Sleepy Time

Things I have slept through before children:

A hurricane

small earthquakes.

House parties.

Things I am unable to sleep through since having children:

A child silently standing by my bed at night.

Light rain

The bedroom door opening

Today is world sleep day, a day dedicated to the importance of sleep. The health benefits of sleeping are many; our bodies are more able to heal and restore themselves when we get those recommended 7 to 8 hours. We know that sleep keeps our hearts healthy, aids in weight management and benefits our immune system. We’re better able to handle stress and are not so emotionally charged when we’re well rested. Conversely not getting enough sleep sets us up for more stress and anxiety, a reduced ability to handle our emotions and even our memory recall is affected.

I know all these facts intimately as last year I developed chronic insomnia, twice. Chronic insomnia is classified as insomnia that persists for three nights or more and lasts for 3 months and longer. As experiences go it ranks right up there with knocking out my front teeth and getting mugged in Barcelona. At it’s worst I managed two to three broken hours sleep a night, often drifting off around five or six am only to have to start the day at 7. I became a zombie, powered by sheer adrenaline during the day and Amitriptyline at night. I tried everything. Sleepy tea, lavender oil, bedtime yoga. I avoided blue light like the plague. Eventually I sobbed on the shoulder of a close friend, also a GP. She reassured me that my insomnia was the result of studying for exams. My body would take the sleep it needed, sleep would return. She was right. After taking my exam I clambered into bed and fell asleep for 8 hours. Sleep was restored, until we moved house three months later. The insomnia was back.

This time I waited, I knew it would pass. Sure enough the first night in our new house I slept and all was well with the world until my studies started.

Now this diploma is three years long. I was pretty sure I would either die, or my family would divorce me if I didnt find a permanent solution to handling stress. Waiting it out was no longer an option. I knew sleep aids were not going to work either. A lifetime’s worth of lavender oil was not going to make any difference. The problem is that during periods of stress my brain hits the ‘on’ switch. It is no longer able to power down for the night. Thoughts, utterly useless thoughts, hang around and occupy my attention during the small hours. Lyrics to children’s theme tunes, conversations I’d had years ago. Nothing useful or insightful. If I could find a way to manage these thoughts, to not engage with them but to let them drift in and out I could be onto something.

I decided to try meditation. Numerous studies were showing that after just a brief period of practising meditation participant’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appeared to have shrunk. This primal region of the brain; aka our lizard brain, is associated with fear and emotion and initiates our body’s response to stress. Participants not only shrunk this area but also formed a stronger connection to the pre-frontal cortex. The part of our brain associated with awareness, concentration and decision making. Meditation or a mindful practice increases our ability to down-regulate the limbic system. I had found the off switch.

These days I have no bed time routine. No herbal remedies, oils or medication. No set down time before I get into bed. I simply fall asleep. Thoughts come and go, I don’t try to swat them away, they flit in and out of their own accord. I can engage with them or not. The hustle and the juggle of life has not changed but my ability to manage it, to get deep restful sleep has.

There are numerous apps and places to go online to develop a meditation practice or to help with sleep. Here are some of my favourites.

The Sleep School App

Created by Dr Guy Meadows and Adrian Baxter. Dr Meadows is a sleep physiologist who has been working in his field for 12 years. The sleep school has helped over 4000 patients recover from insomnia. There are in person workshops, an online school and an app. All of which offered me, and the guy who went to bed with a bottle of vodka each night, a lifeline.

Ziva Online Meditation

An online program guided by Emily Fletcher, a former actor and former insomniac. Their motto is stress less, accomplish more. I was after a non woo-woo meditation program and this is it. A practical approach to meditation for those with busy lives. I cannot recommend enough.

Headspace

A brilliant little app that guides you through a daily ten minute meditation. There are programs for sleep, stress and a meditation program for children. A free basics pack gives you the essentials before you subscribe.

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