take public transit. I have my morning bus schedule (routes A, B, and backup-plan-in-case-of-lateness-C) memorized to the minute. The last three days in a row, it’s been a mad scramble to get out of the house to catch Late Bus C on time.
I did finally get in my meditation groove, though. And on the upside, when I’m frantically dashing out the door, I don’t have the time to stop and lament the fact that I’m not allowed to eat yet.
Here's what a week of sleeping clean got me: some really mixed results. The pennies are already out of my pillowcase, and they’re not going back in. I’m definitely going back to stuffing my face (probably with carbs) the second I wake up. And I’m going to start reading as I fall asleep at night.
I also know now that I really do need to set an alarm. I wish I lived in a perfect world where I could slide into work at mid-morning. But I don’t. And apparently no matter what time I go to bed, I still don’t want to wake up early enough to get to work on time. Alarms are the best option for me; the bus waits for no man.
That said, I did like doing some of the bedtime meditations. I often fell asleep with my earbuds still in, but it was a great way to get the cacophony of the day's thoughts to settle down. And I might invest in some good blackout curtains for my room. The moratorium on TV before bed actually was really helpful. I am totally one of those "just one more episode" people. I definitely need a way to get my mind to rest when my body is tired, and meditation is soothing, while TV can be too stimulating.
All in all, for a website that is known for cluelessly overpriced t shirts and such, this was mostly pretty solid and sensible advice about sleep hygiene. The nuts and bolts of it—stay on a regular schedule, keep your sleeping area free of fun distractions, don’t drink caffeine right before bedtime—is just a matter of good common sense. Nice work, GOOP.