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'I' is for Insomnia. Thursday May 15, 2014

When I was a little girl, I used to wake during the night. My solution was to pad into my parents' room, climb into their bed and secure in their presence, I'd fall asleep again at once. Trouble is, they didn't. Eventually they explained, 'Sarah, honey, you'll have to learn to get yourself back to sleep,' so from then on when I woke I would turn my light on and read until I felt tired again. I got through a lot of books (which might explain why I'm a writer now).

Today is my fourth blog using the letters of A.N.X.I.E.T.Y. as inspiration to mark Mental Health Awareness week – 'I' for insomnia – and I appreciate what a nightmare the wide-awake club can be. Replaying past events, worrying about the future, feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities – I've done them all, even though I know mulling only revs up the mind and makes matters worse. After a few hours, the panic at the prospect of getting no sleep feeds on itself, creating a vicious circle.

These days we tend to view sleep as our 'due', but perhaps we have false expectations. The ancients didn't suffer from anxiety about insomnia because they never took sleep for granted. Even as recently as the 18th century, it was the norm for people to sleep in two-parts. Sleeping for eight hours at a stretch is a modern phenomenon and I find it helpful to see my own patterns in this broader context, so you might too.

If you find it hard to sleep, why not try the following today?

• Avoid caffeine after 1pm
• Avoid heavy meals after 8pm
• Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
• Eliminate afternoon naps
• Exercise, but not close to bedtime
• Use a fan to block noise from inside or outside the house
• Don't use a laptop or mobile phone after 9pm

And, because I'm convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind, I'd also suggest you practise mindfulness. When you're waiting for a lift, standing in a queue, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The more you can do this, the easier it will be to bid farewell to your problems and get a good night's sleep.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope are giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rayner's new novel, Another Night, Another Day which is available exclusively from Waterstones. Its focus is mental health, and it's a touching tale of people and their journey through tough times, told with humour and warmth. Today is another chance to win. Just email with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.

The Moodscope Team.

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Anonymous Thu, May 15th 2014 @ 7:17am

Thanks :)

anonymous Thu, May 15th 2014 @ 7:30am

Excellent and well rounded review of the problem of insomnia, Sarah
As an insomniac myself, I would add:
- making sure the room has been well ventilated during the day and is dark if you are a light sleeper,
- checking that you are neither too warm, nor too cold in bed (wear socks if necessary!)
- make sure, earlier in the evening, that you are not going to be hungry during the night (especially elderly people who don't always feel like eating at night ). Perhaps have a little something like a banana.
- Avoid drinking any beverage too close to bedtime but make sure you drink plenty of water during the day and a glass of milk a while at the end of the day but not too late.
- if you still wake up during the night, avoid looking at the time, as this will only make you more anxious.
- practise relaxation, focusing on deep breathing.
Sweet dreams!

Anonymous Thu, May 15th 2014 @ 10:40am

I usually wake up and then listen to an audio book very quietly and eventually I fall back to sleep, sometimes within a few minutes, sometimes a couple of hours, I find that listening helps me to take my mind of the thoughts that have crept in and then serve to keep me awake. I don't stress about being awake any more as I am having the joy of listening, so whether I manage to listen to 5 mins or 2 hours I am fine. I used to spend the night tossing and turning but am fairly satisfied now, although I can still only manage about 6 hours on a good night and about 2 on a bad. generally I am somewhere about 4.5, but I am in bed for 8.

Anonymous Thu, May 15th 2014 @ 4:18pm

Yes I have a suspician that de-hydration can cause wakefullness in the night, so try to drink plenty before 4 p.m. ( and not too much after 4 p.m. )

Anonymous Thu, May 15th 2014 @ 5:13pm

I use Autogenics. It tends to be costly outside of London and only available at one hospital in London, however there it is free and there are some freebies if you search online. If you have a support group you could get funds together and find a facilitator online near you. It has no sponsors, unlike Mindfullness' which came over her with a flurry of money and and lots of setup funding. Autogenics just trains you to do very specific things with specific wording which cover all problems that might ail you, and 'no' it is not relaxation as such, although that is the result, so you don't need to use of buy CD's and it doesn't have the Eastern mysticism theme either. Little easier to get to grips with. I also use the timer on my tv as an aid, or when the weather is good go and sit in my moonlit garden watching the stars. I do go for a run about 9pm in my park and play on the swings and climb trees, I mean the ones lying on the ground rather than the big old ones still standing! I live near Gladstone Park in NW London and there are lots of other people out running too, but if that alarms you initially go with a friend or make it a bit earlier. I always have a plan B, C and D! The latter being raiding the fridge for goodies, but not too often!

Silvia A Thu, May 15th 2014 @ 6:45pm

"The ancients didn't suffer from anxiety about insomnia because they never took sleep for granted. Even as recently as the 18th century, it was the norm for people to sleep in two-parts. Sleeping for eight hours at a stretch is a modern phenomenon"

Sarah, I've never heard about this before, could you please clarify or give me links or books where I can learn more how people used to sleep in the past? Thank you.

sarah rayner Fri, May 16th 2014 @ 8:33am

Hi Silvia, there's a link here that provides some background information on how people slept in the past. I also found something in The Guardian Weekend, but can't seem to find it on Google this morning!

Silvia A Fri, May 16th 2014 @ 5:16pm

Interesting. There are few references in the article so I can look for more. Thank you very much, Sarah!

Kayla Evan Thu, May 29th 2014 @ 7:52pm

I used to wake up in the middle of the night after having only at least an hour of sleep...Actually I think the more appropriate term would be a nap :P It was a hard phase and was probably caused by lots of stress from school work and part time jobs.. My mind would just wander off when I'm in bed because it couldn't during the day... I seen the tips you provided and yeah, I gotta say, that really helps a person keep their sleep in check. :) Thank you for this post. Keep it up!

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Kayla Evan</a>

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