'Sleep problems made me anxious'

Jane hadn't slept for three successive nights, and was becoming desperate.

No sleep for days on end had become a habit for her. Usually, by day three, Jane's body was so exhausted she would fall asleep, but not this time.

She nudged her boyfriend to see if he was awake. Jane had lost all hope. The herbal teas and the pills weren’t working any more.

"He jokingly offered to knock me out. I remember thinking that wouldn't be such a bad idea," she says.

A lifelong insomniac

Jane has suffered from insomnia since the age of six. It runs in her family, and she believes it's partly due to moving around a lot when she was young.

"My main problem is anxiety around sleep, not sleep itself," says Jane. "I worry about not falling asleep.

"It's really annoying not being able to drop off when the person lying next to you is sleeping soundly. I'm usually wide awake and alert."

Noise, pressure at work and personal problems are the main factors that have disrupted Jane's sleep throughout her life.

'Going days without sleep feels similar to having a hangover.'


The vicious cycle of insomnia

About 30% of the UK population suffers from sleep disorders. Women are affected more than men.

Dr Chris Idzikowski, of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, says that people with insomnia often worry about their sleep. "They worry about the consequences of not falling asleep," he says. "This worrying turns into a vicious circle: the more you worry, the less you sleep." 

Dr Idzikowski says that breaking this cycle of anxiety about sleep is an important part of treating insomnia. "I tell my patients to focus on letting go of being awake rather than focusing on falling sleep," he says.

Jane says that going days without sleep feels similar to having a hangover. "It's horrible,” she says. “I would go through the motions. I was operating on nervous energy. I wouldn't feel sleepy. Your only desire is to get through the day."

She initially relied on over-the-counter remedies, such as Nytol, antihistamines and the herbal remedy Valerian. She has since tried to break her reliance on medication for sleep, and has been trying long-term solutions.

Jane turned to hypnotherapy audio books, which have given her some satisfaction. The hypnotherapy CDs work by relaxing the listener with a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects.

Once a listener is in a relaxed state, they're given hypnotic suggestions, such as "as soon as your head touches the pillow at night you will feel sleepy".

If used regularly, certain phrases like "I feel safe and secure at night" and "I continue to sleep well at night" may become cues to help the listener relax more deeply.

Jane is positive about the results of her hypnotherapy CD. “The major change is how I react to being woken up. I wake up but I don't have all the anxiety, anger or tension that I used to feel.

“I just go back to sleep again. That's unheard of for me."

Page last reviewed: 10/07/2014

Next review due: 10/07/2016


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Moodzone: Sleep problems

Dr Chris Williams explains what you can do to give yourself the best chance of a good night's sleep. This podcast is one of an eight-part series for Moodzone.

Media last reviewed: 02/03/2015

Next review due: 02/03/2017

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