It is currently 4.05 on a Thursday morning. I am writing this post under a blanket on the sofa. Everyone else is asleep. I haven’t heard a noise from the road since 12. Here goes another night of insomnia & anxiety. I genuinely feel like the only person in the entire world currently awake.
I know this is not true. Of course it isn’t. People are arriving at work; arriving home from nights out etc. It’s just these hours. The ones between midnight and say, 5.30am. These seem to be the loneliest.
I’ve made a conscious decision to stay awake now, as I have so much that I want to use this time for. But on reflection, I don’t actually remember when I started to have trouble sleeping; I do know it was after my dad moved out of the family home when I was six. I suppose falling into an unworried slumber became a thing of the past – I started to have concerns and these began to keep me awake. Over time, this became a regular occurrence.
As an adult of 28, I believe for the most part, I have developed a habit of finding things to worry and distract me from sleep, because this has become such a routine part of my life that I now don’t know how to function ‘normally’ at bedtime.
Each night, as people begin to yawn around me, telling me how tired they are and how much they are looking forward to sleep, a sense of panic overcomes me. I know it will be hours before I can naturally slip off. I can feel my body tensing as it begins to wake itself up. I begin to focus on the amount of caffeine I’ve had throughout the day; the time of the last coffee I sipped.
I often worry that if I haven’t been awake for more than 16 hours, I do not deserve sleep as I haven’t done a full day and have more in me that I should give. I compare the time I’ve been awake to the time of others, and try to match in some way their patterns, albeit slightly later, in order to feel a sense of normality. This isn’t always easy, especially when I’ve been awake for some 26 hours and counting.
As I’ve gotten older, and needless to say wiser, I’ve learnt that although this isn’t what other people do, it’s what I do, and I need to find a way to live and work with it. As a child, I would lie in bed and read until the book fell out of my hands and I dropped off at some Godforsaken hour. As a teenager, I would watch TV programme after TV programme until my eyes could take no more and as a young adult, I would sit at my computer talking to whoever I could on social media in order to not feel alone.
I’ve spent countless nights away with friends, up all night for no reason whilst they dream away. Last year in Budapest, I had to spend a day walking around on one hour’s sleep, as that was all I could manage before she woke up to start the sightseeing.Therein lies another problem – as an insomniac I book daytime things not actually knowing if I will be awake or alert enough for them. More often than not, I can last until around 7 – 8am and then I have to concede defeat.
For anyone suffering with insomnia, it’s actually pretty horrific. Not only are you incredibly lonely, you feel abnormal – I now seldom agree to nights away with friends as I just can’t stick having to lie there whilst they snooze and I feel I can’t move due to waking them. At least at home I can pick up my laptop to write or turn on a light an read a book to pass the time.
Furthermore, lack of sleep SUCKS me dry of excitement, happiness and clarity. I struggle to be present, everything seems a lot more of a struggle than it should be and I’ve been known to make the worst decisions when I’ve had a bad night’s sleep.
Time For Change
So, what am I doing to combat this? It’s only recently, since I left full-time work and started working from home that I’ve fallen back into this cycle so badly. Momentarily, I’ve lost my routine and need to claw it back in order to feel my healthy, best self again.
I recently wrote a post on boxing your fears and anxieties in order to differentiate between those that do concern you and those that are just manifesting themselves into something worse before bedtime. Ultimately, you can break down you worries into categories in order to reduce the masses of thoughts that flood your brain as you lie there in the dark with a view to clearing your mind.
Go Herbal/ Drink More Water
I used to hate it when I’d offer to make coffees in the office around 2pm, and everyone else would ask for herbal tea or say they were fine with water. I became totally reliant on my regular caffeine fix to get me through the afternoon, despite the fact that it would knock hours off my sleeping time that evening. I felt like that hyped up manager who couldn’t function without it, yet all my staff were fine sipping on their healthy beverages. Not only was it keeping me awake, it was also affecting my ability to think clearly and rationally as I was always going ten to the dozen. My requirement for it also made me feel a bit weaker than the rest – why couldn’t I get by on herbals, too?
Something had to give and unfortunately it had to be my Tassimo machine in the PM. The effects of caffeine can last from four – six hours and not hit you for some 45 minutes after intake, so it’s important to factor this in when drinking in the afternoon. If I want to get a good night’s sleep, it’s PG Tips or herbal loose leaf from 12pm onward.
Invest in a Good Eye Mask
Insomnia can work in reverse, in the sense that you can get to sleep, but can’t get back to it once woken up, regardless of whether you’ve had 1 hour or 4. Your body wants to be alert and awake despite you feeling entirely exhausted.
In order to reduce the likelihood of waking up in the first place, make sure you have some great black out curtains – if this isn’t possible, get yourself a bloody good eye mask and look after it. These work miracles for me when I’m trying to sleep at odd hours or want to ensure I sleep for a certain length of time.
No Electronics/ Social Media Before Bed
I am 100% guilty of not being able to stick to this one. I lie to myself that reading on my tablet will wear my eyes out just as book does, but this doesn’t actually work for me. The lowest back-light on my tablet is still bright enough that I squint when reading it in the dark. Once in bed, electronic devices should be left alone.
Further still, checking social media before bed is a massive no no. How many times have you seen something that’s either riled you or induced anxiety in you before you go to bed, and then you haven’t been able to sleep due to thinking about it? Many I’m sure. You cannot do anything at that point, you need to sleep – either leave the phone/ tablet/ smart TV/ WHATEVER alone, and if you must indulge, ensure you box those worries before trying to nod off.
Wear Socks to Bed
I never actually believed this would work until I tried it. I always felt suffocated wearing socks in bed but I was speaking to a pal who is a science teacher, and he subsequently advised that wearing socks retains your body heat which induces sleep. As it turns out, I’ve had some of the best night’s sleep wearing socks under the covers.
Focus on Your Breathing
There are various different exercises that wellness experts advise, but I find by breathing in for five seconds through my nose, and out for five seconds through my mouth, I begin to focus on the achievement of holding that breath, and soon other thoughts begin to fade away.
For me personally, my main issue is being unable to shut down the thought train. One connects itself to a carriage carrying five other fears, which in turn connects to a carriage carrying ten more and soon I’m on a train full of my deepest anxieties with no way off or out.
I found this the hardest thing to tackle, but I was given some great advice when being counselled for my sleeping patterns a few years back, and I swear by its success if employed correctly.
As you lie there, envision a motorway. I like to pretend I’m stood on a bridge above, looking down at the cars as they whizz underneath me and away into the distance. Address your first and biggest fear; the people associated with it, and any subsequent bad or anxious thoughts. Now, pick them up and throw them onto one of the cars as they pass underneath you. Throw them, chuck them, hurl them. Whatever you do, make sure they get on or in that car and you watch it drive down the motorway. Repeat with your other most pressing fears and you will soon find that they’ve actually travelled some distance by the time you’ve finished.
If all else fails, you can always try counting sheep or leaving lavender in your pillow. If I’m desperate, I will happily count sheep. In fact, I turn them into race horses, ensuring in order to retain my focus and mindfulness that I imagine them wearing their coats numbered 100-1 (I count backwards as it seems to work better for me). In doing this, I have to make sure I account for each race horse and more often than not I bore myself in the process that I do end up falling asleep.
As I finish writing, the sky is turning a paler blue and outside the window has turned from black to a dull grey. I do not think I will sleep now, as it’s nearly the start of a brand new day; a day I do not want to miss. But I hope, if you’re having trouble sleeping too, that they go some way to helping you find peace in your pattern.