A hard day’s night…
You know that feeling. ‘Uh oh – should be asleep by now, don’t say it’s going to be another of those nights. Damn. Important stuff to do tomorrow, need to be on top of my game. Just relax. Take deep breathes. That’s it. At least you’re getting rest. Uh oh – brain won’t stop working, going round in circles. Damn – this is ridiculous. Think about nothing. No, think about something nice. It’s too hot under this blanket. You only just turned, you can’t need to turn again …………’. And so it goes on. Slow hour after slow hour.
I’ve been a poor sleeper my whole life. The room has always needed to be pitch black, not a chink of light – and not a sound. No clocks ticking or dog barking type neighbourhood night noise. But it was in my mid 30’s when I became a seniorish exec in a large clothing company that I really hit my straps. The pressure was immense. Budgets to achieve, costs to be cut, ranges to develop, products to be sourced, customers to be entertained – early plane flights to be caught. Insomnia became its own worst nightmare. But of course, you get by, fuelled by adrenalin and far too much coffee – and you have youth on your side.
As time went by, work involved lots of travel all over the world, but particularly in Asia. Being an outstanding corporate citizen concerned for the welfare of its managers, the company employed a doctor who provided me with a comprehensive medical kit each time I went away. It contained all sorts of goodies. A nice, clean, 5 cc syringe ‘with needles and lignocaine 2% 2ml x 2 without adrenaline to be given to a medical practitioner for your personal treatment. To prevent transmission of Hepatitis B single use only’. Plus marvellous little pills that cured upset stomachs in seconds. They thought of everything: Antibiotics. Anti-histamine. Travel sickness pills. Condoms. Indigestion tablets. Suture tray and kit with gauze and bandages. Berocca. Eye drops. Betadine. Panadol. Flu capsules. Sterile Ansell gloves. Gastrolyte. And …………… wait for it ………………. SLEEPING CAPSULES. ‘EUHYPNOS. Duration to effect = 4 hours. To assist with sleep disturbance due to jet lag’. Well – did I take to those babies!
Upon return, one handed back the kit for replenishment ready for your next trip. Enjoying robust health, I had no need for most of the contents and would return mine pretty much untouched. Except for 3 items. Claratyne for my hay fever, Berocca for my indulgent lifestyle and the SLEEPING PILLS. So for years and years every couple of months I’d score a fresh supply of all my favourite drugs. No charge! It was brilliant.
The pills worked a treat. Pop one in at the airport. Get knocked out for 3 hours. Pop another. Wake up in Shanghai and off to your first appointment. Do the same at home-sweet-home and UP in the morning, shower the funk out of the brain and face a day chock-a-block full of meetings with 7 hours of zeds under the belt. Perfect. Except for the funny taste in your mouth and the hot feeling behind the eyes. Thank goodness for the Berocca. Hey – all okay. One loved ones work and life was good.
And so it went on. Often I managed a reasonable night’s sleep with no help at all. Sometimes I was sorely tempted to take 3 pills. You knew you weren’t getting the right kind of sleep and it couldn’t be real good for you – but hell, feeling a bit fuzzy was a lot better than exhaustion all day and being compos mentis to all those night sweats.
Two things then happened.
1. The pills stopped working. Simple as that. I was never going to allow myself to take more than 2, so insomnia was back. But it was kinder, gentler. I wasn’t getting upset by it to the same extent. ‘Just relax and rest. Rest is nearly as good as sleep’, became a mantra that became believable. I was getting through long days and longer nights, but with less distress. I was taking fewer pills, more often and feeling better about it. And for it. By now I’d taken up golf and was father to two extraordinarily energetic boxer dogs (Elvis and Priscilla – gone but never forgotten. When I die I want to go where the dogs go.), the combined effect of which was tremendously improved fitness, on my part.
2. I changed jobs and ‘Dr Robert’ (an old Beatle hero) was no longer available to feed my habit. At around 51 years old, for the first time in my life I got myself my very own personal GP - and for a while I’d chug along and request a prescription for sleeping pills. He was a cool old dude and he’d ask me lots of questions, tell me stuff – and make me think, before filling out the scrip. Apart from anything else, paying for them was anathema. I soon decided that cold turkey was the only way to go, and have not taken a sleeping pill since my resolution on that most famous of anticlimactic NYE’s, the millennium, 2000 (remember the clocks were all supposed to explode or something?).
The new job is a change of pace. Same company, totally different Division, much easier, far less stressful – more money! Crazy eh! I’m out of Clothing and into Homewares. Bedding products. Pillows, mattresses, quilts, sheets – all that kind of stuff under the most well-known, best quality brands in Australia. And now I’m the sourcing guy zooming around the world finding the best factories for the best products using the best materials. Mr Insomniac is now pretty much in charge of sourcing bedding items and accessories that promise to give people perfect sleep. It says so on all the packaging. But wow – who in their rights mind would pay $450 for a quilt and over 100 buckaroonies for a lousy pillow?
To be good at sourcing, expert and intimate knowledge of your product is vital and that includes personally trying out factory samples. And that’s when the penny dropped. I didn’t even really notice at first, it sort of crept up on me that a good quality therapeutic mattress, plus a Talalay latex pillow, plus a down quilt combo, with me snuggled up in the middle, would make the night go by like a rocket. Without doing anything much at all, I was sleeping more soundly. And have been ever since.
Which brings us to today and it is all so different now. I have my own business and work from home for a start. Your own business is your own money so pressure is still there – but what can possibly be a more soporific thought at that madding midnight hour than, ‘hey, relax, you can work your own hours now, in the morning work through till lunch, then take a siesta’. Ooo – the relief sends shivers.
You can’t underestimate the power of a nap. Apparently Albert Einstein used to work all hours, like crazy, to the point of total exhaustion – then, he’d make himself a cup of tea, settle into a comfy armchair, drink, place the cup on the floor by his side, and totally relax holding the teaspoon above the cup. As he drifted off into deep sleep, the spoon would fall, rattling into the cup and waking him up - feeling fully refreshed and ready to get back to work. The Spaniards know what they are doing – siestas should be mandatory in Australia and not just a fringe benefit only available to the self-employed. I don’t often nap – the benefit is in knowing I can if I need to.
Good bedding is crucial to good sleep. That doesn’t mean having to spend a lot of dough. Shop around and be clever. A supportive mattress and pillow that work together to keep your spine in alignment are essential. It is all about supreme comfort encouraging total rest.
For me temperature is also vital – I find it much better to start cool and add a layer or two as the night chills than being too hot at any stage. So I have lots of options from just a sheet on hot nights to summer, all-seasons and winter doonas. My wife is a winter pyjamas and quilt all-year- round kind of gal, so we find the only way to fly is having two individual beds, pushed together.
To summarise, here are my tips to a better night’s sleep.
• Regular exercise
• No caffeine before bed (alcohol is a stimulant too)
• Nice quiet room, curtains shut, windows open
• Go to bed when tired. Don’t fight it. Overtiredness is a sure fire trigger to sending the brain into overdrive
• Be cool, not hot
• Quality bedding and a good, supportive, comfortable pillow makes all the difference. These days I take mine with me whenever I go away!
I need less sleep these days and tend to go to bed and get up earlier. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I sleep like a baby every night nowadays. I often wake after 4 hours and the brain gets into gear – ‘Uh oh – can’t get back to sleep, don’t say it’s going to be another of those nights. Damn. Important stuff to do tomorrow ….’
HELP! Would love to hear from other insomniacs, with their insights or tips to better sleep.