To sleep or not to sleep

Hi there my fellow insomniacs,

Today I attended a sleep workshop at the Central Library in Cardiff, organised by the National Centre for Mental Health. The reason for this was my bad sleep pattern, which I have been trying to change for ages, but can’t seem to succeed. I’m somewhat frustrated by the eternal dark circles around my eyes and the absence of vitamin D that comes with the territory, but I’m keeping my mood up and trying not to let the “mean reds” get me.

With the help of Katie Lewis, a researcher from the National Centre for Mental Health, and the main speaker of the event, I have learned and reinforced a lot of important tricks, which I’m now going to share with you:

  1. Try to eat every day at the same hours, and definitely no food for 4 hours before going to bed;
  2. In order to set your sleep clock, you have to compromise and wake up at the same hour every day. For example – if you wake up at 7am during the week, and chose to wake up at midday during the week-end, your sleeping pattern is going to suffer the equivalent of a five-hour jet lag;
  3. It has been proven that exercising helps a lot, but avoid doing it 2 hours before bed;
  4. Your bed is for sleep only. It’s important to transform your sleeping place into a sanctuary, a place where you feel relaxed and safe;
  5. When you can’t sleep, don’t waste your time in bed tossing and turning. Get up, go and read a book, or watch tv for 15 minutes and try to sleep again later;
  6. Write down whatever is on your mind when you go to bed, so you won’t worry or anticipate. This can be your general mood or thoughts, or errands for tomorrow;
  7. Avoid, as much possible, the blue light coming from your LED electronics (laptop/phone/tablet) – a few hours before going to bed, reduce the brightness, or download apps that get rid of the blue light;
  8. Try to block street lights/noises out as much as possible. Distance yourself from artificial light, and try to get as much natural light as you can during the day;
  9. Pets can easily disturb your sleep, so no matter how cute and fluffy they are, it’s better not to let them sleep next to you;
  10. Find the relaxing sleep routine that’s best for you: read a relaxing book, meditate, listen to chill music, watch something easy.

(It is worth noting at this point that these tips may not apply to everyone, but they are a good reference to try and tailor to your own individual sleeping cycles)

I’m now going to tell you what losing sleep did to my mind/body:

  • It made my skin look sickly and irritated;
  • My vision was constantly blurred, and I now have to change my glasses because they don’t help anymore – I also developed photosensitivity;
  • It made my hair fall off;
  • It affected my self esteem and made me lose confidence in my looks;
  • It made me hate the sun and avoid getting out of the house during the day time, unless completely necessary;
  • I lost my ability to focus on conversation, and I had the attention span of a goldfish;
  • I lost the drive to do anything that made me happy – hobbies, meeting up with friends, walks on the beach, etc;
  • It gave me irrational fears, panic attacks and anxiety;
  • Through all this, it made me feel very helpless and useless.

These are only a few of the things that my mind and body have gone, and still to this day go through, but I’m doing way better nowadays. I learnt that I’m not alone in this, and I’m slowly gaining control over my life – trying to befriend Morpheus and let him take me to dreamland every night.

I was always an anxious child, and at the age of 12, I became Miss Insomnia. I kept myself up every night, so I had time to read my favourite books. It became so bad, that my mum had to take away my books. There was no internet access back then, so it worked for a while, but when the internet came into my life 2 years later, my sleep pattern was completely destroyed and I didn’t feel sick. This is because my body was very young and it was regenerating like Wolverine – like I was invincible.

Still, a few years later, my anxiety turned into panic attacks and then into real health problems. I tried sleeping pills that were prescribed by different doctors, but I stopped soon after, because it made me feel like a zombie. I tried to self-medicate with weed, but that only worked for a while, and in the end, it became clear to me that the only way I could do this was to find actual help. Luckily, most of the nights, I can conquer my fears and calm my running heart, but there is still work to be done. Most of my sleepless nights happen because of my hyperthyroidism acting out like a total bitch. I’m doing my best to keep it under control.

Part of the workshop was a fun and engaging activity, where you answered questions about your own sleep cycles and habits, which then gave you a score out of 20. If you scored high, you were a lark, which tells you that your sleep patterns are and relaxed. If you scored low, you were an owl and in the middle, there was the hummingbird which can have tendencies from both. It seems that I am an owl and Rowan is a hummingbird. (no surprises there)

I think that going to this event is the start of something, and it really gives me hope that I can live a normal life. For now, I have to change my thyroid treatment because I developed an allergy to it, so fingers crossed!

For future events and general info, you can have a look on the National Centre for Mental Health website here 

Photo copyright Laura Iancu

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