Sleep is absolutely fundamental! Psychologically, physiologically and physically. It is the most important factor when it comes to recovery. Sleeptime is when our body repairs itself after exercise. Without it we open ourselves up to illness and greater risk of injury. Essential muscle repair, muscle growth, bone growth and oxidisation of fats all happens whilst we sleep. As an athlete your reaction times slow dramatically, co-ordination, ] memory, focus and ability to learn all reduce. We become irritable and motivation levels plummet. Sleep is imperative for our mental state, for us to work through the emotional baggage we carry around all day and regulates our hormones, in particular the stress hormone cortisol. In short without sleep everything falls apart. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture weapon or for extreme SAS training. Imagine my delight then when 9 years ago I was diagnosed with clinical insomnia. At first I suffered all of the above but as the years ticked by the effects became worse. My body temperature would regularly spike resulting in crazy hot flushes that lasted hours, my vision would become blurred, headaches were a constant of everyday life, I’d suffer uncharacteristic panic attacks, at times the skin around my eyes was so thin that they would start bleeding involuntarily and I often became overwhelmed with frenetic energy which fooled me into increasing my training in the hope of physically exhausting myself that I would pass out for a few hours sleep (this never happened but instead I ended up with a broken ankle, fractured leg and dislocated knee all in less than 2 years). I’d go from 20minutes sleep in 3 days to 4 hours sleep in 20minute batches on one night but never falling into that deep sleep my body so desperately needed. I paint a pretty picture huh!
Then all of a sudden it all became normal. That is to say nothing changed but it just became my way of life, something I accepted and I just carried on. I did every night shift with my two children, I used my frenetic energy to further my endurance running, I bought expensive make up to hide the bags (then gave into complacency and didn’t bother!) and I just cracked on….. You see I had tried it all: Acupuncture bracelets, yoga, hypnotherapy, essential oils, valerian tea, the juice of boiled organic banana skins (I kid you not) white noise apps, melatonin, new mattress and pillows, sleep hygiene programmes, counting sheep and a total of 40 blood tests from GPs…..Eventually after 8 years I caved and this January I went on to prescription sleeping pills but it wasn’t a solution. However, it did provide me with a respite for a few weeks which allowed me the clarity to attempt one more thing before checking in to a sleep clinic.
I tried to switch off. Not that easy. I cut down on my training, concentrated on CBT Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (meditation and related apps were way beyond my focus capabilities by now) and I started taking a double dose of Magnesium with Tryptophan. My children were also older and didn’t need me to be constantly on alert at night and mentally I started to learn to switch off! This was back in March and whilst I will never achieve 8 hours a night over the last 5 weeks I have consistently slept 5-6 hours every night! This is HUGE! Weirdly I’m not imbued with energy like I thought I would nor do I look 10 years younger (disappointingly). My body is just so exhausted it’s going to take time to repair itself but I am decidedly optimistic.
For those of you who sleep well then really celebrate it and never feel guilty about a long lie in or Sunday afternoon nap – your body is telling you it needs it. For those of you who don’t sleep well then let me be a little ray of hope for you. It will change, there is a light at the end of that tunnel, there is a solution, you just have to keep looking for the one that fits you.