I have never really been the best person for going to bed at the right time. Moving out of my family home when I began University was definitely a backwards step for me just as I think for most it might be too. Defining your own routine when there is so much to do and so many nights out to attend, your sleep pattern and health in general can be so easily pushed to one side. Fast forward 10 years and it might not be the nights out that keep me awake but I’m eternally busy (my own choice I know) in so many other ways.
I know many people have told me to ‘get into a routine’, ‘turn off your electronics’ and ‘relax before bed’ but often there is no sign for me that that particular evening will be affected in any way by my sleep issues. I can have what seems like the most wonderfully relaxed evening in or out of the house, not touch my phone and even be suitably tired when I get to bed but I will have a terrible or disrupted night’s sleep that affects not only me, but Alex too. In the same week I can experience a crazy 14 hour day full of meetings, travel across the world or have a generally crappy day and lo and behold I will sleep like a log. I just can’t win!
Although I know a lot of people who have mentioned off the cuff that they have insomnia, feel nocturnal or find it hard to settle in an evening, I haven’t seen many people share their specific sleep experiences. So here I am. Rather terrifyingly sharing the odd, the weird and the slightly crazy sleep issues I experience from time to time, in the hope that maybe some of you can relate and speak about them too.
I am truly the definition of a restless sleeper. Alex puts up with me flailing around most nights and although I can often only remember snippets of what I’ve experienced, he’s the one who experiences the horror ‘esque’ viewing of me going through what my mind is projecting into the room. It isn’t often that a night will go by, that I don’t at least sit up in my sleep mumble something and lay down or at least wake Alex up fearing that someone is in our room. It can take mere seconds for me to fully wake up through to a couple of minutes before I realise that it’s a ‘dream’ and isn’t in fact reality. It can range from mild fears to extremely vivid dreams and I can sometimes remember every detail but other times remember not a single second. Usually, people are stood next to me, in the corner of the room, opening the window, opening the door or taking something from me.
Insomnia isn’t something I’ve dealt with in an extreme sense but I do know the effect it can have and has had on those around me. The small amount of insomnia I’ve experienced I would be inclined to say, is linked with any stresses I’ve encountered in my life. Whether they are personal or career based it’s that stereotypical feeling of my mind racing a million thoughts a minute and I often have to grab my phone and write a list down just to brain dump. I can feel as relaxed as I ever have climbing into bed and suddenly my mind turns to my calendar for February 2019, a mistake I made at my previous job 4 years ago and wondering whether I replied to an email I read at 8am this morning. Brains are funny things aren’t they?
My ultimate night time enemy. Quite easily the thing I fear the most about sleeping and the one thing that I find can happen to me multiple times during the evening. I did mention above that I don’t see a connection with the majority of my sleep issues but I do sometimes know that being over tired (falling asleep on the sofa before bed for example) means I’m more likely to experience night terrors, than on nights when I go to bed at the ‘right’ time. Sometimes I know I should listen to my body but trying to stay awake for one more episode of Game of Thrones is too tempting. My terrors are usually somewhat mild in comparison to some of the horror stories I’ve heard others experience. I have never been rendered paralysed in fear, as friends of mine have spoken of. I’m always able to move about, it just takes me a little while to come round to reality again.
A recurring ‘terror’ for me is thinking there is someone in the room stood next to me or at the end of the bed. But in honesty I’m never usually overly terrified. More intrigued and confused. 4 nights out of 7, I will sit up in bed, looking at someone in the room and start speaking to them, before falling back to sleep. The first time it happened, I was sleeping in a tent on my 10 week USA roadtrip, where camping was pretty much every night of those 10 weeks. And at that point, 7 weeks in, I think my paranoia of someone getting int0 the tent or there being too many bugs in the tent, led me to start believing spiders were crawling all over our sleeping bags and I had to be awoken from screaming. Since then, the dreams got more and more vivid but rather than insects, moved into seeing figures and shapes, to which I’d start conversing. One night I was sure someone was opening the window of my 5th floor flat to break in and I awoke screaming at Alex to save us. Another time I woke up and walked around the bedroom taking all of the artwork down from the walls. Another time I was sure someone was taking photos of me in bed via a photo on the wall. And the most frequent recently, is thinking Alex is someone else, and that I’m lying next to a complete stranger.
I wasn’t overly sure what to even call this one as I don’t think there’s a real name for it, but lucid dreams sounded apt. A great example of this was being in Chicago recently at my best friend’s house, where I have spent multiple nights and know it very well, but I had a dream so lucid Alex was actually able to converse with me. There was nothing scary about it, nothing that truly caused me alarm but after waking and remembering the dream quite vividly, I realised I had been so aware of my surroundings I had actually used my phone in my sleep. A definite first, I think. I was adamant during the dream that a piece of art on the wall was actually a window/spy hole of some sort and to prove this I picked my phone up, found the camera, took a picture of it and went back to sleep safe in the knowledge I had my evidence. And there it was when I checked in the morning, a grainy middle of the night photo of the artwork on the wall. I still have it for lols.
And then there are the times when the room is so dark that I think I’ve been trapped inside of a black box. This is actually my biggest fear anyway – I can’t be hidden under a duvet or I will literally lose my sh*t. So on these occasions when I think I’m trapped, I will be screaming my lungs out and wrestling around the bedroom trying to find any source of light. Probably the most terrifying of my terrors. And screaming is also a recurring issue – where Alex jumps out of his skin with me next to him waking up the whole building. Or the times when I think something is trapped in my throat and I can’t swallow or I think I’ll start choking. Or the times when if I happen to sleep naked, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to put on clothing because I think someone is watching me and taking photos. The list goes on.
Some of these may seem quite extreme and even a little hilarious in hindsight (who takes a photo in their sleep?!) but I wanted to be honest and share them. I have a feeling that a lot of us have sleep issues and perhaps we don’t talk about them enough with others and perhaps not at all with our Doctors. Yes it may seem inconvenient to have insomnia and you may think you should just ‘get on with it’ when you have sleepless nights more often than not, but the consequences of any sleep issue will always be our mental and physical health. If you ever feel like you’re suffering with either and that your sleep pattern may be the cause of what you’re dealing with, do reach out to someone. A routine including a good nights sleep can be the basis for great days and in turn feeling amazing.
If you have any tips or experiences you think might help anyone please share with me below, I’d love to know I’m not alone and maybe we can help each other out in the process x