An imaginative novel, Café Insomnia by bestselling author, Mark Capell, has helped me cope with another period of sleeplessness over the past few days. Twenty five year old Justin Brook opens an all-night café for those who can’t sleep. Strange things happens in the shadow hours just as they do in your head when you are jolted awake at 2.21 am for weeks on end.
When I was active, raising children, running a business, a home and doing the red-eye run to New York on a regular basis, I had no difficulty in sinking into blissful slumber as soon as the clock struck nine. I’ve always been an early to bed and early to rise kind of girl. I think the rot set in when my girls were teenagers. Half an ear strained for the phone, one eye on the clock as it ticked through the early hours before a ‘Mum, no taxis and I’m cold,’ broke through my semi consciousness.
You would think that once they left home I would relish long lavender baths, cups of hot chocolate a good book and hours of delicious sleep. If only.
Instead I suffer from chronic periods of insomnia which are taking a toll on my energy, my mood and no doubt my health. I’ve tried out all the recommended tips: lavender, camomile tea (yuk) some herbal stuff that smells like cheesy feet, a brisk walk before bed ( lethal in my case), stretching, turning off the radio, a boring book, getting up to clean the kitchen floor or God forbid to do some ironing. Nothing works.
A doctor told me said, ‘You can’t sleep because you’re depressed and you’re depressed because you can’t sleep.’ Helpful. Not. Depression and anxiety can cause early morning waking and I do experience periods of both. Illness, trauma, fear and any powerful emotion can break a sleep pattern up to the point it becomes a nightmare (sorry) to correct it. The more you worry about getting to sleep the harder is it.
Some changes to my routine have helped a bit. These are my top three. (These don’t necessarily apply to shift workers or people with broken sleep because of babies or demanding relatives who also can’t sleep and ring you for a chat.)
- Saying to myself it doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep tonight. It’s about taking the pressure off the need to get to sleep by a certain time. Ok so you will feel scratchy the next morning and shattered the next night but by taking the pressure off to ‘perform’ as it were can induce relaxation which is the key to sleep.
- Listening to a meditation tape. Ten minutes of shut-eye and a few stretches while your mind floats off to Fantasy Island where your horrible boss is eaten by a shark. Maybe. I don’t have any boss, fortunately.
- Creating a suitable sleeping environment. I always have my window open a crack even in the winter to keep the air circulating. Black out blinds or curtains are a great help in the long, light nights. The biggest change you can make in my opinion is turning off all gadgets, especially with screens, an hour before bed time. I don’t even have mine in the room. Quiet, soothing activities prepare the mind and body for a restful night.
I do get up in the early hours if I’m struggling and no I don’t clean the kitchen floor. I write a hundred words as I’m doing now. It’s amazing how the eyes just want to close when work is in sight.