The truth about insomnia: Sassy's story
More than just a restless night, insomnia is a sleep disorder that can deeply impact a person’s life. Here, Sassy Smith reveals what it’s really like to experience insomnia first-hand...
It’s 4am and I’m lying in bed sobbing, listening to my husband snoring gently beside me, and trying to resist the urge to pinch or elbow him, just so that he’s awake too. At this moment, even though I know that it is completely irrational, I hate him. I’m angry, frustrated, and anxious, and I just want to shout: “How dare you be asleep. It’s so unfair. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”
But I don’t. Instead I bury my face into my pillow and sob silently, my eyes fixated on the glowing numbers of my alarm clock. The numbers that have been taunting me since 1am, and will continue to do so until I finally give up and get out of bed at 6am.
It’s the summer of 2017, and in the past six months I’ve gone from being a solid eight-hours-a-night sleeper to getting less than three hours at best. I’m feeling exhausted, stressed, snappy, and permanently on the verge of tears – and I have no idea why this is happening to me.
In the early stages of my insomnia I just thought that maybe I wasn’t tired enough, so I would force myself to do some high-intensity exercise before bed. I thought that maybe if I could physically wear myself out, I’d be so exhausted I wouldn’t wake up. But it didn’t work.
I quit coffee, but that made no difference at all. If anything, it just made me even more grumpy, because I was denying myself something I love.
I tried having a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, hoping that the alcohol would knock me out, but that only gave me a headache, and meant that when I did wake up, I had a raging thirst.
I read somewhere that getting up out of bed and doing something else, like cleaning or reading a book, would help but it absolutely didn’t.
Finally, I tried sleeping tablets, but they just made me feel unpleasantly groggy, and a little bit sick.
Once I was awake, the biggest problem was getting my mind to quieten down. It felt like my eyes opening was a cue to send my brain into overdrive, and for the whirring thought loops to start up. All the issues from my waking day would rush into my head, and my anxiety levels would rise. I was stuck in a cycle and couldn’t seem to find a way out.
It wasn’t until I started training to become a coach in the early part of 2018, that I finally had an insight into what was happening to me. Looking back, I can see how easily it happened and how my life, biology, and circumstances had created the perfect insomnia storm.
I was going through an incredibly stressful time at work; I was desperately unhappy and very anxious. My brain was constantly filled with negative self-talk, and I would replay situations and conversations over and over on constant loops. I had also started to develop night sweats, and I could feel that my hormones were all over the place.
This combination of stress, anxiety, and being perimenopausal meant that my cortisol levels were off the chart. I’d heard of cortisol, and thought it was just a stress-related fight or flight response. I had no idea that our bodies need it for so many other things, or that it’s naturally involved in the waking up process.
I learnt that our cortisol levels should be at zero around midnight, start to increase two to three hours after the onset of sleep, and then steadily increase until there’s enough in our system to wake us up. Because I was going to bed physically and mentally stressed, my cortisol levels were through the roof and never dropped to the zero point. That meant that by 1am I already had enough in my body to naturally wake me up. Once awake, my brain would whirr and I’d get upset about being awake, which would cause another release of cortisol and… well you can guess the rest.
To stop the cycle, I started learning how to manage my stress. Every night before bed, I would get my journal out and dump my thoughts into it, literally just putting pen to paper and writing whatever came into my head. Clearing out my thoughts each day was a really great help, and I was able to use it to make sense of the things that were subconsciously worrying me. I also started to meditate, and used deep breathing techniques to bring my cortisol levels down. It didn’t happen immediately, but by using these methods to calm my body and my brain, my sleep improved, and I am now back to getting seven to eight hours a night.
Although everyone is different, if you’re also struggling to get a good night’s sleep, deep breathing, meditation, and journaling before bed worked for me and I would really recommend it if you’re also suffering with insomnia, too. Fingers crossed for some sweet dreams soon.
For more information on support for sleep problems visit Hypnotherapy Directory