20 Tips That Helped Me Cure My Insomnia
A Personal Battle
It began over 35 years ago, when I was about 23 years old.
At first it showed itself as the occasional "bad night," but gradually it increased from maybe once every two weeks, to once a week. Then twice a week, then more.
It hit me completely out of the blue and for no apparent reason, causing havoc on my working and personal life.
No doctor at that time was able or willing to help. Their only comments were something along the lines of "what's bugging you?"
Well, nothing was bugging me, thank you very much, Mr. Expert—other than the fact that I'm exhausted, and it is ruining my life!
A double dose of antihistamines at night was suggested (Piriton), and I must say, that did help. But they left me feeling groggy the next day, and anyway, it can't be healthy taking big doses of antihistamines every night.
The next thing I tried was Night Nurse. I had a bout of flu and was taking it to help sleep, and when the flu passed I just carried on buying the Night Nurse. That helped, too, but was obviously not a long-term solution.
Then, guess what? Alcohol.
Alcohol definitely knocked me out. I was never much of a drinker, only a sherry at Christmas, and as alcohol had such a profound effect on me both physically and mentally, I tended to avoid it.
But it knocked me out like the proverbial sledgehammer, and I slept whenever I had a couple of glasses of wine before bed.
Fortunately I was sensible enough to realise that this could be the slippery path to ruin, so I was very controlled in my drinking, only partaking when I was totally exhausted and desperate. Besides, I couldn't afford it!
When I was 25 I married, and four years later the children came along.
How I was able to be a mother to those kids was nothing short of a miracle. Actually, quite a lot of willpower was involved, so I will not invoke any greater powers other than the power within myself to carry on.
Life on a daily basis was agony. I would never know from day to day how I was going to be, so I could never make plans.
I have lost count the number of times I had to miss out on dinner parties, either arranged by me or one I was invited to.
Once, a friend and his partner turned up for a meal. Unfortunately I was a complete physical and nervous wreck due to lack of sleep. As personal phones were not common in those days, there was no way of alerting him. So they arrived and I was in bed. How awful—for them and for me.
On another occasion we had tickets to see "The Lion King" in London's West End. My children were teenagers by then and it was to be a big Christmas outing for all of us, including invited friends of theirs. I couldn't go. I was weeping with exhaustion. So another lucky boy, a friend of the family, took my place.
Fortunately I was able to give up work when I had the children, but when I did work (and do now) I have had to take time off owing to chronic, crippling insomnia.
I could go on and on and on. My life was ruined, and at times I felt suicidal.
The only thing that kept me going was hope. I survived on hope. Maybe one day I will sleep all through the night and wake up every morning feeling refreshed—not just sometimes, but always.
Well, maybe not always; I'm being realistic here. But more often would do me just fine.
What did I do to try to sleep?
I tried everything.
Alcohol became a more regular feature of my evening. I noticed that a couple of glasses of wine, or a shot of whiskey would knock me out.
Unfortunately, although the alcohol knocked me out for a few hours, I didn't manage to sleep through the night often waking in the early hours unable to get back to sleep. So I would be exhausted the next day.
I became addicted to over the counter sleep aids: antihistamines, which were of super strength. They worked, but made me snore, and I would often wake up feeling like my head was filled with cotton wool.
I tried herbal remedies such as lavender, valerian, or passion flower. Although I am a great supporter of herbal medicine I am sorry to say that they had no effect on my sleep whatsoever.
The doctor prescribed Temazepan, which had no effect. It was a complete waste of time.
At Last, a Breakthrough!
The breakthrough came when I realised that chronic insomnia was not my fault. Rather it is probably an inherited condition as my grandmother suffered, as did an aunt, and now my poor son. He has what are known as "night terrors," a terrifying condition which causes the sufferer to outwardly enact nightmares.
He often wakes up thinking he is choking—a classic sign of sleep apnoea. This causes the air supply to be cut off and the sufferer wakes up literally gasping for breath.
I have been told I cough a lot in the night, and often snore, too. So do I have sleep apnoea? I have come to the conclusion I do.
20 Tips That Helped Me Cure My Insomia
- 1If you think you have sleep apnoea, try raising the mattress at the head end. I put a pillow underneath it which elevates my head and neck.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature. I feel the heat badly, so for me it is important to keep cool. For others it may be the opposite.
- I cannot stand noise or light, so I wear a mask and earplugs. A sight for sore eyes, but it really does help!
- Do not drink alcohol to try to sleep. It is counter-productive. After a few hours you will awaken.
- Avoid sleeping pills except in a dire emergency.
- Keep yourself hydrated during the day by drinking plenty of water. Dehydration can make for fitful sleep.
- Avoid tea or coffee in the evening. I do not drink ordinary caffeinated tea any later than mid afternoon. Decaffeinated isn't necessary helpful, because it isn't just the caffeine. Tea especially seems to irritate the bladder. But if you must have tea or coffee in the evening drink decaffeinated and don't drink it any later than about 8 o'clock.
- Sleep alone. Sad but true. That way you have more control over your sleeping position and comfort.
- Don't "own" your insomnia. For years I called it "my" sleep disorder. It isn't mine at all. I totally reject it. I am now used to sleeping and go to bed feeling positive, knowing that I will sleep.
- Do something during the evening to relax yourself. I play a game of solo scrabble which I find absorbing and relaxing.
- It is not a good idea to watch tv late at night, or, come to that, surf the net. These both stimulate the brain too much and it takes several hours for the brainwaves to revert to normal.
- Certain foodstuffs are over stimulating, too, such as chocolate and spices like ginger. A curry in the evening may disrupt your sleep. Chocolate eaten in excess even during the day may disturb your sleep that night.
- Talking of food, do not eat late! Whilst your body is trying to digest your food, sleep may be disrupted. Eating late can also cause acid reflux. If you feel peckish at bedtime have a glass of hot milk.
- If you must recharge your phone at night leave it on in a separate room.
- Turn off your wi-fi and cordless phone before you go to bed. There is considerable scientific evidence that radiation emitted by these devices contribute to, if not actually cause sleep disruption. Certainly, sleep disorders are on the increase.
- Practise breath control. Observe your breath when you are resting in bed. Concentrate on breathing through your nose, not your mouth. If your nose is clear, try taping over your mouth. I haven't tried this but I know it is recommended for controlling hyperventilation - a major factor in poor sleep. Maybe you hyperventilate during the day? Again, observe your breathing. Is it slow and controlled and through the nose?
- Try to develop a bedtime routine, so you expect to go to sleep because it is part of the pattern.
- Unless you are a shift worker (you have particular problems) then early nights are helpful. I can't explain it, but an hour's sleep before midnight is more refreshing than after! I almost always turn out the light at 11, but often earlier.
- Recently I have found melatonin very effective. Melatonin is commonly known as the sleep hormone. Just 1.5 mg a night does the trick. But be warned! It gives you very strong dreams, sometimes not always pleasant ones!
- Think positively! Things can change. Nothing is permanent...
What have I learned?
To live each day as comes. To be grateful.
Thank you for reading this. I hope it has been helpful...