Recapturing the Magic of Bedtime

March 19th 2018

We go to bed every night. It’s the ultimate routine – whether you take five minutes at the basin to prepare, or favour an elaborate bathing ceremony. Acts we perform repeatedly often lose their appeal, but the reverse is also true; repetition can transform seemingly mundane actions into important rituals. I’ve been reflecting on childhood bedtimes, and how magical they were. The question is: can we recreate that sense of enchantment as tired, overworked adults?

As a child, I remember being bundled into the car, swaddled in pyjamas, and drifting off to a beloved story tape (Just William and Five Children and It were favourites) as the glowing cat’s eyes of the M4 flashed by. The darker and wetter the night, the cosier I felt. (Not a thought for my unfortunate parent behind the wheel, of course.) On arrival at our destination, I would be carried to bed in a warm, sleepy haze – and awake in a different bed the next morning. It was a bit like travelling by magic carpet, but less windy; the usual tedium of long car journeys was eliminated when sleep cast its spell.

On holiday, bedtimes held another kind of magic. Unconstrained by school, they were later and more haphazard. Bedrooms were gloriously unfamiliar, with their high ceilings, tiled floors and balconies overlooking winding streets, where mopeds revved and Italian voices were raised in Limoncello-infused laughter. Bathrooms contained unfathomable objects called bidets and, every so often, unwelcome visitors with far more legs than their humble English cousins. Before bed, there would invariably have been a gelato and a stroll along the seafront, where I would have been magnetically drawn to the bunches of balloons, multicoloured marshmallows and flashing, screeching toys on sale.

And what about bedtime as a social occasion: surely nothing could equal the special thrill of a sleepover? At these, the point was not really to sleep, but to lie in rows of sleeping bags and consume a ‘midnight feast’ of Pringles and strawberry laces at 9pm. After intense, sugar-fuelled conversation and Friday night TV, the party would eventually pass out at the illicit hour of 11:30pm – before waking for another sugar hit in chocolate croissant form the following morning. This is what happened in the nineties, anyway.

As for babysitters: sometimes suspicious, sometimes exciting, they gave bedtimes an exotic spin. No rules, just someone desperate for peace and quiet (as I realised years later when I began looking after children myself). To me, a bookish child, babysitters represented a golden opportunity for torchlit binge-reading –  for in my mind bed will always be linked with books: a chance to escape our daily reality for other worlds, before entering that further, more mysterious world of sleep.

So how can we recreate this magic in adulthood, at the end of a stressful day? Well, once childhood has passed, neither bedtime nor Christmas will ever be the same again. However, there are things we can adjust to restore the pleasure in nightly rituals:

  1. Love your linen. I sleep better in crisp, freshly washed white sheets.
  2. Wear high-quality cotton nightwear to maintain a comfortable body temperature.
  3. Use your favourite products before bed – a luxurious night-cream, a decadent moisturiser.
  4. Read a book you enjoy, not one you feel you should. You will only reach for your phone if you are bored.

Madeleine Feeny

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