How to Sleep Like a Frenchwoman

Mireille Guiliano

The French, bestselling author Mireille Guiliano reveals, get more rest than their American counterparts. Here, easy ten ways to catch up

A recent survey on the lifestyle of French people reveals that “on average, the French sleep nine hours a day.” That’s considerably more than my fellow Americans, who seem to think it’s a badge of honor to sleep five or six hours a night. How many of you have heard, “I don’t need much sleep”? Nonsense. Could there be a correlation between Frenchwomen’s long life expectancies and their hours exercising their sleep muscles?

When in Paris, my American husband always notices the pitch-dark apartment buildings we pass while walking home late at night from a meal at a friend’s house or the theater. It’s barely 11 o’clock PM, yet most of the lights are off. For one thing, the French don’t watch much television (no staying up for Dave Letterman’s monologue). They come home from work, prepare dinner, sit down to eat (that’s entertainment!) and relax. Some may prolong the evening reading or listening to music for half an hour, but by ten or 11 o’clock most of them are au dodo. No late-night e-mailing or typing away at the computer. How different that is from New York, the city that never sleeps. From our Manhattan windows, we see plenty of lights and people in buildings all around us until the wee hours.

Try these ten tips so that you, too, can enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep:

1. Move, move, move during the day!
Studies have proven that exercise, in addition to burning calories, makes it easier to fall and stay asleep. No need to run a marathon or spend hours sweating; a 20- to 30-minute brisk walk or yoga will do the trick. (Just be careful not to do it too close to bedtime — this will actually have the opposite effect!)

2. Stay away from stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine and alcohol. All three substances make us jittery, interrupt our quality of sleep and our ability to fall asleep. Many people who rely on caffeine to get them through the day are shocked to learn that it can have a stimulating effect for up to 12 hours after they’ve imbibed.

3. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Our bodies crave balance and if we train our body to fall asleep at a certain time and wake up at a certain time (even if we’re still sleepy), it will eventually listen to our requests.

4. Reserve the bedroom for sleeping only. This may seem silly, but watching TV, balancing a checkbook, doing paperwork or simply lounging in bed can cause problems when it’s time to actually fall asleep.

5. Herbal teas work magic. Chamomile, anise, valerian and fennel-blend teas are known to help relax and make sleep come easier. Most health -food stores have their own specialty blends as well.

6. Turn off the lights earlier. Lights signal to our brain that it’s daytime and can interfere with our bodies’ ability to wind down for sleep.

7. Turn off the computer and TV at least a half hour, but preferably an hour, before bedtime. Both tend to keep our mind active, the last thing we want before bedtime.

8. If you can’t sleep for a full half hour, get up and read a book or listen to soothing music for a little while. Staying in bed will only make you more restless.

9. Avoid having a very large meal before bedtime. Have your dinner at least two-to-three hours before you plan on going to sleep.

10. Create an environment that is conducive to sleep with a bedroom that’s totally dark, well ventilated and cool. If you don’t have curtains that shade the light, try a sleeping mask. If you live on a busy street, try a fan or a “white noise” machine.

And remember: a bad night’s rest means a short temper, a short attention span, more stress and, for women especially, a greater risk of heart disease. Bon soir, mes amis!

Editor’s Note: Mireille Guiliano is the author of the international bestsellers French Women Don’t Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes & Pleasure. Her latest book is The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.

5 comments so far.

  1. avatar Scarlett Ohara Mitchell says:

    All of this great advice. But perhaps the next column could be something like…… ” How to be as productive and work efficient and committed to helping the world as the Americans.” (for the French of course LOL)
    I guess I’m kinda tired of reading articles telling us how to “live” like the French!

    • avatar Maggie W says:

      Great post, Scarlett.  I so agree.  Perhaps we could also have an article on the work ethic of Americans, who don’t pitch a collective national tantrum about continuing to work during their sixties.   

      • avatar Scarlett Ohara Mitchell says:

        Yes Mam!! I am sooo with ya!!! But I am about ready to pitch a major tantrum over those that don’t work at all!!!

  2. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Maybe Americans could sleep more if it didn’t require the collective resources of both couples to earn a living. Let’s not forget that we don’t get the benefits of French citizens or the vacation time. When I lived overseas many things were done differently because that was the culture of those nations. Comparing France to the US is like comparing apples and oranges. They both have benefits but in different ways. I am not putting down either country but apparently this author is not familiar with the way American industry and businesses are run. Over a quarter of Americans work swing shifts, nights, weekends and holidays. At the same time they are raising families and caring for elderly.

  3. avatar Lila says:

    Sleep is something I have always put a priority on.  Early in my career when I was still going through some pretty rigorous training courses, they would run us through all kinds of maneuvers, marches, etc., day and night so we hardly had time to eat or sleep.  When able to snag a few minutes, the nap usually won out over the meal.  When you are physically stressed like that, it is amazing how good even just a ten-minute nap can feel.