A problem shared: Sleeping is now my nightmare

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Something troubling you? Share it with your new BFs, Jo Davison and Nik Brear.

For the past six months I have been struggling with insomnia and it is really driving me mad.

I feel so tired all day, everyday - but as soon as I get into bed at night I feel completely wide awake.

There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to how my sleep goes. Some nights I literally don’t get any sleep at all and on other nights it might take me three hours to get to sleep. Some nights I wake up in the early hours and just can’t get back to my slumbers and lie awake until it’s time to get up.

The only time I sleep all night is when my body is so exhausted it seems to shut down, but this only happens about once a week.

Often I have to spend the night in the spare bedroom so that I don’t keep my girlfriend awake. It’s very lonely and frustrating, spending the whole night in there by myself.

Trying to hold myself together at work is getting harder and harder too, because I can’t concentrate like I used to and I seem to get frustrated really easily, which is now causing problems with my colleagues and my boss.

I went to my doctor, who listened and gave me medication to help me sleep, but that just made me feel even worse during the day and I was worried I would get addicted to it. I have tried various herbal remedies but the most they ever work for is one night, then they seem to wear off.

I am not lying in bed worrying about anything - my life is great except for this. I love my job and I am happy in my relationship. When I am laid awake I tend to have annoying songs going through my mind that I can’t stop, or I get a thought stuck in my head that my mind won’t stop thinking about.

Also, I can hear what seems like every sound outside or in the house. They seem to be so loud and disturbing when I am trying to get to sleep.

I go to bed at the same time every night to establish a sleep pattern, even though I am most likely to lie awake for hours and I get very frustrated with myself when I’m trying and failing to nod off, because I know how exhausted I will feel the next day.

I can’t carry on like this for much longer, have you got any ideas of what might help?

Jo advises:

Insomnia is something I have never suffered from.

I have always been able to drink the strongest coffee, have the most stressful day, then switch off my brain when the lights go out and hibernate ‘til morning.

But I know how horrible you feel when you are sleep-deprived. I can’t remember back to the worst time - the early years of motherhood (I’m way too old). But when my son passed his driving test I discovered what it felt like to lie there, wide awake, desperately waiting for one of two things; the sound of his car pulling into the drive, or exhaustion finally taking me into the oblivion of unconsciousness.

Shortly after, the menopause hit. I’d wake time and time again feeling about to spontaneously combust. Being short of sleep made me feel physically ill, not to mention snappy with everyone so I do sympathise.

My novice view? You are worrying so much about not being able to sleep that you’re actually making it happen and you need to re-teach yourself to unwind. Start an evening wind-down ritual. Switch off the laptop and TV an hour before bedtime, get your things ready for morning so there’s nothing to worry about forgetting, dim the lights and take a relaxing shower. It all helps to calm you down and enable your brain to switch off. Which is basically what sleep is.

In bed, focus on relaxing your body, bit by bit and clearing any thoughts that pop into your head straight into a mental trash bin.

Another tip gained from experience (aka a snoring husband): if noise keeps you awake, invest in some earplugs.

Nik advises:

Having suffered with insomina myself, you have my sympathies.

You don’t mention whether you’ve taken to napping? If you have, I’d resist the urge for now, until your sleep patterns are back on track.

When I was struggling, I went to see a sleep specialist who talked me through the importance of a ‘bedtime routine,’ which has nothing to do with brushing your teeth.

He told me that it is essential to rid our body of stimuli in the hours before sleep, so no caffeine from late afternoon and no snacks two hours before bed. Instead of TV, which is proven to stimulate your brain and body, read a book or sit and chat with your girlfriend – though keep the topics light and pleasant; Christmas plans or holidays.

Your mind is very clever at making associations and, currently, your mind associates your bed with the fear of not being able to sleep. You have to change these associations. When you do finally get in bed, make sure the room is dark and as quiet as you can make it, then simply lie there. Tell yourself the goal is not to fall asleep, but to rest. There are a number of tricks that have worked for me: try taking slow, deep breaths. In your head, count ‘1’ as you breathe in and ‘2’ as you breathe out. With every breath out, imagine your body getting heavier and sinking further into the mattress. Another thing that works for me is playing a scene in my head, something happy, like a favourite holiday memory.

If nothing helps, go back to your doctor and insist he investigate further as, occasionally, chronic insomina can be the symptom of some other physical problem.

Emma Corrigan, a therapist at Sheffield’s Stepping Stone Hypnotherapy advises:

Insomnia is a very common problem which can leave you feeling frustrated, exhausted and hopeless.

Think back to when this problem first started and try to fathom out what else you were dealing with at the time; was anything stressful or unusual happening in your life?

It is normal to have a few unsettled nights now and again but sometimes our brains can get ‘stuck’ on this and have an expectation for bad sleep, which then creates ingoing problems.

Hypnotherapy can help you to reset this and help you to return to peaceful nights.

Book a place at my free workshop on understanding the sleep cycle and practical advice to sleep better this Saturday, 10-11am at the Wellforce Integrated Medicine Service on Wilkinson Street.

What would you advise? You can offer your own words of wisdom. Send your 200-word answer to this week’s problem. We’ll publish the best next week. Write to jo.davison@thestar.co.uk (include A Problem Shared in the notes field and add your name, age, occupation and area of

Sheffield you live in).