My name is Sasha, and I’m an insomniac.
I am never more jealous than when sharing a room with someone who is able to snore soundly just as soon as their head touches the pillow, wherever they may be, and who wakes up at around the time they’re supposed to and not hours before. Honestly, you don’t know how lucky you are.
The articles that tell me “you need 8 hours sleep a night or you’re likely to DIE EARLY!” or “sleep makes you thinner, happier and BETTER!” don’t help. Believe me, if there were anything I could possibly do to get an uninterrupted 8 hours a night, I would pay any money in the world to do it. But sadly no such miracle cure has yet been invented.
I’ve always been what the Americanos call a “troubled sleeper“. When I was 4 or 5, I remember asking my parents how to shut my eyes when I slept, my eyelids scrunched up at the time – sleeping just didn’t come naturally to me. Around 8, a family friend found me sitting upright on the top bunk in her daughter’s room, crying because I was still wide awake. At school, sleep was sporadic so I was always grumpy in the morning and unable to get myself out of bed in time (a habit sadly unchanged to current times, much to the annoyance of flatmates and partners and bosses). I’m ashamed to say my poor mother found it easiest to bring me a cup of tea and breakfast IN BED every morning as otherwise I’d always miss assembly (thank you mum!!!). I know this makes me sound like a spoiled brat but getting out of bed is genuinely harder for insomniacs than most people*. And I was a bit spoiled. And now being brought tea in bed is now my ultimate luxury (HINT!!).
At Uni, normal sleeping hours went out the window. With little routine, I was often up, alone, until 4 or 5am and then slept until midday the next day. It was sad and lonely at times – insomniacs learn to cope with the loneliness of being the only person awake in a dark sleeping house. Some listen to the radio, another voice to join you in the silence.
I also had times when I slept like a log. Recently I sometimes go for periods of great sleep (sadly not more than a few days at a time), such as after the first few days of holiday, and my year round the world was a proper snoozefest.
I’ve also been known to sleep walk (scary as hell) and sleep talk (about pasta and pesto apparently).
Now, my sleep comes and goes. I’m better than I was but any stress or worries will prevent me from getting to sleep or make me wake me up early, and pretty much every night when I get to bed I worry about whether I’ll sleep or not. And sleepless nights cause so many problems to my days – lack of concentration at work, lateness, being grouchy and stroppy and quick to snap, excema and dry skin, back and neck ache, a propensity to eat chocolate (good excuse!).
For the uniniated, there are several types of sleepless night that an insomniac can enjoy:
- The “I’m just not going to get to sleep EVER” toss and turner, eventually leading to you staring wide-eyed at the ceiling and realising its highly unlikely you’ll get any sleep that night. Typically happens before holidays, in foreign beds, before exams, important business meetings, any important events, and dentist appointments. Really helpful to set you up for your busy day ahead.
- The “wake up! Its 4am/5am! Time to worry about something you don’t really need to worry about!” alarm call. Often due to work stress, where you wake up and spend the next few hours sleepily going through that work report, only realising in the morning you were going over and over something completely random, involving horses or some such nonsense.
- The “pretty much anything will disturb my sleep” syndrome. The princess and the pea? That’s pretty much me every night. Drank too much water? I’ll wake up needing to pee. Someone has come home two doors down? I’ll wake up with the noise. The heating comes on? Morning! A bird chirps? Yup, I’m awake. Unfortunately this means that poor person sharing a bed with me can but peep (or parp) and I’m wide awake which makes it very hard for them too.
Scientifically speaking**, your sleep goes in cycles throughout the night. You have the which bit of the pillow is coolest to sleep on nesting bit, the deep mouth-open mind-blank bit, then the REM dream cycle ooh my legs are made of chocolate bit and then you go round again – about 3 or 4 a night I think. When you’re likely to wake up is during the REM bit which is the lightest part of your sleep where you are vulnerable to small distubances (i.e. full bladder or noise) to wake you up. So if you wake up in the middle of the night regularly its likely to be around the same time. For me 5am almost to the minute every time.
I don’t have any miracle cures but I have learned a few things that have worked for me over the years so I thought I’d share them here. I would LOVE to hear any other good tips so please feel free to share.
- Try to work on the latent stress you’re carrying. Try to deal well with work stress, do a bit of yoga or meditation, do exercise, resolve disputes with friends and family quickly. Have “mini breaks” throughout the day to think about and resolve any worries, and if you’ve got a lot on your mind make sure you babble it all out to a friend or partner before bed. Or write it down. Start a blog “Shit That Is Bothering Me Today”. If its really bad then think bigger – move to a quieter area, get a less stressful job. I think its worth it because HOW MUCH NICER are we when we get some sleep?!
- Don’t book appointments early in the morning as you might not be able to sleep that night.
- Don’t be tempted to lie in too long (although its so hard to get up I know) as it will mess up your body clock. Sleep in a little, get up and do your day and get to bed early the next night.
- Don’t get more upset and panic that you can’t sleep. Your body can go on for an amazing length of time on little sleep. I’ve done a sleepless 2 weeks once and got out the other side.
- Oh and buy LOTS of anti wrinkle cream and nice stuff for your skin, facials and such, to make up for your knackered appearance and make you feel better.
- Doing very little in the evening is brilliant and baths are great. Don’t feel bad about doing nothing.
- Don’t make phone calls, look at the TV or surf the internet for at least an hour before bed. No checking work emails just before you hit the sack either.
- Like a baby, get a routine: cup of hot chocolate, bed around 10.30pm, read for 20 mins or so, possible nookie, lights off.
- Read before you go to bed. Your mind is probably whirring like mine (especially if you are also worried whether you’ll sleep) so you need to be transported to another place, to be subsumed by someone else’s narrative. I am – no joke – currently reading “Stud” by Jackie Collins, because Eat Pray Love took me 7 months, Shantaram took me over a year, and I got it free in a magazine.
- Especially if you have an addictive personality, don’t rely on crutches (booze, sleeping pills) to get you to sleep. This can work if you’re really knackered and just need a good night’s sleep but in the long term you need to get a healthy strategy to cope. Oh and drunken sleep is rubbish.
- Sounds so childlike but don’t get excited around bedtime (no not like that). No starting arguments, telling jokes, bringing up stresses or worries. This should be got rid of well before. Cuddles and small talk is fine but leave any heavy stuff to another time.
- Don’t drink any liquids after 10pm to stop mid sleep toilet trips.
- A doctor told me once not to keep my mobile by the bed as the erm electromagnetic shizzle can disturb you. So I keep my mobile across the room. Also stops you checking twitter last thing. The Chef also believes this is totally true.
- Get aware of the time you are waking up as this is likely to be the REM light cycle bit and just check there aren’t obvious things going on to wake you up then – i.e make your heating come on later, your curtains thick enough to cut out sun at that time.
- It is soooo easy to take out your tired ass night on your partner who has been happily snoring throughout, but try not to as its not their fault (there, I’ve said it, sorry). You are totally right to be angry at the universe for giving you such crappy sleeping genes but get your anger out a healthy way. Any ideas for how much appreciated!
And finally, one little bit of solace that I have is this: while friends moan about having babies and never getting any sleep, I think PAH! Sleepless nights? I’ll show you sleepless nights! I like the thought that for me, it will be a walk in the park…. 🙂
*I’m going to get a lot of stick for this aren’t I?!
**based on very little actual knowledge