Sleep is one of those things we spend a considerable amount of time thinking about. We view it as a way to cure hangovers, as a state that follows a Netflix binge or a solution to forgetting the worries and exhaustions of the day. But we don’t tend to dwell too much on how we enter into this state of slumber. Whether it’s induced by spirits, sports or stress, we just expect it to happen, until it doesn’t.
Until recently, I was one of these people. Despite being a chronic anxiety-sufferer, the illness had never severely impacted upon my sleeping routine even during times of personal loss and in the midst of academic pressures. But after seven months of unemployment, being out of work became a full-time job. Between scouring Gorkana for relevant job ads, tailoring my CV and cover letter and trying to pitch ingenious article ideas, I was constantly on the clock. There wasn’t a start or end time to my job hunt, no exam to mark the end of the pressure.
Consciously I knew I’d been in far more stressful situations: sitting my A levels, taking my driving test, moving away from home for the first time. Subconsciously, the indefinite and ambiguous nature of my situation was tormenting me at night. I dreamt of job interviews, of clever sentences to add to my applications, until I stopped dreaming all together and wasn’t able to sleep for over two months.
For me, sleep tends to trump most things. If a showing at the cinema is too late, I’ll choose to see the matinee the next day, I’m always the first to go to sleep at sleepovers, the one who leaves the club the earliest, the girl who values a good lie-in. So to suddenly be the one who doesn’t sleep at all was quite the adjustment. Mainly because I stopped being able to function as a normal human should. You see, I don’t necessary choose sleep because I like it, but because my body needs all the help it can get to do all the things it’s supposed to.
If I don’t get enough shut eye, you can see it all over my face. The bags under my eyes take on a shade of black the colour wheel has not been exposed to. My anxiety-levels hit the roof. My brain’s efficiency takes a nosedive no matter how many cappuccinos I shock my system with and migraines ensue. So for me, sleep is my shield, a way to enable me to continue the façade of being a fully-functioning adult. In reality, I’m a walking illness wearing an armour of Bobbi Brown. Here’s what I found did and didn’t help.
1. This Works Deep Pillow Spray
I love spraying this on my pillow before bed. I find the smell of lavender quite refreshing and calming, but unfortunately it didn’t really hit the spot when it came to helping me snooze. I’d recommend it if you need to de-stress or fancy freshening up your room, but for chronic insomnia it doesn’t really cut it.
I don’t know why but I do always sleep that little bit better when my fan is spiralling in the background. I think subconsciously I find the rhythm and the light noise comforting and the cool air blowing on my face lets me pretend I’m on a speedboat bouncing around on Lake Garda. It also helps keep me cool under the covers. Much safer than poking your toes out and getting eaten by the boogie monster.
Ovaltine is a hearty, chocolatey malt drink that’s full of calcium, folic acid, iron and all the other good vitamins I don’t know the names of. It’s comforting, tasty, healthy and it made me as sleepy as a cup of tea, but didn’t stimulate the zzzzzzzzzzzzs. But if you’re looking to up your energy and for a nutritious alternative to hot chocolate it’s a sure winner.
4. Pukka Nigh Time
I probably didn’t give this enough time to work. The herbal tea is infused with oat flower, lavender, limeflower and valerian and does have relaxing properties as well as being good for the body. It doesn’t work immediately, but I don’t think it’s meant to be a one hit fix. I’d recommend giving this more of a go than I did before escalating to the heavier stuff.
5. YouTube meditation videos
I didn’t have the best of experiences with this, mainly because I am a big wimp and felt uneasy lying alone in bed in the darkness listening to the echos of a man’s voice bounce around my room. But I can understand how this could be useful and it’s something I’m hoping to try more of in the future. My advice would be if you’re as much of a baby as I am maybe try a small nightlight in the corner, listen to a female narrator or a meditation video curated by Ryan Gosling. That might not be a thing, but man it really should be.
For me, this is what did the trick. You can buy it over the counter at your local pharmacy, but you should only do so if you’ve tried other methods first. Nytol is a clinically-proven sleep aid designed for short-term relief only. It contains an antihistamine called diphenhydramine hydrochloride which prevents the brain from being overly-stimulated before bed. Just what I needed. Not only was I unable to sleep, I was worrying about being unable to sleep and desperately needed something to deactivate the cycle. You do feel slightly drowsy in the morning but nothing a shower and some fresh air can’t sort out.
7. Digital detox
In my months of desperation I tried to watch TV a little earlier in the evening, only check my phone when necessary and re-engage with one of my favourite pastimes which I’d been neglecting. I started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, which definitely helped the mind shift down a few gears due to the level of brain power needed to understand the vocabulary! I found that with my fan blowing, my lavender spray seeped into my pillow, with a cup of Ovaltine to one hand, novel in the other – and with a helping hand from Nytol for a few nights – the night owls relinquished their claim to me, saving my sanity and my bank balance from an endless investment in industrial strength concealer and triple shot coffee.