I went to the doctor (again) about my ongoing sleeping issues. In some ways, I always feel a bit of a phoney because it’s not that I have trouble getting to sleep. It’s often head-pillow-gone. But the problem is that I am a very light sleeper and also seem locked in a pattern of waking too early and not being able to get off again. This means I’m “losing” between 90 minutes and two hours of sleep almost every night. Can you really lose what you never had?
Am I like Mrs Thatcher, the tyrant, who reportedly didn’t need much sleep? I don’t think so. I often feel zonked throughout the day, and after two or three bad nights I am sometimes muddled in my head and make uncharacteristic mistakes.
What’s behind all this? A side-effect of age? Anxiety? Depression? I think I am tightly wound. And my sleep is always much, much worse if I have something, no matter how minor, on my mind.
This week, for example, I was taking the car in for a Big Service. I knew how much it was going to cost. I knew all the things that needed doing. I knew I could drop it off at 8, and that a friend would pick me up and would never let me down. I knew I was not going to be late to work, although a bit later than usual, and that I had no reason to be there so early anyway. And yet, my sleep was disrupted and I had a terrible night, worse even than usual.
As to the light sleeper part, just about anything in the night will wake me. The pitter patter of tiny cat feet. Hissing in the pipes. My youngest, up and down all night with her own sleep problems. The fucking milkman turning up at the fucking school next door at fucking 4 a.m. and leaving his fucking engine running while he clanks the fucking gate open. This last is an almost daily occurrence.
So I went to the doctor (again) and she asked, how long has this been going on? A couple of years, at least, I estimated. She looked at my records. Well, you were here about it in 2015, she said. Oh, right. So four years. And a year or so before that, because what man goes to the doctor straight away?
Back then, I had a couple of courses of sleeping tablets, and these sort of worked, but nobody wants you to have them full time. Then (ano)the(r) doctor put me on Sertraline, antidepressants, and these did not work, although they seemed to trigger something, which is eczema, which I have had ever since, even though I stopped taking the Sertraline.
And the eczema was a side-quest all by itself, leading me into a glutard diet (which worked until it didn’t) and all kinds of other symptoms, such as my eczema related watering eyes.
My suspicion? Eczema and sleeplessness both stress related, always worse when the pressure ramps up at work. I’m a teacher and the main source of stress is not the students but management, who can’t watch you constantly in the classroom being good at your job and instead want to measure your performance by piling on pointless but quantifiable admin tasks.
So I went to the doctor (again), and she suggested CBT, which I did suspect might be my long-term solution. There’s an online app called Sleepio, which asks you a bunch of questions, and then (as a first step) asks you to keep a sleep diary.
A sleep diary.
Something to do.
Something on my mind.
So of course, first night, I’m tightly wound, ready to record, make note of, clock, the comings and goings of my sleep.
Which doesn’t come. Went to bed, early, to read. Read for about 45 minutes. Tried to sleep. How long does it take you to fall asleep? Five minutes? Fifteen? Ninety minutes later, I give up and get up and go downstairs to sleep on the couch. This often works. Because the bedroom is associated with not sleeping, but the couch is associated with lovely afternoon naps to the soporific drift of Melvin Bragg’s voice. Two hours later, I give up and go back to bed.
Throughout all this, my mind is racing, tumbling through pointless pinballing ponderings, and my body starts itching all over, attack of the 50-foot eczema. None of this, of course, is unusual when you start keeping your Sleep Diary. Because keeping a sleep diary means that you milk your sleep dairy dry.
Finally, I suspect a good while after 3 a.m., I am asleep until the alarm goes off at six. I had intended to go to work, but no. Three rough nights in a row. My eyes are gritty and I feel as if I’ve been kicked in the head. Three hours sleep.