For years I had an issue with sleep. Not falling asleep, I have always been fine doing that, but waking in the early hours of the morning and then being unable to get back to sleep. Even if I did fall back to sleep, I would wake a short time later.

The saying “the darkest hour is just before the dawn” was true for me. In the middle of the night, whatever I was worried about could not be dealt with and made me believe the most worrying of consequences. One small thought could explode into the biggest worry.

A tiny mistake during the day could spiral into me thinking it would make everyone hate me, I would lose my job, I would be left alone, I’d lose my house and life would become unliveable.  By the time I had to get out of bed I would be so tense and anxious that I felt sick.  The thought of getting out of bed was torturous and I would leave it until the very last minute I could. Even thinking about those times now makes me uncomfortable.

During counselling I learnt a technique where I should look rationally for the evidence of my negative thinking.  This helped to a degree, but the thing about anxiety and depression is that rational thought is not always possible. This was especially true when everyone else was asleep and I was therefore powerless to do anything about my worries. The more I practised rational thought, the better I got at it.

I continued to wake up, though, and this is when I saw the documentary, The Truth About Sleep by @DrMichaelMosley. In it 4 techniques were tried and I decided to give 2 of them a go; 2 kiwi fruits an hour before bed and the taking of a daily prebiotic.

I don’t know the science behind it or if it was the placebo effect, but it started to work. I would fall, and stay, asleep. If I woke up in the night I played a game my wife taught me which was basically using the alphabet to name things in a chosen topic. e.g. A for ant, B for bat, etc. This helped me to not think of other things.

I stopped using my phone in bed (at first I had to surrender the phone to my wife, but I trust myself now).  When I used to awake in the night I would go onto my phone and check social media, which then kept me awake. There are also a lot of articles regarding the light from a phone’s screen stopping sleep.

I also now try to keep to the same sleep and waking times every night. Getting into that routine took time, but I do now feel that it has helped my body and mind know when it was time to sleep.

I have also supplemented my routine with the use of eye mask. Not having light interrupt my sleep (especially in the summer months) has been so useful.

Nowadays the only reason I wake in the night is if one of the cats headbutts me or runs over me, but I can deal with that.

Not sleeping is so detrimental to our mental health and not all solutions will work for everyone. It took me years to discover my specific techniques. I don’t know why they work, but they do and they really help. Waking up refreshed and bounding out of bed feels great.

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