Elle Fanning made her onscreen debut at just two years old, when she played the younger version of her sister Dakota in I Am Sam. But even now, 20 years later, the actor is still figuring out what sleep routines work best on set. “My sleep is definitely not as settled when I’m working,” she says. “I’m normally a big night owl. It’s hard for me to wind down at the end of the day, especially when I’m filming, because I’m so amped. You’re so stimulated throughout the day while you’re working.”
That was the case while she was working on The Great, Hulu’s new (and highly fictionalized) satire about Russia’s Catherine the Great that premieres May 15. The 10-episode series filmed in London for six months, which meant six months away from her own bed. And even though her call time was early—5:30 a.m. for two hours of hair and makeup—Fanning would stay up until 11:30 p.m. memorizing her lines. (”There are a lot of lines in this show. It’s very particular.”)
After the six months was over, she says, she crashed. But any restlessness was worth it: In addition to starring in the series, Fanning served as an executive producer alongside The Favourite screenwriter Tony McNamara and others. “I wasn’t getting much sleep,” she explains, “because I was so excited.”
At home her sleep routine is much more pampered—think DIY face masks and monogrammed pajama sets—so we asked Elle Fanning to tell us a few of her sleep secrets. Spoiler: Turns out Matthew McConaughey’s voice is great for jet lag.
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Today would have been the opening night of Cannes. Remembering last year, the greatest 12 days of my life. Slide 1 I’m about to put on my @gucci dream dress. Slide 2 is me fan-girling amongst my fellow jury. Slide 3’s tweet hits close to home with my new show @thegreathulu coming out. And Slide 4 is me right now wearing a peach @gucci sweater to commemorate this day.
The power of a cat nap
I am a very heavy sleeper, so I will sleep through anything. I’m just out. And I fall asleep extremely fast. I can sleep anywhere, it doesn’t matter. I love sleeping on planes. It doesn’t bother me. Cars, I’ll just figure out a way to make myself comfortable and fall asleep.
During The Great, actually, I was in the middle of the set, literally between takes, and I fell asleep. There’s a photo of me sitting in a chair in the middle of everything going on, and my head’s just tilted, dead asleep. Totally out. I can just nap, right? So someone will say, “Elle?” And I’ll be like, “Oh, all right,” and pretend like it never happened. “All right, I’m up. What do you need? What do you need?” I’ll sleep during lunch in my trailer a lot. I’ll do that for a recharge. I guess I’m good at cat naps.
How I wind down
I take a bath every single night. I always do that. It just helps me to relax. I’ll put essentials oils, like tea tree, or lavender, or some Epsom salts in. It’s nice just to have that quiet time to recharge for myself. I like my baths really hot, like scalding hot. So I sweat it all out, and then I feel rejuvenated. I also have really bad eczema, so I itch constantly. Like, I itch a lot, especially when I’m stressed or amped up and all that. It comes out really bad, so I do oatmeal baths. I’ll buy real oats and put them in the bath as well, which helps. I find it calms my skin.
A DIY treat
When I’m home, I’ll do masks more regularly than I would otherwise. I try to pamper myself a bit more than when I’m working, which maybe I don’t take the time to do as much as I should. But when you have the free time on your hands…I even mixed up a mask, like a DIY, with cocoa powder and honey and yogurt. I was like, “Oh, I’ll try the tricks!” I have very sensitive skin, but I do like making my own masks. I’m always walking around with some weird goop on my face just to see what works.
I dream a lot. I don’t keep a dream journal, but I feel like I should start doing it again because there are so many interesting things that can happen in dreams. My dreams are pretty realistic, honestly. Sometimes I even feel like they’re psychic. I know I sound crazy, but there are things that I have dreamed or just have this intuition. And then it does happen later. I think I guess we all kind of have that intuition; it’s just whether you tap into that side of yourself or not. There’ll be days when I really remember my dreams, and then sometimes when I don’t or I just don’t even dream at all. But they say that you always dream, whether you remember it or not.
I’m really into pajamas. It’s always kind of been a tradition every Christmas. My mom’s really into monogrammed pajamas, so we have these silk Olivia von Halle sets she has monogrammed. I think when you feel pretty going to sleep, you sleep better. You’re like, “Oh, I’m in my cute pajamas and snuggled in.”
I have to find the right pillow. My pillow is everything. I like them really squishy so that I can almost fold them in half, and it has to be supersoft. That’s my key to being able to sleep. I bring my pillow on planes, to every hotel room anywhere in the world. That pillow has to come with me or I can’t sleep.
Also, I need it to be black in the room. I do not like any light coming in. It needs to be completely dark, doors closed. And I like a really big, fluffy duvet. I’ve been told that I kick and talk in my sleep a lot. I’m a very active sleeper, so I guess I tend to get more hot, but I like bundling myself up and wrapping myself up in all the sheets anyway.
The app that cures jet lag
I used the Calm app for a while. When my friend and I were in Cannes, she was like, “Listen to this! Listen to this!” And we’d be listening to Matthew McConaughey telling some story every night. We slept like babies. He really was helpful for jet lag.
My best how-to-sleep-better advice
Just take the time for yourself to wind down. Don’t force yourself to sleep. Don’t think about it too much. Just try to calm yourself, and you’ll fall asleep when you do. And don’t look at your phone—that is advice I’ve heard that I don’t really abide by, but you’re not supposed to look at the screen before you go to bed because that blue light keeps you up. So I’m trying to do a little better with that because I do know that’s true.
Anna Moeslein is a senior editor at Glamour.
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