Sleep should be a wonderful, restorative time that we use to replenish and recharge, but what happens when you can't sleep? And at times like this when there is so much uncertainty around, sleep can be even more elusive. Juliet shares her journey to sleeping well, and how you can too with the help of one of our amazing partners - Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.
I was 11 years old when my doctor put me on valium. In my 20s my mother (with the best of intentions) used to send me sleeping pills in the post, telling me that ‘I had a sleeping problem’ like her and I believed her. A self-diagnosed insomniac, which became self-perpetuating, in my 30’s and 40’s I battled with my sleep. The doctors were only too happy to fuel my habit and getting more sleeping pills was as easy as buying a tube of smarties. I felt awful. I yoyo-ed between periods of sleep and not sleeping, creating a low-level purr of anxiety at all times.
I was infamous amongst my friends for not sleeping well, so providing a ‘sleep update’ was like a dog yapping at my heels never leaving me alone. Even when I was sleeping, I was conscious that at any second, I might not! The cupboard in my bathroom boosted a colourful cocktail of herbal remedies, Chinese herbs, and hard-core sleeping pills - and let’s not forget the lavender spray and foot lotion winking at me on my bedside table. Whilst most offered some sort of temporary respite, none of them was ‘the one cure’ that I was looking for because that doesn’t exist.
An all time low came in 2004 at the height of the Iraq war when my then fiance went off to live and work in the green zone for six months, leaving me to sell his house, organise our wedding, hoping for this not to be his funeral. My sleep took a bit of a hit. Desperate to find a solution I checked into The London Sleep Clinic where I was wired up to a sleep monitor to track when and how I slept. My issue was in falling asleep.
There have been three discoveries that have helped me to conquer my sleep or lack of it and they start with my discovery of Dr Nerina Ramlakhan’s book Tired but Wired. This book was quite literally the pivotal book that set me on the path to a beautiful night’s sleep. Not sleeping is monumentally different from having a poor night’s sleep. We all have nights when we don’t sleep as well as we might but being too wired to sleep is in a league of Its own. This book is not only really easy to read, which is a bonus, but Nerina’s knowledge of why and how we sleep and what we need to do during our day to ensure we get a good night’s kip is phenomenal.
I learnt for the very first time what my circadian cycle meant, and that how I was living my day impacted massively on how I would sleep that night. This concept was a revelation to me. I am someone who packs a lot (arguably far too much) into each and everyday, and come bedtime I wanted to let my head hit the pillow and slip straight away into snoozeville, and when that didn’t happen I would get annoyed and anxious in equal measure. Instead, limiting beliefs, dark thoughts or random worries would play in my head like the London Philharmonic Orchestra getting louder and louder into the early hours when finally, ‘drugged’ I would crash out!
Come the morning, I would start the day worried about if, how, and when, I would sleep that night. These thoughts would plague my day. That’s when, through desperation, I came across another great book - The Sleep Book (paperback or audio) - which I listened to back in 2015 whilst travelling through Costa Rica. This book taught me to ‘befriend my limiting beliefs to destroy their power' – crazy but true, and the very practical exercises worked.
My final discovery was the wellness benefits of magnesium chloride flakes that you put in a bath or foot bath enabling the magnesium to be absorbed through the skin – by far, I am told, the best way! Once you discover the magical qualities of magnesium chloride, you'll join the smug sleeping club! In simple terms, magnesium chloride flakes (not Epsom Salts they are magnesium sulphate) are the antidote to lowering the cortisol and adrenaline in your body - two hormones hardwired to play havoc with your sleep. Add to a bath one to three times a week, lie in the bath for about 20 minutes and then go straight to bed. It's truly blissful - so much so that last Christmas I gave a bucket of flakes to three very tired but wired friends and it brought them a huge amount of sleeping joy!
But finally, back to Dr Nerina Ramlakhan - I am without doubt one of her biggest fans. She taught me about martini sleepers – anytime anywhere – and the sensitive sleepers (that’s me) who need the dark room, or the same side of the bed, or a cold/hot room. and so the list goes on. I am definitely the latter but she also taught me that how I show up each day will mirror how I sleep at night. I need to have a proper winddown. It doesn’t matter what time I go to bed I need to ensure that I have let go of the day and that I have a bath, or watch a film, or read until I am tired. I also need to drink lots of water, eat properly, and exercise. I also tell my mind to literally let go of the day, or thoughts which are bugging me, and if they persist I write them down in the journal by my bed. I doubt I will ever be a martini sleeper, but the cupboard in my bathroom is pill and remedy free, and for the majority of the time I sleep very well. if I do have a bad night, those horrible gremlin thoughts never return, as I harness and destroy their power!