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Searching for sleep: what helps you beat insomnia?

Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,842 Pioneering
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with getting to sleep.  I've memories of being a child awake in the night, calling for my mum because I was upset and over-tired.  This inability to drop off has carried on as I’ve grown up; often worse when I have a ‘big day’ the day after, unable to turn off my thoughts and settle into slumber.  As a result, I’m regularly fatigued, unable to concentrate, and I’m sure my other half would say, cranky.

This trouble with falling asleep is medically called insomnia, and I’m not alone in my plight as The Cut magazine tell us Madonna, Jennifer Aniston and Joni Mitchell are fellow insomniacs.  


woman laid in bed with head peeping over top of blankets

What is insomnia?

The Sleep Council says insomnia is:
“a sleep disorder where people have extreme difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. It’s a common problem thought to affect around one in every three people in the UK.”
But how much is enough sleep?  The NHS recommends:
 
• adults: 7 to 9 hours
• children: 9 to 13 hours
• toddlers and babies: 12 to 17 hours

However, the sleep we need is highly individual and if you are getting the right amount of sleep for you should feel refreshed on waking and not sleepy during the day.

What causes insomnia?

We all know that too much coffee, caffeine and stress isn’t good for quality sleep but what else can cause insomnia?

The NHS website lists these factors as sleep foes:

• noise
• a room that's too hot or cold
• uncomfortable beds
• alcohol or nicotine
• recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
• jet lag
• shift work

You’re also more likely to experience insomnia if: you’re a woman, over 60 years old, have an impairment and don’t have a regular schedule.  Oh dear.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

I’ve listed some insomnia symptoms I’ve experienced but others include forgetfulness, agitation, headaches and in worst case scenarios people are: "more likely to suffer health problems, including weight gain, cardiovascular disease and diabetes”.   

What helps tackle insomnia?

I’ve explored different ways of managing my own insomnia.  

I’ve avoided anything over-stimulating during the hour before I go to bed, such as screen-time, hot baths, caffeine and action-films.  This helps wind down my busy mind but, in all honesty, takes a real effort to not pick up my phone and ‘check social media’.  Persistence is key.

I’ve tried candle-lit yoga.  This was part of a hatha beginners’ group, and our instructor guided us through various poses with relaxing music playing.  This was very relaxing and worked in getting me to sleep quicker. 

I’ve also listened to sleep podcasts or ‘nodcasts’.  My favourite from the many tried is the Sleep with Me podcast.  The narrator tells random stories, not requiring attention, in a slow sleepy tone.  This generally works in lulling me to sleep and is free, with subscription optional.


cat laid asleep with paws facing upwards


What else can help?

I asked Dr Anna Weighall, cognitive developmental psychologist and sleep specialist at the University of Sheffield, what else could help insomnia.  She said:

“You are doing the right thing to avoid your phone and other stimulating activities in the hour before bed.  Checking social media at bedtime, and if you wake during the night, is a difficult habit to break, but will definitely help your brain to switch off more easily.  Exercising and ensuring you have daylight during the day can also help you to develop a good sleep cycle. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and distraction free; try only to use your bedroom for sleep (this is a difficult one with so many of us working from home, but at least try to keep your work area separate from your bed).  Try to avoid naps during the day and get into bed when you are really tired.  If you do not fall asleep after 20 minutes or so, get out of bed and do another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.  The same is true if you awaken and cannot get to sleep for a long time during the night. The idea here is to try to help your brain build up an association between your bed and sleep, which will help to naturally stimulate melatonin (the sleep hormone).  However, be aware that short awakenings during the night are quite normal and nothing to worry about.”

Elsewhere on the internet, The Sleep Council website has a marvellous advice and support section that contains a free 30 day sleep plan, relaxing nodcasts and an online stress test.  

Whilst it is always best to seek the advice of your GP if insomnia persists and severely impacts your daily life. 

What support can Scope offer?

Scope have various resources to improve the quality of disabled children’s sleep.

The Sleep Right Service is a free online and telephone service for families of disabled children struggling with sleep.  This service is available to disabled children aged:

• 2 to 18 in London, and Leeds
• 4 to 18 in Peterborough
• 2 to 19 in Northamptonshire

For more details, visit the Sleep Right Service webpage.

Scope also have a downloadable sleep diary.  This can help you keep a record of your sleep pattern and make it easier to spot triggers of insomnia.  

Plus, this bedtime story will help children (and some adults) relax at bedtime.    

Tell us about your sleep:

• Have you ever experienced sleep difficulties? 
• How do you manage during periods of insomnia?
• What personally helps you get a good nights’ sleep?

Let me know in the comments below (PS - please bring me a coffee!)
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Replies

  • leeCalleeCal Member Posts: 2,488 Disability Gamechanger
    Have you tried hypnotherapy @Cher_Scope?

    additionally I found sleeping under a duvet wasn’t helping at all so I have stuck with blanket and sheets for years which suit me far more.
  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,842 Pioneering
    @leeCal Thanks for reading.  No, I've never gone down the hypnotherapy route.  Do you know anyone who has and its been successful for them?

    Blanket and sheets is a good idea as the duvet can become very warm and end up being tussled with all night!  Do you manage to get enough sleep?
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  • woodbinewoodbine Member Posts: 1,600 Disability Gamechanger
    Once I get to sleep it would take WW3 to wake me up, however I often have trouble getting to sleep, if this happens I get up have a brew and a cig then go back to bed and usually drop off (not that advocating starting smoking as a cure )
  • leeCalleeCal Member Posts: 2,488 Disability Gamechanger
    @Cher_Scope I tried hypnotherapy to help pass an important exam and it helped I’m sure, but never for sleep issues.

    i used to sleep well after an hour or so but these days I tend to be awake quite a bit during the night, more of a doze than a deep sleep. It might be my age though, it seems that most people need and get less sleep as they reach older ages, perhaps sixty plus with individual differences of course. 
  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,842 Pioneering
    woodbine said:
    Once I get to sleep it would take WW3 to wake me up, however I often have trouble getting to sleep, if this happens I get up have a brew and a cig then go back to bed and usually drop off (not that advocating starting smoking as a cure )
     :D You are right.  Dr Weighall mentioned that getting up after 20 minutes of not being able to sleep to distract yourself is a good idea, so tonight I'll go downstairs and not have a cig, but maybe make a cup of horlicks!

    @leeCal Yep, it's true that you need less sleep as you get older.  I've seen it in my relatives, they are out and about at the crack of dawn!  
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  • MrAllen1976MrAllen1976 Member Posts: 182 Pioneering
    I need at least 10 hours sleep or I'm no good to anyone.

    Some nights I get up to 11 hours as I'm in bed by 10 at the latest and up between 8 and 9 the next morning.

    And even then if I've had a decent kip I go back to bed for an hour after breakfast.

  • janer1967janer1967 Community champion Posts: 5,143 Disability Gamechanger
    I go through phases of not sleeping I can be really tired but as soon as my head hits the pillow I am wide awake

    My mind goes into over drive as I lay there as there are not the distractions like TV or reading etc

    I get up after about an hour and make a brew and have a cig like others mentioned or if I am wide awake watch tv again

    I have used the nytol tablets in the past but dont really find they work 

    i also sometimes put my eaphones in and listen to music 
  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,842 Pioneering
    @MrAllen1976 You are making me jealous!  I can't remember the last time I had 10 hours sleep :o

    You sound very much like me @janer1967 I start thinking things through as soon as my head hits the pillow too.  I might try having a notepad at the side of my bed and splurging my thoughts onto that.  Fingers crossed.  <drinks coffee>

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  • CressCress Member Posts: 276 Pioneering
    My sleep is not too bad at the moment...I've been started on quetiapine a couple of months ago and now staying awake is the problem...I'm sure there's a button on my backside as, as soon as I sit down im dozing off.
    Before this I had an awful time getting and then staying asleep.
    For some reason im too hot one minute then too cold the next, so the duvet would be thrown off and on again...annoyingly, I could go into a lovely sleep on the sofa but as soon as I went to bed I'd be wide awake again...thoughts churning in my head...I'm also guilty of a smoke and a hot drink when I cant sleep. I find it better then lying there willing myself to sleep.
    I'm told the tiredness with the quetiapine will wear off at some point....unfortunately....lol
  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,842 Pioneering
    I hope the quetiapine side effects wear off soon @Cress :)  I'm the same fighting with my duvet all night, legs in, legs out! 

    Update on last night:  I did what Dr Weighall suggested and got up twice after not being able to get to sleep in 20 minutes.  And, it worked!! By no means did I get 10 hours like @MrAllen1976 but definitely an improvement.  Only the one coffee needed today  :D
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  • MrAllen1976MrAllen1976 Member Posts: 182 Pioneering
    @Cher_Scope I've always been a good sleeper, once I take my hearing aid out and my head hits the pillow I'm gone till the next morning.


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