Tuesday, 23 April 2019

HOW I FINALLY BEAT MY SLEEP DEMONS


Despite never classing myself as a good sleeper, until around three years ago I would not have classed myself as an insomniac either. Even though I would often struggle to doze off at night, usually after a bit of tossing and turning, my mind and body would always eventually relent and I would get at least 4 or 5 hours kip a night. But about three years ago I started suffering from serious full blown insomnia. Unless you've suffered from insomnia (real insomnia), you can never really know what it's like. But if you do suffer from insomnia, you will understand why some countries still use sleep deprivation as a method of torture. I remember once pulling two all nighters in a row. By the time the second morning rolled around I could barely function. Lack of sleep affects everything around you and inside you. Your cognition becomes muddled, your spatial awareness goes to pot, your emotional wellbeing takes a serious nosedive and your mental state dips to unimaginably low levels.

Over the past six months I have worked really hard to try and solve my insomnia issues and to date it seems to be working. So I wanted to share how I got there. In the vain hope it might help any other insomnia sufferers out there who read this blog. First off I have turned to sleeping pills in the past but I obviously don't recommend them as a long-term solution. And neither will your doctor. While I am an avid supporter of any sort of pharmaceutical if it's going to have a positive impact on a persons general mental health and wellbeing, sleeping pills are pretty addictive and so cannot be used as a long term solution. But they are a lifesaver when things get a bit gritty. Even now I always keep a weeks worth in my medicine cabinet 'just in case'. One weeks worth of Zoplicone lasts me around 3-4 months (hence the reason my doctor is ok to keep giving me them), and truthfully I sleep better knowing they are there (the irony is not lost on me). Back in October last year I decided I needed to make some big changes to my life. Which involved asking myself a lot of hard questions and going on what I can only really describe as a bit of a truth seeking journey. I needed to get happy. And there were a few big changes I needed to make in order to do that. The first being to tackle my sleep. It made sense to start by getting to the root of the issue. To work out exactly why I wasn't sleeping in the first place.

Here's what I learned. I live for distractions. If I'm unhappy with my life, the only time I really know about it is when I'm in bed. Those first few seconds when I wake up and open my eyes and feel that familiar sense of emptiness and then those final moments of my day where I lay in bed at night trying to get some z's. The rest of the time I fill my days with any sort of distraction necessary that will make sure I don't think about whatever it is I'm pretending isn't breaking me. The reason I couldn't sleep was because I refused to allow myself to deal with the stuff that I needed to deal with. As a reaction, my mind waited until I was lying in bed at night, forcefully exposing my brain to these horrible truths and demanding I pay them some attention. By spending some serious time on myself over the past six months, by reading as much as I could on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy & every Rumi and Dalai Lama quote I could get my hands on, something shifted. I started to feel a little better. My perspective slowly changed. I started to realise what mattered. And what didn't. And slowly my sleeping patterns improved.

But it took more than just that. Lots of other things ended up helping my insomnia including taking magnesium before bed (some people think magnesiums sleep inducing properties are a bit of a fallacy but I'm happy to kid myself on even if they are) or taking a beta blocker before bed to calm any anxiety if something is playing on my mind. Although I often allow myself a glass of wine on weeknights, if I do drink any more than just the one I find the implications on my sleep that night to make it not really worth it. Proven very recently when I spent the Sunday/Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend imbibing Aperol Spritz in various venues in the south side and the the west end, only to find the effect it had on my sleep was ridiculously rubbish and I spent two evenings in a row tossing and turning. If you are struggling with sleep then I cannot recommend cutting down on alcohol enough. It genuinely makes all the difference.

A best friend who spends a lot of her working life in the states means I get a pretty much free flowing supply of melatonin tablets as a sleep aid. You can't get them over the counter here but over in the land of opportunity you can buy them in the supermarket and although I can't use them for any more than a few nights at a time before they stop working, they are another perfect little lifesaver when that clock ticks towards 2am and I start to panic about all the things I have to do tomorrow.

What else? The most significant insomnia fixer I have come across over the past six months and the one I truly believe has made the biggest impact on my sleep patterns is the fact I have started journalling. I keep my favourite notebook and a pen on my bedside table and almost every evening I jot down a series of affirmations and wishes and just general bullshit that you don't need to hear about. But it's all positive happy bullshit. And the difference it has made to my sleep is incredible. Not only do I feel myself getting sleepy just doing it, but on the nights I journal I find myself nodding off almost immediately after I switch the light off. And it always takes me longer to fall asleep on the nights I skip it.

So to recap, here's what I have learned over the last six months. That the brain is an incredibly complicated, mind blowingly complex, head fucking, incomprehensible organ that in my case was the reason I wasn't sleeping. I've learned that any sort of positive reinforcement done daily (whether it's affirmations, reading books about Buddhism or getting yourself seriously into things like the Law of Attraction), will increase your quality of life tenfold. I've learned that reaching for a pill every now and again is not the end of the world but don't come to depend on them because happiness is an inside job. So start there. 

Most importantly, I'm learning that the nicer I am to myself the better I sleep. And if that's not a good reason to start treating myself with a little bit of extra kindness - then I don't know what is.

“When you have insomnia, you're never really asleep, and you're never really awake. With insomnia, nothing's real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

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