‘I didn’t have a night’s sleep for 12 years’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - #ONEDAY - By Pamela Evans Has one day changed your life? Email us at stella@ tele­graph.co.uk or tweet us at @stel­la­m­agazine #One­Day

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

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