Sunday, 2 January 2011

I Can't Get No Sleep

Keen followers of my ever-scintillating Face Book status updates will know, firstly, that I suffer from insomnia, and secondly that I’ve been trying Paul McKenna’s I Can Make you Sleep method for about a month now.

‘I suffer from insomnia.’ Listen to that phrase. Isn’t it dramatic? Doesn’t it sound romantic and desperate and as though I am a skinny heroine in a Victorian novel, fraily and beautifully dying of consumption, giddy and gorgeous as I cough blood into my lace hankerchief? I say that I suffer from insomnia, but how true I really think that is varies from day to day. Sometimes I think it’s a perfectly legitimate thing to think, and at other times I think I’m over-egging the pudding, protesting too much, making a fuss about nothing, and that all that actually happens is I wake up to pee a couple of times a night.

Certainly, I usually have very little problem actually getting to sleep – quite the opposite in fact, oftentimes I have huge amounts of trouble staying awake. The following things make me fall asleep, at times instantly: watching TV; listening to the radio or a talking book; warm, comfy seats; being at the cinema; being at the theatre; being in a lecture; being in a meeting; sitting on the tube; trying to read a complicated paper in my office. Honestly, at those moments I think narcolepsy would be a more fitting diagnosis for me than insomnia. It is really, really annoying.

Throughout my psychology degree, I had lectures in the evenings, and I would regularly have to sit in between my two best friends, one of whom had a tiny baby and averaged an hour’s sleep a week or something crazy (so what my excuse was, god only knows), and get them to both poke me in the ribs, one on either side, as soon as my eyes started to nod. Which was ALL THE TIME. It really was an issue… it’s very hard taking notes when your head is constantly doing that irresistible, hypnotic, nodding, lolling thing and your eyes are being pulled down as heavily as Barry White falling down the stairs. I would still try to make notes, even as I was falling asleep, with the result that many of my notes from those days are totally incomprehensible and scrawl across the page at mad angles, and include words based around the dreams I was even starting to have, rather than the lectures I was trying to listen to.

I used to tell myself that it was because the lectures were in the evenings and I was tired after a day of work, but as soon as I started my PhD and had lectures at 10am on Tuesday mornings, exactly the same thing happened to me, and I found myself fighting against sleep once again. I think it’s just as soon as I stop, as soon as I’m sitting and doing something passive, I just will fall asleep. And there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it. It shouldn’t have surprised me really, I was constantly falling asleep at my desk when I was a sub-editor and waking to find myself still typing, but now about monkeys and zombies and ponies rather than the latest happenings in EastEnders.

So why am I always so tired? Well, this brings us back to the initial diagnosis. I have – or think I have – insomnia. As discussed, I (usually) fall asleep fine. Sometimes I have trouble with the falling asleep as well, but no more than anyone does, I don’t think. But I wake up. Sometimes at 5am. Sometimes at 4am. Sometimes at 3am. And then it often feels like I’m awake for the rest of the night from that point onwards. I know that that isn’t the case, as I continue to have crazy dreams (recent highlights include a tiger trying to get into my house and a panic over some escaped snakes), but I’m really fairly sure that any sleep I do get from that point is so light that it would only take someone whispering my name to wake me back up again.

What is it like, being awake, or half awake, at that time of night? It’s not like (or not normally like) I’m staring at the ceiling, counting down the slowly passing seconds until I can get up. It’s a lot more confusing than that. I’m often not quite sure if I am awake or asleep, if what I was just dreaming is real or in my head. But after a while I will realise I’m awake enough to be asking myself that question and then I wonder how long I’ve been that way for and if I can get back to sleep and what will happen if I don’t.

It’s not so bad when – as is the case at the moment, oh constant reader, for I am alone again, natura-diddly, as Ned Flanders once said – when I’m sleeping alone. I have a fairly fail-safe way of getting myself either back to sleep or at least not fretting about being awake, which is listening to audio books. I find that that occupies enough of my brain to stop me being sad or worrying, and so allows me to drift back off again. Of course, if I’m with a fella, I fret about waking him up, or I’m in his bed where there is no handy stereo from the dark ages and collection of story tapes, and then I’m left to lie awake for much longer.

Why is it, I wonder, that no-one’s mind naturally turns to summer and friends and DJing and crisps when one is lying awake at night? Why, instead, do we all start thinking about that stupid thing we accidentally said to a friend five years ago? Or the time we started telling a story and then realised no-one was actually listening? Or the fact that, no matter how promising every relationship starts out like, they all turn to shit in ever decreasing lengths of time? Or the fact that one day, we’ll doubtless be alone, penniless, miserable, doomed to die alone in a hovel and not be discovered until our cats have eaten half of our faces? (Or is all the above just me?) What is it in human nature that makes those things so much easier to ponder at 4am than anything happy?

I started having sleeping problems when I was about 19, I think, which is of course approximately 100 million years ago now, ho ho ho. The problems have got better and worse since then, and have been the worst they’ve ever been in the past six months. This may be partly because I’ve spent a lot of the past six months confined to my bedroom, treating my bed as my own personal cinema/café/sofa/beauty parlour/music auditorium, something Paul McKenna thinks is a very bad idea, and a habit which I am now having to break. Break being the operative word – it feels like I’m slowing breaking each of my own fingers with a hammer, one by one, trying to stop always being in my bed when there’s no good reason to be somewhere else, but apparently this is what I must do.

I long to be able to sleep through the night. I love sleep so much. I love dreaming and switching off from the world, I love being cosy and warm and safe. Being awake is so often tiring and painful and boring – being asleep is never any of those things. Being tired makes life so much harder. I’m prone to pessimism at the best of times, but everything seems so much bleaker when I’ve only had three decent hours of sleep a night for the past week. The slightest slight can push me over the brink; the biscuits running out can make me want to self harm.

I won't lie... I am not above sleeping pills. Nytol one a night work for me sometimes but seem to have stopped. Melatonin, which many people seem to think is the mutt's nuts, doesn't make a dent. What works really, really nicely is a temazepam. Or two. Or, for preference, three, taken in a big handful. If anyone wants to send me some, I shall give you some babies in return.

(Naturally, I'm only joking. Of course a benzo addiction would be worse than insomnia. Can't quite think why at the moment, but I'm sure there is a reason, right?)

So, for my birthday, perhaps because she was bored of my incessant moaning and crying, my best friend and DJ life partner bought me Paul McKenna’s I Can Make you Sleep book and CD. And so the great experiment has begun!

I won’t bore you with all the teeny tiny details, but the premise of the book essentially works like this… follow all these rules, and you will sleep. These are the rules:

Get up half an hour earlier every day,

Only go to bed when actually tired,

No TV in bed,

No TV an hour before bed,

Listen to the CD when going to sleep,

Bed is only for sleep, doing the rude dance and reading Macca’s book. (No other books. He reckons this is cos his book has hypnotic suggestions in it and is therefore ok, although other books aren’t, but I can’t help feeling that this is nothing but shameless self-promotion and hence I take no part in it and choose to read nothing at all in bed. Ha! That’ll show him! Sleep fascist!)

No eating three hours before bed,

Eat healthily,

No caffeine after 2pm,

No napping during the day,

And this, the worst... no alcohol.

There’s also a load of relaxation exercises and stuff in there… things like speaking to yourself in a nicer tone of voice rather than a fretful, nagging one while you can’t sleep. It’s all pretty common sense stuff, really.

So far, so simple, right? Well, no, actually… even the first one is a puzzler for me. Get up half an hour earlier every day… but I get up at different times most days! Saturdays I need to be at work by 9.30, so need to get up at 8. Sundays I can get up when I like. Mondays I try not to get up too early as I work til 1am. Tuesdays I don’t set an alarm as I won’t have got in til 2 and don’t need to be at work til 12.30. Wednesdays I have yoga at 7.45 so need to get up at 6.30. Thursdays and Fridays I aim to be at uni for 9 which means getting up around 7.30. How does one reconcile this??? I made the executive decision to get up at 6.30 every day, as I certainly didn’t want to get up earlier than I already was for yoga. Or at least, that’s what I said to myself, but now I think about it, I was really only doing that on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays as my late night shift on Mondays means that I just don’t think getting up at 6.30 on either Mondays or Tuesdays is sensible, and even I’m not psychotically morning-ish enough to want to get up at 6.30 on the weekends. I figure that just not lying around in bed trying to get back to sleep but instead accepting that once I’m awake, I’d better get up, is sensible enough for the other days.

Trying to time not eating for three hours before bed, not watching TV for an hour before bed and going to bed when tired so that the three coordinate can be something of a headache, especially when the times I get home from work/uni are just as random as the times I get up. I am still trying to do more reading than watching TV, but I’ve been slipping in recent weeks.

As I said earlier, I think the hardest thing, even harder than giving up drinking (which, admittedly, I only took up yesterday, I spent most of December drunk, but didn’t we all?) (we didn’t? Oh, crap) is to only use my bed for sleeping. My bed is my favourite place in the world to be. One of my biggest joys in life is lying in bed of a morning posting nonsense on the internet and listening to Shaun Keaveney. It’s just not the same shivering on the sofa. I had, in fact, all but decided that it wasn’t worth it and I’d rather keep sleeping badly and sitting on my bed during the day, but reverting to bed-sitting over the past week or so has also coincided with a huge, freshly baked batch of depression, straight from the over-dramatic emotion-oven (although which came first I really couldn’t say) so I am forced to admit that it probably is worth it after all.

So… does it work? This is doubtless the question on everyone’s lips! The answer so far would have to be that it does, partly, work. I became somewhat less disciplined over Christmas, but when I was doing it semi-properly at the beginning of December, I was sleeping semi-better, only waking up once in the night and on one momentous occasion (a Monday night/Tuesday morning) not waking up once for eight hours, which was the first time that had happened to me in years and years. And I can only blame myself for it not working entirely, as I was still drinking and not really doing the relaxation exercises properly.

However, it is a new year and time for us all to improve ourselves, and so now I’m going to really try to do it properly – not drinking, the NLP nonsense that makes me cringe a bit, the whole nine yards. It could even be that the key to my entire world o misery is tied up in my inability to sleep, and if I can cure these problems by doing what Paul McKenna tells me, that seems a small price to pay. I will report back. Try no to sit too close to the edges of your seats… it will hurt if you tumble off.


  1. I found it interesting how your sleep switch will kick in during lectures and inappropriate times.Wierd how that happens innit. I used to use my old bedroom as my room to do all things in ... my pooter/tv and stereo and chairs for visitors were all in my bedroom :)))) Now in my new house we use the front room lol But I will still sneak my laptop upstairs and sit on the bed in the sunnyshine and chat to friends :))) Maybe the trick is not to spend TOOOO much time on ya bed ... but don`t deny yourself a treat ?? I <3 my bed too and love the feeling of safety n warmth .. but I did kick myself out of it at half 7 this morning .. :)))

    Hope you get over your blues though hunni ... big love n hugzzz to you n Elaine too xxxxxx

    Happy 2011 to ya :)))))) xxxx

  2. Thanks Lu! I actually think the reason I fall asleep at the wrong times may well be cos of worrying about it... Macca reckons that you get more of what you focus on in life, so if you're thinking 'shit, I'm awake, I'm awake, why am I awake?' as one does at night, you will stay awake. However, in lectures, and certainly when I'm watching films, I always think 'oh bollocks, I bet I'll fall asleep, I hope I don't fall asleep' - and bingo. I'm asleep! Now to just try to switch those impulses around!

    Big love and cuddles to you too xxxx

  3. You're absolutely right about benzos - they're wonderful for short term treatment of anxiety/insomnia but the dependency/tolerance curve is too steep and no (reputable) doctor will prescribe them for an extended period (that's not strictly true, but for the purpose of your discussion, it is).

    I have chronic sleep problems' I've been under the supervision of The Priory for best part of a year now. I know how depressing/stressing sleep problems can be.

    Medication I take regularly (read: daily) which helps me sleep (read: is one of the only things which gets me to sleep!) are 'sleep hypnotics'; specifically 'zolpidem tartrate (10mg)'. It works on similar receptors to benzos but doesn't (tend to) build dependency or tolerance. It's also been proven effective in studies up to a year long (at which point the study terminated rather than they stopped being effective).

    Related to that is zopiclone (7.5mg, I believe) which works in a similar way, just not as quickly.

    Perhaps speak to your doctor, see if you can get a prescription for zolpidem (I prefer it to zopiclone), you may find it to be as helpful as I have.

    Additionally, and I don't know your situation on this, but sleep problems are a primary indication of depression and as such getting treatment for that (if it's identified you are depressed) may improve the sleep quality.

    I have a bunch of other notes/sources which I'm happy to share, just not on a public forum like this - grab me on Facebook/email if that may be beneficial.

  4. Thanks Jon. I have spoken to my doctor quite a few times and he always just tells me to do breathing exercises, which I find fairly useless. I don't know which is causing which with me at the moment, the depression or the sleep problems, but I am thinking about making another attempt to sort the depression out as well... will keep wittering on about it all here, no doubt.

  5. This is my second comment on your blog in only a few minutes, so obviously I'm already developing some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder about it. I share some of these sleep problems, and am regularly obliged to just fall asleep during the day. I never manage to sleep more than five hours at night. I used to find that frustrating, but just accept it now. Would accepting your odd sleep patterns not be easier than the harsh regime from the book?