I’ve not been blogging this week. It’s because I have not slept for at least 5 days. I have been lying down a lot; I could even say I have snoozed a little, but I have not slept. And because I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t function. I know that the NHS has to prioritise, and there’s the pull towards innovation and expensive medical break-throughs, but sleep is a priority; it’s a Basic Human Right. After these few days, I’m a deranged hallucinating fuzz-brain, so what must it be like to have chronic sleep problems?
I’ve always loved sleeping; when I was in my teens, my dad was always urging me to stay up to see this great TV programme called ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ but I never managed it, because bed was always better than any TV programme. As the child of Scots parents, I was always a big disappointment at Hogmanay, and I would have been ironically hopeless at sleepovers.
So in just over 50 years of mainly good sleeping, here are the things that have led to bad sleeping for me:
1. Tea or coffee after 5pm. Sometimes, I’d accidentally have a cup and would spend the night staring at the ceiling whilst my brain jerked around for a few hours.
2. Doing intense talking late at night; this includes performing plays and concerts, parents evenings at school or even just having a bit of a ‘debate’ with someone. I would re-run the whole thing in my head, thinking about what I said, how I sang, what I should have done, what went wrong. Eventually I realised that it’s better to stay up for another hour doing something quiet before going to bed with a head full of words.
3. Acidity regulator; I’m not sure of the exact one, but I have found that if I eat certain foods in the evening, it has the same effect as coffee or tea. It’s a kind of acidity regulator found in cherry pies, blackcurrant yogurts and cheesecakes, so I tend to avoid any of those preserved red and purple fruit products. Often I’ll lie awake, realise I’ve not had tea or coffee and then consider what I’ve eaten, only to go down to the kitchen, examine food packaging and…. ‘Aha!’
4. Emotional Troubles. Well yeah. I would advise anyone not to have anything go wrong with their lives if they want to sleep well. Conflict at work, relationships, money worries, responsibilities cumulatively add up to nights without sleep. At those times, all I have been able to do is lie there, try to relax, and put the radio on to try and drown out the constant worrying.
5. Chemotherapy treatment. I never subscribed to those ideas about cancer being a ‘battle’. I thought it implied a metaphorical thing; about being strong and brave. But now I understand it as a cell-on-cell punch-up that’s happening inside my body day and night. My brain isn’t alert; that’s why I can drowse for 10-15 minutes, but I really can feel the miniature battles going on inside me when I lie still.
However, I am lucky that sleeplessness has not affected me as much as other people. One third of UK residents have experienced sleeping problems with over 15 million sleeping pill prescriptions being issued by the NHS in 2011 at a cost of nearly £50 million. Whilst a huge amount of time and money is put into designing sleight-of-hand ways to build fancy new NHS hospitals that ultimately belong to private companies, what time and money is being put into solving the sleep problem?
There’s an elephant in the room and it’s sleeping.