Thursday, 22 September 2011


I would have described myself as a good sleeper. All my life I've been able to drop off at a moments notice: I can sleep on aeroplanes, on trains, on sofas, in strange beds. I can go to sleep for an hour in the afternoon, or twenty minutes before supper, for ten hours of respite after the bone-shaking exhaustion of being awake with a sick child, or for seven hours common or garden beauty sleep.

Sleep is one of those things I've never questioned: however dogged by uncertainty I might be about my ability in other areas, I've always taken sleep for granted. It's true there have been times when I've craved more sleep -during finals; when I was young enough to cope with the physical demands of swotting furiously til 3am, or after the children were born, where dumb with tiredness from the endless night feeds, you find yourself putting your car keys in the fridge and the milk in the bathroom cupboard.

Those periods of sleep deprivation seem voluntary, self-imposed, temporary. But now, as I wave wearily at the bedside clock ticking past four, and yet again I'm stuck in the long dark teatime of the soul, and in the long dark teatime of the soul, all the sandwiches are stale, the scones crumble to dust, and the cake is always seedcake and never coffee-walnut.

I wonder, a little despairingly, if this bloody sleeplessness will ever end.

I've tried the usual things -a warm bath, a cup of cocoa, moving the pile of shoes from the side of the bed in case they were interfering with the feng shui or something. I've tried meditation, counting sheep and self-hypnosis. I've opened windows and tried different combinations of bedclothes. I've listened to The Goldberg Variations, which is my secret instant-calmer & usually works in any situation from childbirth to coping with rush hour on the Central Line. To no avail: I drop off fine, and then I wake up.

And what is it about the wee small hours that's so much more horrid than any other time of day? All the things you haven't done line up around your bed and start pointing at you, muttering about your inadequacies, undermining your ability to believe you can get on and finish anything. So the mind plays games, which is wearing, and the tiredness debilitates, and the jeering creatures around the bed peel off a layer of your skin, so that in the bright of day you're unable to face things with quite the equanimity they require.

Anyway, this four in the morning thing has been going on almost since i came back from holiday and it's driving me demented. It feels like a habit now too, which is even more peeving.

Any good suggestions for knocking it on the head and getting my sanity back?


Mrs Jones said...

Melatonin will sort you out. About 5mg a couple of hours before bedtime. Get it from online health stores or even Amazon. My mum uses it all the time and thinks it's fabulous.

Lori said...

I'm new to your blog and don't yet have a vague sense of your age, but for me and my friends, this very thing came with aging. I'll be 53 in November, and a few years ago it happened: I never have a problem falling asleep, I can do that like falling off a log. But very reliably, at 1:15 I wake up. No matter what time I've gone to sleep, I wake up. Sometimes I can go back to sleep only to wake up at 3:30, and usually that's it. I am just too wide awake then. I used to lie in bed thinking that I'd at least have a chance to get back to sleep, but finally I realized that's not happening. Now, I get up and sit in the living room, in soft light, and read or knit. I've learned to revel in the time that's quiet and mine alone, and I finally just accept that this is my sleeping pattern. Melatonin didn't help me, unfortunately, nor did all the "good sleeping hygiene" tricks. And I wrote a similar post on this myself!

Just Add Attitude said...

I too have always been a good sleeper however on the odd occasion when I lay awake contemplating counting the seconds as the dark night creeps towards dawn, I try deep diaphragm breathing; it may not be a universal cure for insomnia but it always works for me.

Sarah said...

Acupuncture and herbs. Has worked for me, it may be worth a try if you don't have anything against needles.

K.Line said...

I'd be careful with melatonin (a hormone of varying usefulness), but I do think it could have to do with encroaching peri menopausal hormonal changes (not that I claim to know your age). I'd suggest acupuncture, yoga (which you'd need to do with some regularity at a certain level - so may not be the fastest solution) and seeing a naturopath to confirm where you're at with hormones and their balance. I take a number of supplements to help with gradual progesterone decline and a subclinical thyroid thing and I'm only 41. BTW, they work very well but they cost and you do have to take them religiously.

Delia said...

Having had cancer at 40 (5years ago), then having a baby a year later, I have had plenty of sleepless nights!
My nutritionist suggested magnesium, she said it's often a lack of it that makes one insomniac.
I have found if I take it regularly, though I don't take it religiously every day, it makes all the difference.
Buy a reputable brand, find one that suits. I use Solgar.
Good Luck!

Kbg in dc said...

Ambien. Or, averse to Drugs, try the later chapters in the works of Ayn Rand or anything by Faulkner.

Anonymous said...

Oh I do sympathise, I have the same issue; nothing to with age as it has come and gone since my twenties, not necessarily during periods of high stress either. I use flower remedies. Not sure about the science of homeopathy at all but I think the fact I have taken some action instead of lying in the darkness with all the unfinished and unsatisfactory things in life whirling round my head sometimes offers respite and I drop off. Over the years have tried everything, deep breathing gettting up for a milky drink or reading (both wake up my other half so not goers) acupuncture, natural drugs and drugs from the doc. Wish there was an easy answer!

Unknown said...

Glass of red wine before bed. Not two, or three, but one, that's the trick. Works for me. xx

Unknown said...

Well drugs of course.

There is this poem that I love posted on the NYC subways a few years ago:

Four in the Morning
Wislawa Szymborska

The hour from night to day.
The hour from side to side.
The hour for those past thirty.
The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks.
The hour when earth betrays us.
The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars.
The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.
The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.
No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning
--three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come if we’re to go on living.

Lisa-Marie said...

The only thing that helps me at all is lavender tea (my one is from Pukka, it has oatmeal in it too. it tastes a bit like soap to begin with, but you get used to it at it becomes lovely) but to be fair that might just be because I'm telling myself it will work. Or reading. Twice this week husband has woken up and I've been asleep, lamp still on, with my book on my face. Black out blinds, or an eye mask - the light can make an enormous difference.

I hope your sleep cones back. It is to important a thing to lose long term.

Rosie Redfield said...

Sounds like the big M to me.

Steerforth said...

It happened after France? Are you working your way through a consignment of fine wines, smuggled in the false bottom of the Trefusismobile? As Helena says, it's that third glass that really messes up the sleep pattern.

Alison Cross said...

I'm a goodly bit older than you, but my night dreads are caused by The Change that is coming upon me.

I waken up at an ungodly hour with this terrible DREAD - but no real reason for feeling it. It feels like an exam is imminent that I have not prepared for or something.

Here's hoping that yours just disappears as quickly as it arose Mrs T!

Ali x

Young at Heart said...

melatonin and lavendar on the pjs......just to break the habit!!

Alec said...

Oh poor you! You could always try to read a certain book by Eca de Queiroz...!

Anonymous said...

As an international and not too glamorous host of the skies, sleepless hours are a way of life. Embrace them with a book; work through ideas; listen to the world service. But most of all remember, too little sleep might make you ratty. It might make you really angry. But it is not a major (or even minor) cause of death.

Madame Poirier said...

Try 1 x 5mg of melatonin plus 1 x benadryl antihistamine an hour before bed.
A US Dr. passed on the useful tip while i wandered around a conference in California jet lagged as hell.
I used to do a lot of work across various time zones which meant my sleeping patterns were frequently messed up - try doing this for a week and you should be OK.

Anonymous said...

I used to get the occasional night of terrible sleep -- I found it made a big difference to cut out all caffeine after lunch. At times when I'm particularly busy and the stress is bothering me once I'm awake and I have nightmares of to-do lists, I keep a notepad and pen by the bed. When the pad's there I generally don't have to write anything down. Someone also told me to lie on the ground against a wall and put my legs up for 10-15 minutes before going to sleep -- something about draining your lymph nodes and getting your bloodflow to change directions. It feels good everytime I do it. Good luck!