Issue #32: A gentler approach to treating insomnia
What I learnt from a sleep therapist, after taking the NHS self-assessment for insomnia. Plus, the best tips & advice for nodding off – including bedtime yoga & feng shui.
Last night, I struggled to get to sleep. Which, if I’m honest with myself, has been the case for most of my adult life. I always get weirdly jealous when people say that their bed is their favourite place, or tell me they ‘can’t wait’ for bedtime. On holidays, I often watch, in disbelief, as friends nod off almost instantly after getting into bed – like the doll I had as a child whose glassy eyes snapped shut when I laid her down horizontally – their soft breathing beside me reminiscent of that basic function I have somehow failed to master.
One in three adults suffer from some form of insomnia. Last night, I formally joined their ranks. Encountering the same bedtime battlefield I have faced countless nights before, I decided to diagnose myself through taking the NHS Sleep Problem Self-Assessment Test. I scored 10 out of 32 (the lower the score, the more problematic). Despite my sleep history, this surprised me. I didn’t think of myself as an insomniac. Insomniacs are exhausted new parents; stressed-out CEOS; neurotic intellectuals with existentialist thoughts. Insomniacs are hardcore, getting three or four hours a night, waking up in a hot sweat, padding around barefoot in the darkness as loved ones sleep. Not me, the wuss complaining about her cushy five or six hours; an unencumbered, otherwise-healthy person who inexplicably hates bedtime. And yet, and yet… ‘Your low sleep score indicates you are suffering several symptoms of insomnia’.
Insomnia: What’s in a label?
I called up Dr Kat Lederle, a sleep therapist whom you might remember was a guest on the most recent season of my podcast. ‘Is it normal to take an hour to get to sleep at night?’, I asked her. There was a long, slightly awkward, pause. Which was disconcerting because, between you and I, I was playing it down. Last night – Night of the Insomnia Quiz – it took me at least 90 minutes. This, despite my efforts towards the Best Night of Sleep Ever™️: eaten early, avoided alcohol, phone off before 10, in bed with a cooling fan and all that jazz (health journalist and friend o’ mine Lauren Clark detailed a similar grudge against the sleep gods in a newsletter earlier this year).
Clearly, effort doesn’t always equal reward. Much like falling pregnant or meeting The One, sleep sufferers often face the particularly annoying phrase: ‘It will happen when you stop trying so hard’. And yet, how can we? Sleep isn’t a passing wellness fad, nor is it a ‘nice to have’ like toned abs or straight teeth. As Why We Sleep author Matthew Walker puts it:
‘I was once fond of saying, "sleep is the third pillar of good health, alongside diet and exercise." I have changed my tune. Sleep is more than a pillar; it is the foundation on which the other two health bastions sit.’
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