According to a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, women are much more likely than men to experience problems falling asleep. And whether you’re an eternal insomniac or suffer the odd bout of red-eye panic, you’ll know that the day after a sleepless night can be just as bad as the night itself – if not worse. I’m not a Grade A, DEFCON 1 insomniac but I do enjoy regular, fortnight-long hazes of two hours' sleep a night, culminating in no hours a night and a daylight-hours breakdown. Just last week I yelled at two friends then snot-cried in a chair outside Paperchase, convinced I had "a dark soul" after two consecutive nights of no sleep. I have been given the nickname Sauron by my writing partners because, when sleep-deprived, I resemble the angry orange eye in Lord Of The Rings that feeds on evil and pain. It’s these Sauron-based moments that led me to speak to a number of sleep therapists about ways to get through the day when you’re an insomniac – because nobody really talks about that part. I sometimes tell people I’m sick, because saying I haven’t slept just doesn’t feel like a legitimate excuse (Oh, you’re tired? We’re all fucking tired, snowflake). But is it a good idea to remove yourself from polite society once you’ve turned into a fictional orange eye on a mountain? Should you drink coffee when you haven’t slept at all? Is sugar a bad idea? Are naps a worse idea? Help me, please, oh my god. These are some of the questions I posed to Dr. Guy Meadows of The Sleep School (they run some cool online insomnia courses) and Dr. Neil Stanley, an independent sleep therapist, as well as a number of helpful insomniac friends, to create an exhaustive list of what to do when you haven’t slept.
Firstly, accept the symptomsDr. Meadows pioneers a new form of insomnia treatment based on CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), but with a fundamental difference: rather than getting rid of the symptoms (headaches, nausea, emotional insanity), he advocates full acceptance. “When we have these symptoms, we want to get rid of them, but the more you try to get rid of them, the more frustrated and upset you can get,” explains Dr. Meadows. “CBT teaches us to block those emotional thoughts, to try and get rid of them. But have you ever tried to block anxious thoughts? They end up getting even bigger and turning up with their mates. An alternative response is to look at it mindfully. Say to yourself, ‘I feel bad, but I’m going to notice things around me. I’m going to feel the bag in my hand, the wind on my face. I’m going to notice the people around me’. It sounds almost too simple, but it’s about a lack of judgement and a lack of negativity.” The idea is that sleep is a biological process we can’t control, and the more we try to force control of it, the more resentful we become. “If you try to remain as neutral as possible during the day, then you’ll find you’re more capable to deal with everything the day – and the symptoms of insomnia – throw at you”, adds Dr. Meadows.
Go outside, and movePut simply, lots of daylight signals to your brain that you’re awake. While the thought of being under bright sunlight after a night of no sleep can feel like hell, it’s important you bite the bullet and go outside. “You need to start the day in the most positive way possible,” explains Dr. Neil Stanley. “Bright daylight, fresh air, hit the shower, have cup of coffee. You won’t feel like hitting the treadmill, but walking to the bus stop, or walking part-way to work is going to help you a lot.” A load of my insomniac pals had the same response. “Open your window, and go for occasional brisk walks,” says Robyn, who often works from home so can feasibly stay in a dark room all day. She adds: “Stand up while doing tasks!” which is echoed by a lot of other insomniacs, who said things like, “Moving, lots of moving” and “FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T STAY IN YOUR DARK ROOM.” Helpful.