Turning nocturnal?

The best strategy to deal with persistent insomnia is to take it in your stride says Carol Wyer

“To sleep: perchance to dream, ay there’s the rub…” In Hamlet, Shakespeare may have been talking about a guilty conscience keeping the mind from restful sleep. However, there seems to be a number of reasons as to why we have more trouble sleeping as we get older.

For women, the menopause and peri-menopause [the weeks and months before you experience menopause] is often a time when we begin to have problems sleeping. I used to be one of those people whose head would touch the pillow and I would zonk out for a full eight hours, waking refreshed and cheerful. These days, my head hits the pillow, I fall asleep immediately, only to wake up some 20 minutes later. The rest of the night is spent debating on whether I should kick my husband because he is snoring, hold his nose until he wakes up, or just get up and try again later.

Insomnia: Inability to sleep until it is time to get up!

My sleeping difficulties began early in 2009. My brain developed a life of its own. As soon as I was about to drop off to sleep, it began to whir into life. It would spend all night ‘talking’ to me about ridiculous things like ‘Had I turned off the cooker?’ ‘Had I locked the back door?’ ‘What would happen if the car didn’t start in the morning?’ Yes, the most stupid of questions and scenarios flashed through my mind and this incessant chatter raged all night. About 7am, my brain would suddenly switch off again, leaving me to spend the day in a zombie-like trance.

It moved on from ridiculous questions to telling stories. My brain loved telling stories so much that in the end, I had to go and write them down. And so, my career as a writer was born. At least one positive came from a negative.

There are a wide range of products and suggestions from various sources for sufferers of insomnia. I have to admit that I have tried everything except hypnosis. From lavender-filled pillows and counting sheep [who would have thought it possible to get to 78,962,005] to herbal remedies and super-strength knockout sleeping pills. [Okay, the last one worked, but I felt sluggish for days afterwards and during my waking hours kept bumping into large objects like tables and doors].

My advice about insomnia is: roll with it.

  • If you wake up, don’t get frustrated and cross. The more you fight it, or get annoyed that you are wide awake, the longer you will be awake. Get up. Wander about in the calm of the night. It can be therapeutic. Read for a while and wait until you feel naturally tired. That may not be for another couple of hours, but eventually your body will calm down.
  • My mother has also suffered with poor sleeping. There is some belief that genetics play a part in insomnia.
    When she wakes up, she reads until she feels tired. I plot stories, make up characters for novels, and if I am actually in the process of writing, use my insomnia to its full advantage by getting up and typing.
  • A few minutes sitting down on a chair will help. I don’t recommend dozing off during the day. If you feel very sleepy, jump up, shout “I am not tired!” then do 10 star jumps. You’ll soon wake up. However, if you are on a train, in an office or in a shop, I don’t recommend this for obvious reasons.
  • Go to bed at a regular time every night. Your body likes routine. Make sure there are no distractions in the bedroom. By that, I mean no television or radio blaring out. [Partners are allowed to be distracting occasionally.]
  • If you only get a couple of hours, don’t worry. Many leaders, explorers and top politicians survived on only a couple of hours sleep a night.

Some other factors... like a noisy partner

What can you do when your other half is making the tiles on the roof vibrate with his or her snoring? I am tempted to say straddle them and smother them with a pillow, however, murder is really not a sensible option. Instead, suggest this:

Encourage weight loss Losing even a little weight can decrease or even stop snoring.

Exercise Working out to tone your entire body also leads to toning the muscles in your throat, which in turn can lead to less snoring.

Stop smoking If your partner smokes, their chances of snoring are high.

Create a bedtime ritual with your partner and stick to it. Going to bed together can help you sleep better and often minimise snoring. After all, he who gets to sleep first will not hear the other snore.

There are other remedies, such as sleeping on your side, placing a humidifier in the room, avoiding caffeine before bed and having a specially designed pillow that elevates the head four inches. If your partner still snores after all that, go and sleep in another room or on the sofa!

Another sleeping problem is sleepwalking

A person suffering from this may sit up in bed, get up, perform complex manoeuvres or just walk about in a semi daze. If your other half sleepwalks, your priority is to make sure they are safe. Don’t shout or startle them. Gently guide them back to bed. If not disturbed, they’ll often go back to sleep. Most sleepwalking episodes don’t last longer than 10 minutes. I shan’t make light of it though because it can be distressing for many. If you are concerned, seek professional help, but stress and alcohol play their part and also need to be addressed.

So, if you aren’t getting enough sleep for whatever reason, try my tips. I hope they work. If not, and you find yourself up at 3am in the morning, come and say hello to me on Facebook or Twitter. You’ll find me there, bleary-eyed and happy to chat. Good luck and sleep well!

A man went to the doctor complaining of insomnia. The doctor gave him a thorough examination, found absolutely nothing physically wrong with him, and then told him, “Listen, if you ever expect to cure your insomnia, you just have to stop taking your troubles to bed with you.”
“I know,” said the man, “But I can’t. My wife refuses to sleep alone.”

This was first published in the December 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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