‘I didn’t have a night’s sleep for 12 years’
By the time I was 20, I was such a light sleeper that even the wind whistling through the trees would wake me up. I slept all the time in my teens, but as I grew up, my sleeping habits deteriorated. By 22 – I’m now 37 – I was surviving on two hours of sleep a night.
It always took me three hours to fall asleep, then I’d wake up 45 minutes later. I tried everything: blackout blinds, herbal tea, hot baths, cutting back on caffeine and screen time, but nothing worked. I started dreading bedtime, knowing I had hours of tossing and turning ahead. Sometimes I would give in and switch on the TV to relax, but it would still take three hours before I’d nod off. I ended up knowing every episode of Will & Grace by heart.
When I woke in the night, I got into the habit of going downstairs to spare myself the agony of lying there. Then I’d drop off just before the alarm and stay in bed until the last moment – and be late for work.
That was my reality for 12 years. My job in events management was very demanding so I came to rely on coffee to help me function. The sleepless nights impacted on my health, too. I went from being a size 10 at the age of 20 to a size 18 by 34. I had no energy so couldn’t exercise and I was surviving on carbs and sugar. I also drank wine most nights, partly because of my job but also in the hope it would help me sleep. It never did.
At 25, I got married. My (now ex-) husband tried his best to help me relax before bed – he’d light candles and run me bubble baths. But ultimately we couldn’t share a bed so he’d sleep in the spare room. It wasn’t the fundamental reason for our break-up three years later, but it was definitely a contributing factor.
I went to the doctor a couple of times in my 20s and tried sleeping pills, but I hated the grogginess and felt anxious I’d sleep in and be late for work. Then, in 2014, my father passed away after a short illness. It was a stressful time and everything felt magnified because of how tired I was. I decided to take up my company’s health benefit of grief counselling. In my second session the counsellor asked me why I kept yawning. I simply said, ‘I don’t sleep.’
I’d never discussed it before. She talked about mindfulness – the ability to focus, breathe and relax in the moment. I decided to give it a go. I set myself an hourly reminder to do two minutes of breathing exercises throughout the day. I’d go to a quiet place, close my eyes, and sit calmly, focusing on my breathing. That’s all I did.
Just a week or two later, I began sleeping for longer. I was learning to mentally switch off. It was that simple.
One night, after three weeks, I went to bed at 11pm and woke up at 5am after six hours’ sleep; something I hadn’t experienced for half my lifetime. It felt like a miracle. From then, I began to regularly sleep for six hours.
Sleeping has changed my life. I’ve got loads of energy, I’ve lost more than two stone and feel so much happier. Last year, I also set up a business creating fashionable office accessories for women. I spent many a sleepless night dreaming up the plans, but without enough sleep, I never would have had the energy to make it happen.
‘My husband and I couldn’t share a bed – which contributed to our break-up’
Left Lack of sleep affected Pamela’s work, health and happiness