My insomni-action kit – revisited

A few years ago, I spent nine months straight getting by on little more than four hours sleep a night. I had previously been a good sleeper; excellent in fact. Car rides had the power to send me to sleep. I could (and did) sleep through a hurricane. I would regularly head to bed earlier than your average toddler and wake some 10 hours later, irritatingly perky, and raring to go.

To suddenly find I had lost this superpower was disturbing. It was also pretty ageing. And stressful.

We’ve all experienced occasional sleepless nights so you’ll recognise the feelings of heavy-headedness and the ‘hot’ eyeballs that come with tiredness. I had hoped that doing a bit more exercise and getting some early nights would sort me out but alas, sleep still eluded me. It didn’t matter what time I went to bed, I wouldn’t fall asleep until nearly midnight, which wasn’t so bad except that 4am became my nemesis.

I would wake at 4am. Every. Single. Day. My Fitbit fitness tracker also monitors my sleep so I could see how little quality sleep I was getting, and the number of times I was waking. After a few weeks, I thought I was going to keel over. I tried not to rely on sugar and coffee to keep me alert but they crept into my diet with increasing frequency. And then, weirdly, after a month or so I began to feel okay on four hours’ sleep. I looked awful and clearly wasn’t okay but I suppose it became a new kind of normal.

I knew my problems with sleep were probably related to stress – I would wake in a panic – but the cause was beyond my control at that time. Rather than resigning myself to my sleepless state being permanent, I (as the saying goes) accepted the things I couldn’t change and set about trying to improve the quality of whatever sleep I did get.

I tried a huge number of products and activities and in the last year, I have made some big changes to my lifestyle, to the extent that I sometimes sleep for 7 hours a night – almost double what I was getting a few years ago. Here are a few of the things that have helped me:

The lifestyle stuff

Image by Emma Epton/Whitstable Community Yoga

I don’t drink much alcohol, I exercise every day and I eat mostly home-cooked food. That’s not the ground-breaking advice you’re looking for, I know, but I have learned to make time for those three things and feel better for them. Beyond that, a complete game-changer has been the re-introduction of yoga into my week. There’s a separate post on its way about why I returned to yoga and how it has fixed the broken bits of my body, but an amazing side effect has been the impact on my mental wellbeing and particularly, my sleep patterns (even taking into account one of the classes is at 6am).

Firstly, it made me realise how shallow my breathing was and how often I wore my shoulders like earrings. Breathing from your belly is one of the quickest ways to slow your heart rate and feel more relaxed. Taking that a step further, Yoga Nidra, helps me to switch my brain off and fall asleep more easily. It’s a guided meditation but don’t let that word put you off or dismiss it as kooky. Laying down, mentally scanning your body and one-by-one, relaxing your muscles and releasing tension you didn’t realise you had, isn’t *that* way out. My yoga teacher is so good at talking us through this – you can buy the audio she has created and try it for yourself.

The products


From left to right:

Deep Sleep pillow spray from This Works

This is one of a range of sleep products from This Works. As the name suggests, you spritz your bedding with the lavender scent and it encourages a good night’s sleep. The Works’ research suggests people fall asleep faster and feel more refreshed after using the spray. I was sceptical because to me the smell is quite strong but after the third night of using it, I was asleep within minutes. This product retails at around £16 for 75ml.

Neom Intensive Deep Sleep Treatment

If you share a bed, your companion may not want to be showered in the scent of lavender so this roll-on would be a good alternative. Stroking the product across your pulse points means the cocktail of essential oils becomes warmed by your skin. The aroma is subtler than the Deep Sleep spray, and has more depth. The packing suggests it lasts around three hours; I haven’t been able to stay awake long enough to check. Intensive Deep Sleep Treatment retails at £8 for 5ml (which is a small amount but you only use a tiny bit each time). Again, this is one in a range of sleep products from Neom.

3am Journal

This was a gift from my best friend; other notebooks are available but this has some great messages dotted throughout the pages, which remind you that you’re not losing the plot, you’re just tired. My 4am internal alarm preceded a flap about whatever it was that was on my mind at the time. Often minor worries in the grand scheme of things, but everything really does seem worse in the middle of the night, so I’m in the habit of writing things down before I go to sleep. Last minute thoughts, jobs I need to do the next day, or things I need to check.

(While we’re on the subject of books, I’m trying to get back into reading before bed, rather than scrolling endlessly through my Twitter timeline. That’s work in progress).

I Can Make You Sleep by Paul McKenna

This is the absolute Daddy; the go-to tool in my anti-insomnia kit. Without doubt this brought my first nine months of sleeplessness to an end and I always return to it if I’m having a restless night.

Back then I downloaded the book to my phone and it came with a 22-minute audio track; if you follow the link above you’ll see there’s now an app and other tools. I have never read the book, just listened to the audio. It’s so hard to describe but essentially you hear something different in each ear. It’s disorienting and so takes your mind off the other things that are distracting you. This helps me to fall asleep and if I wake in the night it always helps me return to sleep. Price varies.

If you’re struggling with your sleep and try any of these products, let me know you get on. If you have managed insomnia by other means, I’d love to know what has worked for you.

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