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4am Knows All My Secrets

Author: Lauren Coleman

In the early days of RMS we featured several sleep related posts but it’s been a while since we touched on the issue. Today I’m going to hand over to my sister Hannah who has unfortunately been struggling with insomnia for several years, in the hope you may be able to help.

I can’t seem to pinpoint when my issues with sleep first arose. Perhaps if I could I may have beaten the monster sooner. What I do know is that the bouts of insomnia I have suffered appear to blur into long episodes-where I’m unsure of where a clear head ended and the fuzziness began. Fellow sufferers will talk about the effect it has on their daily lives, both mentally and physically. If insomnia left you feeling ‘a bit sleepy’ the next day I’m pretty sure I could ignore the episodes. The ‘knock you sideways’ effects though are harder to bear. A dizzying combination of nausea, forgetfulness, paranoia and anxiety leaves you washed out and feeling out of control. My dad recently asked me how it feels to live on a few hours of sleep a night? I find it extremely hard to articulate. Perhaps it’s like experiencing life from the outside looking in; behind a sheet of misty glass which you are desperately trying to shift into focus. I’ve forgotten how it feels to wake up refreshed, instead feeling grubby which sounds ridiculous, but it’s a little like being hungover without the enjoyment of the alcohol! I think the trickiest part though is the anger and frustration I have with myself for not being able to do the ‘thing’ that millions of other people find so easy.

I have tried pretty much everything when it comes to tackling insomnia and trust me when I say a hot bath and lavender on the pillow hasn’t solved the annoyance! Acupuncture, hypnotherapy, sleeping tablets, meditation and all the rest do not appear to have touched the sides. I am currently undergoing a round of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which I am pinning every last hope on and I’m one hundred per cent focused on nailing this good and proper.

I am conscious this post is sounding woe is me so please forgive me! I’m in the middle of a particularly bad bout but I’m not ill. I have a blessed life surrounded by a fiercely protective crew who get that dealing with insomnia really isn’t nice. I have the privilege of sharing a home I love with a husband who would do anything to be able to push the reset button on this ridiculous habit I seem to have got myself into. I go to work, enjoy a great social life and immerse myself in all the rich experiences life has to offer but by 3pm I know I’m burning out and my body reacts with all the weird sensations I described earlier.

I am writing this as I know what an amazingly supportive community you are here on RMS and I guess this is a bit of cry for help. Where do I go next? Am I missing something? Why do us insomniacs seem to battle against something which should be the most natural thing in the world?

My CBT therapist wisely informed me that there is no such thing as a sleep problem – we are all born with the ability to fall into a rhythm which allows for deep and restful sleep. Clearly as we’ve been doing it since the dawn on time. Instead sleep issues become a symptom of something else – a wider problem which once identified can be dealt with. I’ve had some pretty big things happen in my life over the last few years but my god haven’t we all?! Like thousands of us I hold down a hugely stressful job but I don’t lay in bed worrying about stuff and mulling things over. I lay there reliving songs I’ve heard, conversations I’ve had and listening to an endless chatter which becomes noisier with each passing night.
Has anyone out there suffered long periods of sleeplessness like this? What did you do to calm the noise? I would be so grateful to hear of any strategies you might have used and how you have tackled this weird phenomenon.
Huge love in anticipation, Hannah x

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38 thoughts on “4am Knows All My Secrets

  1. Oh Hannah, I hear you.

    All I can say I hope the CBT helps. Every one of us is different and so it’s hard to find the right solution for our body and mind.

    There was a combination of two things for me that cracked it. No caffeine after 6pm and weirdly, a YouTube video that I stumbled across. It’s naff, it’s so naff that I don’t actually tell people about it but might be worth a go for you. They are called The Honest Guys and have a channel full of guided meditation videos; I pop one on, flip my phone so the light doesn’t escape and focus on the plinky plonky music and whatever the man is telling me to do. There’s this one video that switches my brain off like a switch. I’ve tried other meditation to no effect and similarly, Lee says the one that works for me keeps him awake. It’s all trial and error I guess.

    Worth a go, even if you feel completely ridiculous 😘xx

  2. I can’t offer any advice I’m afraid but I feel for you! I don’t have this problem, but I do have a constant feeling of tiredness due to some medication which I have to take for a heart problem (have tried not taking it and the consequences are worse than the tiredness). I can sleep 7 – 8 hours but I can’t remember the last time I woke up and felt refreshed and ready for the day. My dr says it’s because I have a child but he has slept through since 8 months old and it started before i had him. Some mornings I feel I can barely move my arms to drive the car. Anyway, I hope you find success with your CBT, and hopefully some other readers can emphasise.

    1. Oh Claire. I’m so sorry to hear this and I really feel for you. I think sleep is something a lot of us take for granted but when you’re not getting enough you certainly know about it. I am sometimes worried to drive the next day if I’ve had a really bad night. I hope you find some relief soon from your tiredness. Lots of Love xx

  3. I read an article in the April issue of Red Magazine (can’t find the link unfortunately) that was based on a book called The One-Week Insomnia Cure: Learn to Solve Your Sleep Problems by Jason Ellis. I’ve tried some of the advise and it has certainly helped. Appreciate you may have tried something similar but thought would put it out there. Essentially it is talking about not going to bed too early and if you wake in the night, get out of bed for 30-45mins and sit up doing something calm (knitting, reading). Wish you luck – it’s a horrible thing to struggle with X

    1. That’s great Bridget. Thank you so much. I think I am guilty of going to bed too early but it’s tricky not to when you’ve had two or three hours sleep the night before. I really must break that habit though! Xxx

  4. Is awful i really feel from you I suffered for years and the only thing that has changed is I had a baby and now can sleep whenever and anywhere as am so exhausted. Notably he doesn’t sleep either so think he has my genes…That doesn’t really help you though sorry. I honestly think some people are just born to sleep….we are just not those people! X

  5. I suffered a period of sleeplessness. Your comment about the ‘endless chatter’ echoes what I felt. My brain would start down a path of nonsense but I couldn’t turn it off.
    The one thing which eventually worked on most nights was using the headspace app. There is a free trial version but I bit the bullet and paid the subscription to access the dedicated sleep program. The guys voice is so calm yet authoritative. I found with so many others that the voice would irritate me, having the opposite effect of calm and peace! Focusing on that seemed to work for me.
    Good luck x

  6. Oh Hannah, I feel for you and your frustration. I regularly experience the same thing; waking at 3.30/4am and praying that sleep will reappear. For me its not constant but it’s probably 5 nights out of 7! Like you, I have tried so many different things but nothing seems to work. I’m not a worrier, I am not conciously thinking about anything imparticular – I almost wish I was as that would explain so many things!

    Here’s hoping the CBT has positive affects for you and you get a better sleep. xx

  7. Oh this sounds so awful Hannah, you poor thing. I don’t suffer myself but my Mum has always had an awful sleeping pattern so I know the toll it can take, partly to do with my Dads awful snoring!! She now has an escape room with a single bed in, Have you tried sleeping alone to see if that helps?
    The only other thing that could be worth a try is Yoga, and Meditation as Karen mentioned. I found when I feel a bit stressed or strung out, even if its over nothing, a yoga class and the meditation at the end always puts me in such zen state of mind, and I sleep well after every class. I really hope you find some relief soon, all the best. xx

    1. Thank you for your kind words Hannah. I have been sleeping alone for the last few weeks and at least that way I know I’m not disturbing my husband. There’s no point both of us being awake is there! Xx

  8. Hannah, I totally feel your pain/frustration and everything else that goes with these bouts of insomnia. I am generally a terrible sleeper, I can go to sleep no problems at all, but I cannot stay asleep, and 9 times out of 10 there isn’t any specific reason or worry that is keeping me awake. When I do the wide awake in the middle of the night – I try to focus on my breathing and that generally does work to help shut off the mind and I can get back to sleep eventually, when that doesn’t work I do tend to give up and read for as long as it takes for me to feel like sleep could be a possibility again (if that makes sense)? I was talking to my Mum about this very problem some years ago – and she said that I had never been a good sleeper, from a baby, so I do think it is just part of my make-up, and did help me relax about it a bit which in turn did help as I was putting less pressure on myself to have a “good” nights sleep!
    I hope that CBT helps you find ways to have better sleep – I would love it if you could come back and let us know if it did have a positive impact on your sleep 🙂 xx

    1. Hi Janey. It’s so annoying isn’t it. I could understand if I was worrying about something specific but instead it’s just irritating chatter with myself! I too try to focus on my breathing and it does help. I also find I have to sleep on my own now though as I’m waking my husband up which is rubbish. I agree that we have to put less pressure on ourselves to fall asleep and trust that it will happen eventually. My CBT therapist was saying that a negative attitude towards sleep is such a hindrance to actually falling asleep xx

  9. Oh Hannah, periods of disrupted sleep are so hard to manage. My suggestions wont solve the underlying issues which may be impacting your rest, but they’ve been two things which have helped me in the past.
    Yoga class of an evening and the practicing the breathing exercises to lull myself into a relaxed state in bed. I found the class helped me switch off from the day, but you could just try the breathing exercises.
    Valerian. Have you tried this? You can get it from health shops, it tastes RANCID, but it is natural and has worked for me in the past and a couple of other people I’ve suggested it to.
    I hope you can get to the bottom of things and feel more rested soon, lovely. Xxx

  10. I haven’t tried Valerian but I will! I have tried herbal sleeping tablets though and didn’t find them much use. I think exercise such as yoga is the way forward. Thanks so much Laura xx

    1. Get the liquid form and stick it on some water. Honestly it smells like something died inside the bottle so don’t be put off 😂

  11. Being someone who’s problem is more trying to stay awake than sleep, I can’t image how difficult insomnia must be.

    While I was reading a book called ‘Cure your Emetophobia and Thrive’ by Rob Kelly (I’m pretty sure this is in the standard ‘Thrive’ book too, I came across an anecdote about a lady who has suffered from insomnia for 40 years, and she overcame this by using a technique called ‘Coue’s Law’, which basically states that, if what you want to happen is different to what you imagine happening, what you imagine happening will always win. So if you want to have a good nights sleep, but you worry about not being able to get to sleep and fret about it and imagine not being able to sleep, and how bad you’ll feel the next day etc, that is what will happen. Whereas if you focus on visualising having the best nights sleep and waking up feeling amazing after having a full 8 hours etc that’s what will happen.

    Anyway, the book explains it much better than I ever could, but I just wanted to put it out there in case it was helpful. It has really helped me in terms of my Emetophobia.

  12. That’s a great philosophy Vics and is basically the premise of CBT- you have to change the way you think about sleep. Thank you so much for the advice xx

  13. I suffered really badly from insomnia it at different times in my life and it was mainly due to stress or anxiety (even when I didn’t really feel like I had either of these in my life). I went to see these homeopaths http://www.naturalbornhealers.co.uk/index.html. I call them the voodoo ladies and I haven’t got a clue what they do but it works, I now sleep right the way through. I live in Newcastle and do Skype appointments with them which I thought would be strange but because they are so lovely and down to earth works fantastically.

  14. Definitely going to follow the comments here – I don’t have any problems sleeping myself, luckily, even with a teething 8 months old. But my husband has been a terrible sleeper for years. We both think it’s partially down to years of working shifts in his previous job – and he’s also a very light sleeper (complete darkness and no noise).

    I must admit, I can sometimes be a bit impatient with him when he complains about being tired – especially in the early newborn stages, but I do try to make an effort to be helpful and sympathetic. I think it’s difficult because there isn’t much you can do to help though.
    He’s tried everything from no caffeine/ alcohol to CBT and self help books/videos. Sleeping tablets help to an extend but he doesn’t want to become too dependent on them so we’re a bit lost for options.

    I really hope the CBT helps you Hannah!

    1. Hi Maike. My husband finds my insomnia very difficult to cope with as he wants me to feel rested just as much as I do. He is very sympathetic but I know it’s hard for him when I am constantly energyless. As I said in the post I can cope with being tired but I hate the other effects. I’m a teacher and last week I forgot the names of some of the children I have taught for years. It really upset me as I just couldn’t find the words I was looking for! It sounds like you are totally supportive of your husband and that’s so important. There are so many wonderful suggestions here on RMS today so hopefully he too will find some relief. Lots of love xx

  15. I was a really deep sleeper until about eight years ago but then for some reason it became a battle to fall asleep and then it became light sleeper. I honestly can’t remember what I feels to wake up refreshed. Also, I have had a fatigue problem for the past three years which has resulted in MRIs, CBT and numerous appointments but no diagnosis. I have ‘attacks’ that come on and go away suddenly that last between one and three months! Despite the attacks zapping every bit of energy from me and feeling mentally and physically exhausted they also go give me insomnia – no idea how my body can do that.

    It doesn’t necessarily solve my insomnia but I find not fighting it helps. I get out of bed and change scenery – go downstairs, read or listen to a book, low lighting and burn a smelly candle. Don’t question it or how long you have left before the dreaded alarm goes off, just accept you haven’t fallen asleep yet. It takes away the frustration for me and I find I can settle easier when I go up to bed again a little while later.

    It sounds odd but going to bed later can also be helpful. I’ve gone to bed past 1:00am on a school night knowing I will get better quality sleep than going to bed early and thrashing around for hours.

    I hope you manage to get some sleep soon x

    1. Such great advice Claire. I am definitely trying to adopt a more positive approach to not being asleep and just trying to think ‘hey it’s fine and my body will function tomorrow as it always does!’ Thank you for taking the time to offer such practical tips. I hope you can get some decent rest soon. Xxx

  16. After I had my first baby , he was about 7 months old and we were going on holiday, I just couldn’t get to sleep as I was worrying about packing etc, silly stuff but that was the start of my insomnia , just like that I had problems sleeping / staying asleep. I have never felt so out of control and tried everything. I then fell pregnant again and had to stop taking the sleeping tablets I had become hooked on ! and that’s when I saw a very good hypnotherapist, im not sure if it was just the talking to him (he as a very good listenter ) or the hypnotherapy but it massively helped me and im really pleased to say my sleep is nearly as good as it was before I had children. I do personally believe its all in the mind , but its a very vicious cycle as all I did all day was worry about going to bed that night as I knew I wouldn’t sleep and then the next day I would feel awful again.

  17. I found hypnotherapy very useful and found it sorted my sleep for a good few months. We’ve had a tough last month which I know has affected me massively but I’m sure I will get there in the end! Many thanks for taking the time to respond to the post xx

    1. Im sure you will be able to get through it, but I understand how tough it is and others that have not dealt with insomnia really can’t understand what you are going through. Just a few other things that helped me were concentrating on my breathing , taking deep breaths to calm the pounding heartbeat and also as strange as it may sound sitting up in bed telling myself not to go to sleep sometimes had the reverse effect and helped . Take care you will get there .

  18. I so feel for you Hannah, my only experience of sleep deprivation is as a new mum and I completely underestimated the effect on your mental health. My mum suffered from sleep problems, sounds very similar waking after three hours and then the chatter setting in. After trying lots of things she now swears by ‘sleep phones’ and once she wakes listens to a variety of podcasts and eventually drifts off again. My mum says it blocks out her own ‘brain chatter’ and she learns so much interesting stuff while she’s listening to these podcasts! I hope you begin to catch up soon x

  19. Hannah I have also just seen in the comments that you are a teacher as was my mum- she’s just retired. You must be in such demand all day that your brain is processing it all at night. I really feel for you x Hope you get some good advice on RMS!x

    1. Thank you so much Ella. I really do feel over stimulated in the day time. The noise and constant buzz from being around children is endless! I really like listening to podcasts at night too. They do help me to drift off eventually and I’ve found some great ones. Lovely of you to take the time to respond. Lots of love xx

  20. Hi Hannah, I can’t offer any advice I’m afraid but just wanted to say I completely understand the physical and mental difficulties sleep deprivation brings. My son is 10 months and in that whole time the longest he’s ever slept (and only once!) is 5 hours consecutively. I’m averaging about 3/4 hours sleep a night at the moment and that’s a significant improvement on a couple of months ago!! I totally feel for you, it’s really really tough. Hope the CBT and other suggestions help. All the best, Lucie

  21. Hi Hannah, I wonder if mindfulness of breathing might help? Lie on your back, nice and straight, and start to become aware of each area of your body, starting with your toes and ending with your head, and how they are sinking into the bed or the pillow. Then gently become aware of your breathing, noticing what it feels like to breathe in and breathe out. Thoughts will come in; the trick is not to be distracted by them or annoyed. Just say to yourself, it’s alright, I’ll think about that in a minute, then go back to feeling what it’s like to breathe. Try and pay really detailed attention – is the air cool or warm? Where is the first part of your body that you’re aware of the air entering and leaving? Is your breath smooth or rough? It does take practice, and don’t try to “switch your thoughts off”; you won’t! It’s just about learning to not follow the thoughts when they come in. It’s like smelling or hearing something – you can’t stop the chemical entering the nose that causes the smell, or the sound waves hitting your ears that cause the sound, but you can choose not to take any notice of it. Hopefully if you can fool your brain into not following all your busy thoughts, sleep will come more quickly. Hope that helps!

    1. I’ve tried mindfulness and really recommend it. I found I was able to fit in five minutes on a lunch break too

  22. Gosh this just sounds so consuming and debilitating for you ….aaargh :((
    I am cabin crew on long haul routes and sometimes feel like you are describing… I do not take sleeping tablets like a lot of crew do as I would not like to become unable to sleep naturally. I was wondering if you have ever used Bach Flower Remedies? I have used them for 20 years and have a collection of them to help with MANY issues I have had over the years.. especially for my children who are now teenagers. There is one that I used for stopping the chatter… it was on a loop and sending me crazy! It is WHITE CHESTNUT… I either dropped regularly on my tongue throughout the first couple of days initially, then a couple of days in a water bottle and sipped throughout the day… it really helped me! They are amazingly powerful and non addictive. Hood this helps… their website is very informative! Take care, Anna

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