Susanna Reid reveals secret weapon in the ongoing battle with lack of sleep

A 6am start requires an eye-wateringly early alarm call for breakfast TV presenter Susanna Reid. Her secret weapon in the ongoing battle with lack of sleep? Naps – lots of them

It’s 9.30am and Susanna Reid is in her Good Morning Britain dressing room looking exactly how you’d expect her to look: fuchsia bodycon frock, nude stiletto heels, extremely un-January tan, full make-up and glossy blow-dry…

All this despite the fact that, for the past two decades, she has survived on just a few hours’ kip, being woken by a 3.45am alarm clock so that she can appear on air at 6am in the high-pressure world of live breakfast television. Reid, it’s safe to say, understands the importance of sleep better than most.

When we meet she’s just wrapped today’s instalment of ITV‘s breakfast news show, her working day largely done as most of us are just getting started. A clutch of uniformly vibrant dresses hangs on the back of the door: her picks for this week’s shows. Reid sits in her desk swivel chair, straight-backed and alert, while I relax into the sofa. She has been known to grab 40 winks where I’m currently plonked. ‘There are no windows, so once the light’s off it is blackout dark and easy to drop off,’ she says.

Napping is very important. ‘I have no guilt around napping. Having a guilt-free nap is one of the enormous pleasures of my day,’ she says; crucial, too, when you only get around five hours of sleep each night.

Susanna Reid says: 'I have no guilt around napping. Having a guilt-free nap is one of the enormous pleasures of my day'

Susanna Reid says: ‘I have no guilt around napping. Having a guilt-free nap is one of the enormous pleasures of my day’

Right now though, the 52-year-old couldn’t be more full of beans. She may, in fact, be the perkiest person I have ever met. She starts talking a few seconds before I enter the room and barely draws breath for an hour. She’s animated, laughs raucously and is engaging company. She is, though, guarded at times. ‘I’m very, very good with boundaries,’ she warns. Off-limit subjects include: romantic relationships, what she worries about (‘I’m not going to share that, am I?’ she says, fixing me with a look) and whether menopause has impacted on her sleep patterns. ‘I won’t talk about menopause, it’s private,’ she shoots back. This makes her the only midlife woman I’ve interviewed in recent years who doesn’t want to talk about it; I have to say it’s quite refreshing.

Reid is sipping a peppermint tea because she’s now on ‘wind-down’ mode. ‘The caffeine starts at 4.30am. When I arrive here there’s a coffee on my desk and they keep coming every 15 minutes until 9am. The cups appear wherever I am in the building. I have about eight but then no more caffeine for the rest of the day.’ Eight! No wonder she’s chatty.

Having grown up in Croydon and studied broadcast journalism, Reid had her big break presenting on BBC Breakfast from 2003 to 2014

Having grown up in Croydon and studied broadcast journalism, Reid had her big break presenting on BBC Breakfast from 2003 to 2014

When it comes to managing her sleep routine, Reid has an arsenal of tips and tricks up her sleeve (see panel, opposite) gleaned from expert guests on her shows, things she’s seen on TikTok and Instagram, as well as old-fashioned trial and error. ‘I’ve been doing breakfast news for almost 20 years,’ she says. ‘The early starts are baked into the job. From the outside it looks like a bizarre, strange, unnatural time of the morning but for me it’s just work. You build strategies, habits and rituals for dealing with it.’

Having grown up in Croydon and studied broadcast journalism, Reid had her big break presenting on BBC Breakfast from 2003 to 2014, with the late Bill Turnbull, before moving to Good Morning Britain in 2014. There she famously had the unenviable task of trying to get a word in edgeways alongside Piers Morgan, until he left abruptly in March 2021 following comments he made about the Duchess of Sussex. There’s been no permanent male anchor since, rather a revolving cast including Richard Madeley, Martin Lewis, Ed Balls and Rob Rinder.

Insomnia, she says, is only a problem the night before a big interview – for instance, her recent forensic interrogation of then Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This was a major deal for GMB as he’d refused to appear on the show for over four years, even hiding in a dairy farm’s fridge at one point to avoid doing so. ‘At 1am, I woke up and immediately starting reading through my notes until my alarm went off. So I only got three hours’ sleep that night. It wasn’t stress, more being fully focused. I knew the adrenaline would get me through,’ she says. ‘But generally I count my lucky stars that I do not have to count sheep.’ The key is being militant about those naps. ‘I have told myself that, as long as I get seven hours within a 24-hour period, I should not obsess about getting it all in one go. What relieves the anxiety about sleep is that I know if I only get three or four hours in a night, I can still rest during the day.’

'At this age and stage, there's less partying and more "Do you want to go for a walk in the park?",' says Reid, pictured here taking part in Strictly Come Dancing 2013

‘At this age and stage, there’s less partying and more “Do you want to go for a walk in the park?”,’ says Reid, pictured here taking part in Strictly Come Dancing 2013

To that end, after each show, once Reid is back at the South London house she shares with her three sons – Sam, 20, Finn, 18 and Jack, 17 – by her ex-partner, Dominic Cotton, she gets back into her pyjamas, puts on an eye mask and takes a daytime nap, which typically lasts somewhere between 30 minutes and two hours. ‘I don’t set an alarm,’ she says, ‘I just see what my body naturally needs.’

Later on, she would go to bed ideally at 9pm. However, being a mum, sometimes that’s not possible. ‘Obviously they can now look after themselves to a certain extent but they still need things. They might come in from a football match or stay up doing homework and need a meal. I’m like a short-order cook! Or they might need a late-night lift, or they might just want a chat.’

Reid is conscious that the empty-nest phase is looming. ‘Teenagers don’t necessarily want to spend all their time hanging out with mum, so you take your opportunities [where you can]. There might be a time in the evening when they’re slumped on the sofa, watching TV and you just sit with them,’ she smiles. Once they’ve all left home, she knows she’ll have more time on her hands ‘but I try not to think about it too much. For any mum, it’s hard imagining all your children having left.’ She stresses several times that she very much shares the load with Cotton, who lives close by, and with whom the boys live for half the week. It sounds like an amicable setup.

She found balancing her work hours and home life easier when the children were babies. Having worked on the BBC’s rolling news channel, she returned from her first maternity leave to start her high-profile job on the BBC Breakfast sofa and, within four and half years, had three children. That must have been exhausting. She shakes her head. ‘You tend to be up all night anyway because you’re feeding the baby. So that’s the point at which your body clock has changed for ever. And the alarm clock going off early for BBC Breakfast coincided. The boys’ dad was obviously there when I wasn’t, so I could go and do my job. And when I was on air they were mostly sleeping. We made it work.’

It wasn’t always plain sailing. When the boys were younger, the early evening ‘witching hour’ of teatime, bathtime and bedtime would clash with the moment when she needed to prep for the next day’s show and confer with colleagues. ‘I’m sure there have been times in my career when I’ve been stressed or unfocused on making the tea. I’ve always tried to make a meal for the boys but there have been nights when they’ve had beans on toast or I’ve called a delivery service,’ she says. ‘But we’ve muddled through and they’ve survived.’

Journalists tend to be obsessive about doing their research but there is one subject about which Reid remains wilfully ignorant: sleep science. ‘It’s because I’m scared. There has been a number of big books on sleep recently and I make a point of not reading them. I’m worried they will say that my sleep strategy is nonsense, that napping doesn’t count and that I have done long-term damage to my health through chronic sleep deprivation. I don’t want to know!’

Susanna presenting Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan in 2017. The breakfast TV presenter has to set a 3.45am alarm clock

Susanna presenting Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan in 2017. The breakfast TV presenter has to set a 3.45am alarm clock

She takes a more rigorous approach to diet, though. ‘Lack of sleep can have a connection to weight and I crave calories when I’m tired.’ She’s mindful of waking from her nap and ‘going hell for leather in the bread bin, bingeing on all the carbs’ and acknowledges that getting up so early means her eating window is long. Three meals can easily turn into four, plus snacks. She eats apple slices with sunflower-seed butter before going on air, has lunch late morning and then dinner (she’s been vegetarian since the age of 13) by 6pm if possible. She goes to the gym, does Peloton and walks as much as possible, finding that exercise boosts her energy levels. She also gave up drinking in 2018 primarily to banish ever-lengthening hangovers. But she also found it helped her get a better night’s sleep. She now has precisely one drink per year: a glass of Buck’s Fizz on Christmas Day. ‘I would not want to drink again. I think I’d be worse because I’ve been without alcohol for so long it would be dreadful now.’

I wonder whether she gets fomo when it comes to her social life. After all, it becomes harder to maintain friendships as we get older and life grows busier. Throw a 9pm bedtime into the mix and it must be practically impossible. This may have been the case when she was in her 20s but not now, she says. ‘At this age and stage, there’s less partying and more ‘Do you want to go for a walk in the park?’ or ‘Shall we have a coffee?’ she says. ‘And the number of people you hear joking about turning down invitations because they’d have to stay up past 9pm. So I feel like I’m in sync with most of my friends right now.’

Reid drains the last of her peppermint tea and looks at the clock over the sofa. ‘I do feel tired a lot of the time,’ she admits. ‘But I think you can choose to not let it affect you.’

How tired is she now? ‘Well, right now I should be napping,’ she says. That’s me told. I leave her to head home for a snooze. I trust she’ll sleep soundly.

Watch Good Morning Britain weekdays from 6am on ITV1 and ITVX

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