When knowledge is power with insomnia

Kate qualified as a Learning Disability Nurse and Social Worker and has worked in third sector and statutory teams with people with Learning Disabilities and people who have Mental Health diagnoses. She also spent a few years in the funeral business but is back in the land of the living. Here Kate gives a personal account of the impact of a long standing anxiety symptom and how some well-considered advice from a psychologist has changed her life.

Last night a deejay saved my live
Last night a deejay saved my life from a broken heart
Last night a deejay saved my life
Last night a deejay saved my life with a song

Sang Indeep in their 1982 single. Actually no DJ has ever saved my life but a psychologist once saved me from another terrible, seemingly endless bout of insomnia.

People don't take insomnia very seriously. If you happen to mention that you don't sleep much it's likely that the person you're talking to will tell you that they're off as soon as their head touches the pillow - in very much the same way as no one ever says to a person with a compound fracture "Oh really? I can do this, see?" and dances.

I took insomnia very seriously. It seemed to feel the same about me. I had experienced depression and social phobia for many years but had worked hard to overcome them, and I did. Me 1 shyness and sadness nil. However, there was one symptom of which I could not rid myself. Between the ages of 16 and 36 most nights were characterised by wakefulness, rumination and a bit of dread. My mind would churn with thoughts about things which had happened, things which I should have done, or should not and quite a few things which were unlikely ever to happen - but hey, I had time on my hands so I worried about those too. It's not a pleasant way to spend night after night but what I was more worried about was the fact that I was getting more and more forgetful and couldn't concentrate.

I tried lots of things - drinking, not drinking, exercise, a sort of mat with plastic spikes in, anti-psychotics, herbal tablets, herbal tea, and the World Service. My professional background is in mental health and so I knew about sleep hygiene - my sleep hygiene was clean to the squeak. None of it really helped. Especially not the spikey mat.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to a psychologist who told me more about what happens to our brains when we sleep and the things which can go wrong with that. Just being armed with this information made a world of difference to me. I could see how I was inadvertently sabotaging my attempts at a good night's rest. I was combatting the churning thoughts by having the radio on very quietly. The psychologist showed me how this was allowing me to sleep a little but not to get good quality sleep. My mind was being kept a little bit active and so I would wake up a lot and not reach the deeper levels of sleep. So the next day I would still be tired and stupid with fatigue. I decided to stop listening to the radio at night.

One year on I sleep well most nights. I'm no genius but my memory and concentration have improved to the extent that I have been able to switch to a new and more challenging career which I love. All it took was someone with a wealth of knowledge to listen and to share a bit of what they knew with me.

It's true what they say. Knowledge is power.

Well, alright

Dub time