“To sleep, perchance to dream –ay, there’s the rub.”
Actually, dreaming wasn’t the problem so much as staying asleep, once I’d managed to actually nod off. I’m not sure when my sleep problems started; probably in my thirties when work started to be particularly stressful and I couldn’t find the off button. Before that I hadn’t really understood the concept of a bad night’s sleep but I started to wake up at 3 every morning, only for a few minutes or so but it was like clockwork. I’d wake, look at the clock and turn over band go back to sleep again.
I’ve gone to bed with Radio 4 for as long as I remember and until recently could fall asleep to it on the timer mode. By the time the 45 minutes sleep setting ended, I was away with the fairies. I started to turn on the radio on the middle of the night too, which was fairly effective to get me back to sleep unless there was music playing or you got a programme such as that comparing the concept of hell in various religions. I wasn’t keen on the Zoroastrian narrow razor-lined bridge.
Fast forward to last year and a combination of work stress, severe back issues and time-of-life changes meant a holy trinity of sleep destruction and at its worst I was waking up five times a night. I was sick of hearing myself say that if I could have just one night’s sleep I could tackle anything. Familiar?
So I decided to blast it with everything I knew. And I know that some of this might sound a little Gwyneth P and therefore be quite annoying but I’m telling you the God’s honest.
First, the easy one, caffeine. I’d never really drunk that much but I cut it right back and now I have only one cup a day, in the morning. I can’t entirely kick it. I’ve replaced the tea with decaff tea which is utterly tasteless and I have developed a taste for the magnificent Jasmine Silver Tip tea produced by the Rare Tea Co. I don’t miss the coffee. It took me two months to be able to say that.
Alcohol also wasn’t my sleep friend. Hormonal changes have meant a reduced tolerance to alcohol and I’ve cut it right back. Much as I love wine it doesn’t love me and spirits don’t seem to have the same effect.
Red clover has also been helpful in cutting down hot flushes to zero and I take that every day; the brand is Menapol Plus.
Then the radio. I decided that going to bed with Radio 4 was too random. Not every programme was conducive to a good night’s sleep and especially the news. A twitter friend had suggested mediation for my back pain and I started to listen to that instead. There’s a website called http://www.meditationoasis.com which has a number of free guided meditations. I listen to one every night. These days I’m much choosier about what I listen to.
Anxiety is something I’ve suffered from regularly; it’s a by-product of my personality as a control-freak slightly insecure perfectionist. I’d tried pills, (Lyrica) which helped the first time but mixed with the pain relief they just knocked me out and made me feel like my batteries had been removed. I was overreacting to just about everything; a phone call from a client could push me straight into self-punishing panic, as if my internal thermometer had broken. A work colleague suggested hypnosis. I was so exhausted I didn’t even have the energy to be sceptical. I had four sessions. I haven’t had an anxiety attack since.
And then exercise, something I do completely begrudgingly. I started to walk after my back operation and set myself ten thousand steps a day. I bought one of those things to wear on my wrist thinking that I wouldn’t use it. Wrong. It forces me to confront my inactivity, lights up when I’ve been inactive for too long and most interestingly, monitors my sleep by recording movement. It is through this that I know that I don’t have restless sleep anymore. I listen to audio books whilst I walk and have now “read” some of the classics I’ve always meant to read but never had the time.
Nutrition may also have played a part. In a bid to get myself healthier, I’ve reduced my intake of cow’s milk and wheat. I also take one of those supergreen powders every day. I certainly feel better and I’ve lost 16lb in two and a half months without feeling miserable and those of you who know me will know I live to eat.
I haven’t slept so well for so long for years.
I don’t know which of the various changes I’ve made is the key factor but if you’d ask me to guess in order of importance the list would look like this, least important first:
1. Cutting down on booze
2. Reducing wheat and dairy
3. Red Clover and supplements
4. Reducing exposure to random stuff on the radio late at night
6. Cutting out caffeine
And yes, with a good night’s sleep I can pretty much tackle anything.