One in three of us will suffer from some degree of insomnia in their lifetime. And it can cause a myriad of health issues including overweight and depression. In the UK our working day is longer that most of the rest of Europe and some employers even believing we should work through the night pinging us emails and texts!
Here reader Nicole Ettinger takes us through her journey to find a cure for her insomnia:
“As a little girl I shine a torch under my duvet and read while the house silently sleeps. At the time I thought it was exciting being the only one awake, but as the years passed it soon grew tedious.
“As an adult I found myself with the need to be constantly connected to the world through one of my Apple devices. The iPad, MacBook, and iPhone all come to bed with me and I check my emails, Facebook and Twitter throughout the night.
“Every now and again I search the internet for cures for insomnia but I am met with conflicting advice; some are adamant that you don’t get out of bed, but stay put until you fall back to sleep. This school of thought leads to me staring into the darkness, twitching with many ideas, watching the light gradually seep through the blinds until my alarm clock goes off. The others advise you to get up and do something else until you feel tired.
Even my dog now has insomnia
“I walk the dog (who now seems to have developed insomnia herself as she has come to think of “walkies” as a middle of the night activity), work , watch Seinfeld, or play along to Countdown (I marvel at how amazingly alert the brain can be at unearthly hours, as I get the conundrum). One activity leads to another and tiredness does not come but the day does.
Sheep, pills and herbal potions
“My Grandma says, “count sheep jumping over a fence,” but my sheep never quite make it to that fence, and run fast the other way! I try sleeping pills and although they work, they leave me like a zombie throughout the day. I try every conceivable herbal remedy but they have no impact.
“Vogue magazine promises that a £70 silk lavender mask is the answer – I wait for it to arrive in the post, with great eagerness, convinced this will do it – the reality is my eyes swell up from the scent! A new product emerges called “Deep Sleep” by “This Works” – does it?! I douse myself in their oils, my pillow in a spray and virtually suffocate my partner, but nothing happens. I buy a new pillow every few months – a soft one, hard one, goose feather, memory foam but I cannot find peace in any of them.
Resigned to a life of sleepless I join a yoga class
“Just as I have resigned myself to a lifetime of no, or very little, sleep I hear about “Yoga for Better Sleep” and head to Islington’s Life Centre to join an all female group, who all look as if they have not slept for a very long time. It seems that insomnia does not discriminate but our ages range from twenties to fifties. We are united by a quest to find sleep and this is the one place where yawning is welcomed.
“The instructor, Lisa Sanfilippo, did not sleep properly for many years until she started practicing Yoga. She is small and toned, wide eyed, looking youthful and radiant with sleep. This is how we hope to be after the four-week course. Lisa gives us insight into how yoga helps to remove the day’s layers of tension that keep us activated and unable to fall asleep, training both brain and body into calmer, more sleep-ready states. She will teach us a combination of slow long held poses and breath work.
Declutter the bedroom and use it only for sleeping or lovemaking
“We are told that the bedroom should be our sanctity, used for nothing other than sleeping or lovemaking. I think of my cluttered room; clothes spilling out the wardrobes, drawers so full with photos and scraps of paper that they will not close, books I will never read under the bed, and all the digital devices waiting to entertain me through my sleeplessness. Later when I get home, I declutter it, leaving nothing in sight but my bed and bedside tables.
“Sleep deprived I cannot follow the simplest of instructions, but Lisa is calm and patient, gently untangling me from my own mal-coordinated version of a pose, easing me into the correct yogic postures. I learn how to breath slowly and deeply and feel my heart rate decrease – count to three on inhale and to four on exhalation. At first it is a chore, as my breathing feels hopelessly restricted, but after a while in the candle lit studio, stretched out in pigeon pose, I feel my breath starting to soften to a wonderfully calming effect on my wired body and mind. Thoughts are slowing down and I start to feel lighter.
“We are taught a few more poses, and as I lay in child’s pose over a bolster, I start to feel a stillness unfamiliar to my sense of being, and I share momentary peace with fellow insomniacs. I take this practice home with me and I am gradually eased into sleep. At first I still wake every few hours, but instead of further stimulating myself with the bright glare of a screen, I practice other yoga poses until I am tired enough to sleep more. After four weeks, I am in a routine of yoga before bed and if I stay in the poses long enough to quiet my body and mind I can achieve a full nights sleep.
How can I overcome my addiction to digital technology?
“However, as life gets very busy, the ideas are springing fast and the need to hop on my iPad at all hours overrides this newfound discipline. I find myself up once more, tapping away at my keyboard into the early hours of the morning. At the suggestion of a friend I try hypnosis to get me off the technology.
A man named Howard Cooper comes recommended to me and so I head to his Harley Street clinic. His consultation room is spacious and light, we sit on comfortable armchairs opposite one another. He has a calm way about him and when I tell him that it will be very hard for him to hypnotise me, he just nods and says, “I know” as if to say that is what you all think and I feel a little silly. Right from the start Howard speaks in soft tones that makes me want to slow down.
“Howard explains that he is going to give me back control over my own neurology and the control to close my eyes and drift off, or back, to sleep at will. He puts headphones on me and speaks to me through a microphone with soft music in the background. He soothingly asks me to stare at a spot on the ceiling and become aware of the “rising and falling” of my breath. My eyes fall shut at his instruction and from there I only remember odd phrases such as “sleepy….slow down…stop your fast ideas… just relax.”
“He tells me that I am “doing well,” and I feel myself sink further into the armchair, drifting away somewhere I have never been before, nor could I explain where it is. There is a moment when I hear him tell me to move the middle finger of my left hand and a part of my brain tells me to resist but it twitches involuntarily – it is then that I realise I have fallen under his spell.
“When I open my eyes at Howard’s command, he asks me how long I think the hypnosis lasted for, and I reply, “around five or six minutes”, he looks satisfied and tells me it was for “twenty-six minutes”. I feel wonderfully sleepy and have an unfamiliar desire to retire to my bed, but it is the middle of the afternoon. I ask if this relaxed sensation will last until nighttime, and he assures me to carry on as usual and that I can anticipate a good nights sleep.
Sleep at last!
“That night I fall into sleep faster than I can ever remember, and a few hours later when I wake up full of “ideas” that I think must be typed into my laptop at that precise moment, I can hear Howard’s voice telling me very slowly to “slow my thoughts down” and that “all good ideas will still be there in the morning.” I do not head to my iPad but I practice some yoga stretches in bed until both body and mind feel soothed and I sleep until morning.
Out of all the things I have tried over the years, I am now sleeping, almost uninterrupted, combining yoga and hypnosis. I do not know how long this blessing of finally being able to switch off will last for, but for now I am grateful to of found some kind of solace, and will catch sleep while I can.”