At lunchtime, when the heat is at its most ferocious, they take a siesta. One day on campus he saw an advert posted on a wall requesting volunteers for a sleep study. Selsick enrolled in the hope that he might discover what was happening to him. Each experiment lasted for four days, during which Selsick and the other volunteers would stay overnight at the sleep clinic, one monitor strapped to their head, another, to monitor core body temperature, inserted into their rectum.
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Volunteers were kept to a specific diet. One week they would fast for 24 hours; the next eat three times their typical calorie intake. Then they were monitored to see what effect the food had on their sleep. Inspired by the professor who ran the course, Selsick began a postgraduate degree in physiology, based within the sleep clinic, where he studied the functions of REM sleep — a phase that occurs sporadically through the night, characterised by rapid eye movements — then carried out research on the impact of central heating on sleep patterns.
The ideal temperature in which to sleep is cooler than you might think: just 18C. This is one of the reasons why insomnia affects a disproportionate number of people in nursing homes, where round-the-clock heating makes it harder for the human body to cool down in readiness for sleep. At this time, the use of psychotherapy to treat insomnia was still in a relatively early phase. Selsick estimates that it was before therapists began to undergo insomnia training, in order to apply research findings.
When Selsick came to London in the late 90s as a trainee doctor at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, his own insomnia had passed. Still, he was astonished to find a widespread lack of interest within psychiatry toward insomnia. She sent him a text message asking whether he would be interested in founding an insomnia clinic at the hospital.
While staff across the health service were aware of the need, Selsick said, they knew that if they were to take insomnia referrals they would be inundated. He started small — one afternoon a week. Then, a few months later, Selsick began to explore CBT.
Confessions of an insomniac: how to improve your sleep quality
Not everyone was convinced by the new programme. Selsick believes that this association caused some GPs to not refer their insomniac patients. For those who make it through the door, Selsick provides an initial assessment in an attempt to find out what, of a constellation of different possibilities, is causing the sleeplessness. Like other sleep clinics, he screens for sleep apnoea and other respiratory problems.
But this is merely the first step in the process. Sometimes that diagnosis is narcolepsy, nocturnal epilepsy or sleepwalking — one of the scores of conditions that can lead to sleeplessness. In other cases it is, simply, psychiatric insomnia. W hen she was 13 years old, Zehavah Handler took a pen and scrawled a dot on her bedroom wall in north-west London. Lying on the bed, she could just pick out the mark in the milky glow of her nightlight.
There, as the house settled around her, she would challenge herself to stare at the dot for as long as possible without blinking. The game became a ritual and, eventually, became the only way, she believed, that she could fall asleep — although it was often 4am before she finally drifted off. In adulthood Handler, now 40 and a mother of four, still suffered from insomnia. She would wake at 7am to drop her children off at school, then lie down on the carpet of her bedroom. There she would watch the ceiling till mid-afternoon, her heart palpitating with exhaustion, when she would leave for the school pickup.
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After feeding and bathing the children, Handler would retire to her own bed. When she began to experience memory loss and irritability, Handler visited her GP. She spent the first night in a nest of wires, like an android recharging its batteries, lying awake worried about whether or not the machines would know that she was just pretending to be asleep. Nevertheless, the results came back clear: she had no breathing issues, no twitching muscles.
Selsick concluded that Handler was one of his many patients for whom insomnia is not a symptom of some other disorder, but the disorder itself. The programme takes place in a small room in the bowels of the hospital. Handler remembers that none of her fellow patients talked and few made eye contact, paralysed by the secret shame of the insomniac. How much will we have to reveal of ourselves? To figure out how much sleep they need, each attendee is told to start a sleep diary, recording what time they go to bed, what time they get up, how long it took to fall asleep and how many times they wake during the night.
Next Selsick undoes the idea that a person should have a set bedtime. Typically, insomniacs will go to bed earlier or stay in bed longer in order to increase their sleep opportunity. Instead, patients are told to set a hard-and-fast time to wake up. There must never be any lie-ins, and never any naps chewing gum, Selsick says, keeps napping at bay.
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The theory is that if you get up at the same time every morning, you begin to feel sleepy at the same time every night, and, over the weeks, your bedtime will naturally become consistent. If they need to be up for work at 7am, this means they are forbidden from entering the bedroom till 1am. This behavioural technique is termed sleep efficiency, and despite its disarming simplicity, patients report astonishing results. But despite my scepticism, the results were immediate. Selsick worked to break the negative associations Handler had with her bedroom.
When insomniacs go to bed they often feel afraid of having to lie there frustrated and increasingly irritated. After a while the simple act of going to bed begins to wake an insomniac up. The bedroom becomes a trigger toward alertness, even fear. To counter this, Selsick urges patients to leave the bedroom after just 15 minutes if they are not yet asleep.
This will help you work out what you need to do, in order to handle it effectively. If your insomnia is linked to anxiety or depression cause or symptom , you could consider speaking with a therapist. They can help you break down your thought processes and feelings around sleep. This helped me massively when I was struggling with anxiety, which was making me avoid going to bed in the first place!
Marie Kondo your bedroom!
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I have noticed a massive impact in how well I sleep when I am in a space that is tidy, cozy and one that I like. Make your bedroom a nest, clear out the electronics goodbye phone charger by the bed, adios TV and Netflix! For many years, I told myself that I was just naturally nocturnal, that 3 hours of sleep was fine and that I was just someone who struggled to fall asleep.
Reading books about the damage sleep deprivation can do to your mind and body helped change that. It was the A-HA I needed. I started telling myself that with the right behaviours and solutions, I could make positive changes. I began taking my sleep much more seriously and prioritising it over late night work or procrastination. This simple shift made a profound change, for the better. Developing and sticking to routines, reducing your caffeine, screen time and all the other things we know that are good for us requires discipline.
There are rarely instant improvements, so we need to stick with the changes for awhile before giving up or trying something new. It takes daily discipline and a little bit of work. Journaling reduces bedtime worry and stress, increases sleep time, and improves sleep quality. I use journaling to calm my racing thoughts at bedtime, and in this episode I tell you how.
2. You're still tired.
In this episode, I read 3 poems by Robert Frost over trippy meditative music. Find out what on earth would possess me to read stories into a microphone spoiler alert - you made me do it! There is a definite link between gut health and our brain, and you can't have a happy belly without pairing it with happy sleep Is sharing a bed with your partner ruining your sleep? Are you afraid that sleeping separately will ruin your happy healthy relationship? Are you already sleeping apart from your partner, and needing validation that your relationship can survive because others have made it work?
This episode is for you! Sexologist, Dr.
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Stephen de Wit joins me in a conversation about happy couples who choose to sleep separately, and you might be surprised at what he has to say about it. I never have. Not everybody springs out of bed every morning and it doesn't necessarily mean you're sleep-deprived. You might just need some extra time to wake up. Tina Cufaro is a Holistic Nutritionist and advocate for women's mental health.
In my first interview with an insomniac, Tina shares her story of depression, insomnia, and the dangerous side effects of sleeping pills.
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