Have you been struggling with sleep during lockdown? Well, a lot of us have, apparently – two in five of us are having difficulty nodding off, with many saying that anxiousness about lockdown (hopefully) lifting is adding to many people’s worries as they try to catch some Zzzs. And many of us – apparently one in three – are trying to find ways to get to sleep more easily.
This is where Sheridan Smith steps in. The BAFTA-winning actress has been enlisted by streaming service NOW to read free ‘sleep stories’ – based on films and TV shows – which hope to help people nod off without the need for counting sheep. They were recorded with the help of a sleep charity, and Sheridan had to be careful while recording, because if she said one word too harshly, then it could wake someone up.
Sheridan – who has previously been open about suffering from anxiety and panic attacks – has noticed that a good night’s sleep is essential for her mental wellbeing. ‘It’s a huge part of mental health, a good night’s sleep is just key,’ Sheridan tells Grazia. ‘And the thing is, I didn’t sleep very well. It can affect your day, and your mood.’ She’s even sleeping well now, even though she has a one-year-old child, Billy – but she credits a lot of that to her fiance, Jamie Horn. ‘I’m so lucky Billy sleeps 12 hours straight through,’ she says. ‘And that’s down to his dad, because I was away filming Budapest for five weeks. And whilst I was at home if Billy cried, I’d get him out and get him into bed with me. But while I was away, his dad was able to get him into this routine.’
Like thousands of mums across the country, the first lockdown arrived when Sheridan was pregnant (in fact, while she was expecting, she starred in ITV’s Isolation Stories as a heavily pregnant mother). She says it was strange being let out of the hospital, after she had Billy three weeks early by C-section, as she couldn’t see her family. ‘They let you kind of leave the hospital with this new little human and you’re like, what is this allowed?’ she says. ‘I was breastfeeding for the first six months. I mean, that’s the kind of hardest time when you have this tiny little baby depending on you.’ But she says it was a special time, nonetheless. ‘But we managed it. And also in a weird way, because we had this new little gorgeous human in our lives, we didn’t want to go anywhere anyway. So it was actually a really special time, just the three of us.’
After the arrival of Billy, she fronted an emotional documentary – Becoming Mum – which offered a candid look at dealing with mental health during pregnancy. In it, Sheridan went to therapy for the first time, spoke to other expectant mums, and doctors. And learnt that she could continue to take her medication for depression and anxiety, something which she was worried about.
It’s now been nominated for an NTA, which she says she didn’t expect. ‘Actually, I was very nervous about it coming out,’ Sheridan admits. ‘I remember when they interviewed me [for the documentary]. And it was just a lady and a camera, it wasn’t a big showbiz documentary type vibe, it was really quite intimate. And when she interviewed me, I ended up saying some things that I hadn’t said before, which I said “Look, I probably want to cut this out, but I trust you”.’
Because of how honest she was, she says she watched the documentary with her mum before it came out. ‘Some things my mum hadn’t known,’ she said. ‘And I checked with her if she minded and showed it her. And she just said she was proud of me.’ But all Sheridan’s worrying about people’s reactions was for nothing, it received brilliant reviews, and many mums reached out to her to say how much it had helped them: ‘I was so anxious about what people would make of it – but everyone was wonderful.’
Sheridan has a very busy schedule coming up – while speaking to us on a very dodgy internet signal, which she’s very apologetic about – she’s filming in Halifax for The Railway Children Return and she’s then filming in Manchester and Spain for an ITV drama called No Return. She’s also writing a book, Honestly, which she says is going to cover her life chronologically – the good and the bad. A few years ago, Sheridan got a very rough time in the press as she went through a breakdown, triggered by the death of her father. (It wasn’t helped when Graham Norton made a joke at her expense at the TV BAFTAs, which she says in Becoming Mum led her to quitting her anxiety medication and having seizures which rushed her to hospital.)
‘It’s not blaming of anyone. It’s me holding my hands and saying, “I’ve messed up along the way, but I’m in a better place now,”” she says, talking about the book. ‘It goes to some sad places, it goes some funny places, it goes to some maybe shocking places for some people. But it’s honest. And that’s the thing, I’m nervous, again – it’s nerve wracking, putting yourself out there.’ She adds, ‘As you know, sometimes things are reported wrong. And sometimes, people don’t actually know what’s going on behind closed doors. But it’s certainly not a pity party.’
Sheridan might still be juggling her career with being a new mum. But she says being a mother has transformed her priorities. Now, she works to provide the best life she can for Billy and Jamie. And she says that she’s incredibly lucky that Jamie is able to be a stay-at-home dad, and visit Sheridan with Billy when she’s away filming.
‘I think maybe before I was very career driven and selfish – and that all goes when you have a baby,’ she says, before laughing and referencing her role as Cilla Black in 2014’s ITV drama. ‘To quote Cilla, he is my world and everything I do now is for him. I’m away filming but it’s all money for the house and the baby. And I miss him like mad, but that’s being a working mum. And there’s so many working mums out there. And luckily, Jamie’s brilliant as a stay at home dad – he just is amazing.’
She might be excited to be filming again, now regulations allow it, but her ‘favourite role is being mummy’. ‘I love my work and one day, when he grows up, hopefully he can see it’s all for him,’ she says.
Sheridan Smith has narrated five free sleep stories for NOW, so TV, film and sports fans can escape to landscapes from iconic entertainment such as Game of Thrones and The Secret Garden. Head to sleepescapes.nowtv.com.