The one where I can’t sleep

I may have mentioned before but when it comes to sleep I have issues. One is a specific medical issue which I discovered I had aged 23 and if you ever want to feel exceptionally ridiculous tell people you are going for hospital tests that entail sleeping for 8 hours! The rests of them are far more non-specific but the biggest impact of them is I am shocking at getting to sleep but when it comes to actually sleeping I am world class – alarm clocks have given up and retired in the face of the challenge.

For those of you of a certain age (at least everyone older than me) you may remember this:

It’s the BBC test card and it’s what was broadcast when the channel was off-air. Yes – off air. Not broadcasting any content. You had a very nice man with a soothing voice thank you for watching, they played ‘God Save the Queen’ and that was it. If you think I’m joking – google it!

The problem I face now is there is just too many opportunities to not go to bed (and I should confess that I am writing this at 1.25am). If you think of the range of stimuli that are available to us 24/7 365 then it shouldn’t be a shocker that some people really struggle to sleep. A counsellor once told me that you should avoid screens (computer, TV etc) for at least 30 minutes before trying to get to sleep as they stimulate your brain in a certain way which isn’t conducive to nutrious sleep (you REM, dreaming and all that stuff). I forgot to ask about smart phones…

The other part of the problem is what a news journalist would refer to as the ‘B-roll’ the stuff they were recording whilst waiting around or setting up the story. You finally exert the discipline to get into bed, lie there in the dark with your eyes closed (counting sheep is a risk for me – I’m Welsh) and all of a sudden it’s like some pressing play. All of the stuff that has been pushed down for the previous hours/days comes leaping front of mind and I have yet to find a pause button, let alone a stop button.

I remember watching a TED talk a few years ago delivered by Arianna Huffington about Sleep and her assertion was that men have attached bragging rights to getting less and less sleep – I think it’s definitely another thing we can blame Margaret Thatcher for (she famously only needed a few hours sleep per night). I know for sure that I am more scratchy and irritable on days when I’ve had less sleep, more inclined to make quick decisions, more inclined to avoid things I have committed to (like the gym!) and often compound the problem by falling asleep on the sofa the following evening thus perpetuating the challenge of getting to sleep.

So I’m curious…how many people out there find themselves in the same situation?And more importantly – are there any tricks I am missing? Should I be drinking 3 glasses of water 1 hour before trying to sleep? Is there some magic formula that has so far eluded me?

Aside from being clearer about going to bed, switching off all the technology, making sure you try and make a note of all those things you have to do that will crop up when you are lying in bed, having a note book to write down the ‘b-roll’ stuff – what have you got for me?

Why write this now? Well it’s now 1.31am and I don’t want to have think about this stuff when I go to bed (I will go in a few minutes – I promise) but basically…I can’t sleep!



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14 responses to “The one where I can’t sleep

  1. Ahhh, the test card, how good it is to see that again. I fight a losing battle with the telly in our house. Maybe it’s my competitive nature but Antiques Roadshow always seems to get the nod over a game of Monopoly. I miss off-air.

    I’ve heard about this screen avoidance thing a few times, and though I’m not a slave to it, I usually try and leave all screens alone for a period of time before attempting to nod off. I also read in bed, which often seems to help me get ready to nod off.

    When I wake in the night and thoughts buzz around about the exciting day ahead – that’s when I struggle. Writing stuff down, getting up for a while, nothing seems to ease my hyper awakedness. Fortunately I rarely get these on the bounce so I am used to flying along after a poor sleep. Not sure what I’d do if this was a regular occurrence.

    Good luck in your search for the magic formula.

  2. I know it’s not very cool, but I’ve always had a rule against “gadgets” in bedrooms. That includes phones, televisions, computers etc. Based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I just think they’re bad for sleep. That is not in the bedroom, not in the bedroom but switched off, the details are all important.

    As for the B-roll, you need to occupy your mind with something else. Try telling yourself a story, making something up, creating a vision or a future. Scoring the winning try as Wales beat England to take the triple crown…….inconsequential thoughts that occupy the brain.

    Either that or whiskey and pills, or a book…..but not on a device. I can help with the latter.

  3. All I can say is thank goodness social media and smart phones didn’t exist when I was a student! At least I only had ‘snake’ to distract me at night when I should have been trying to sleep.

    A few things that work for me – no TV in my bedroom, a piriton before I sleep, the pen and paper by my bed where I write everything that’s on my mind just before I turn the light out.

    Nothing new there really!

  4. Hi Rob
    I find that reading is very useful in resetting my brain to a point where its distracted enough from other thoughts for sleep. If a book is not to hand I either imagine myself as a child in bed in the cosy spare room at my grandparents house under a heavy eiderdown with soft fluffy pillows or mentally write my Christmas letter to Santa with a the great toys I’d like this year. The latter has worked well for my daughter if she’s struggling to drop off or after a bad dream.

  5. Lydia

    All great replies, I’ll add.. be aware of your body relaxing, and to encourage it, start at the toes, squeeze really tightly and then release, and continue up the body, calves, knees, quads, hams, butt, tummy, etc, arms fingers shoulders and finally face. Once all your muscles have tensed then relaxed, your body seems to really relax. Your mind may follow suit after this! Self-talk can help. ‘ok body you’re going to lie here and enjoy feeling relaxed, and in ten minutes you’re going to drift off to sleep and you will rest really well for 7 hours’… you’ll feel really really silly the first time though!
    Hoping tonight is great 🙂

  6. Bob Hammond

    Something that’s helped me in recent months is going to the gym most evenings. That’s where I now tend to think about all the stuff that, in the past, would have kept my brain working late at night. I leave thoroughly exhausted and, after then having a refreshing shower, it feels a lot easier to get into wind-down mode for the night.

  7. I’ve had this problem all my life. When I was a kid I would read under the covers or, because I was scared of aliens, I would imagine that I was trying to play dead to avoid aliens capturing me, and be as convincing as possible. As a (mostly) grown-up, I find vigorous after-work exercise helps. If I get stuck rehashing the day or fall into half-dreams about work, I imagine that I am on a raft in shallow water by a beautiful, sunny beach. I think about the undulating water and the sound of waves and I time my breath to the waves, pretending that I am basking in the sun, with the waves rolling beneath me. I also like a meditation app called HeadSpace, which is meant to be for meditation, but will lull me to sleep. If these strategies doesn’t work I have a very (very) stiff drink… 🙂

  8. I spent a few days in the Faroe Isles this summer. (Set of islands belonging to Denmark but not in the EU, situation in the middle of nowhere between Iceland and Shetlands). Their TV station had closed down for the summer holidays! So instead there was a proper old fashioned test card to goggle at. What a lovely thing to do – ‘it’s summer, time to get out and enjoy yourselves, there’s no need for telly’.

    Anyway, sleeping. Or not sleeping. I’ve noticed that there’s generally a relationship between the amount of exercise I do and how well I sleep. When I’m physically tired, it’s much easier to sleep. I mean, that’s what sleep is partly about isn’t it, getting really good physical rest as well as a mental rebooting. It’s hard though, when a lot of jobs involve sitting. Also, I sleep better when there’s a 4 hour gap between eating and sleeping.

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