Wednesday 25 March 2015

Sleep, glorious sleep!

Day 24 today - yay! I was thinking about what's changed in the last few weeks, and one of the biggies is sleep.

Putting this in context: I have had terrible insomnia on and off over the last decade. I've gone through weeks at a time averaging no more than 3 hours a night. Things got better when I quit full time work, but I still had terrible broken nights. I used to look at my children, spread out over their tangled covers like comatose starfish, dead to the world for at least ten hours at a time, and wonder where it all went wrong.

My classic night's sleep would go like this: After supper and children's bedtimes, longsuffering husband and I would retire to sofas to watch TV. Within 30 minutes (at around 9.30pm) I'd usually be fast asleep (due to lack of sleep the previous night, and the wine I'd drunk before, during and after dinner). At about 11pm husband would wake me up and I'd stagger upstairs, brush teeth and fall into bed. By 3am I'd wake up, dying for a wee and a bottle of water, then I'd toss and turn and fret and worry and hate myself until about 6am when I'd fall asleep and have weird dreams. The alarm would go off at 6.30am and I'd drag myself out of bed, exhausted.

Not only is constant, low level exhaustion a bummer, but it's also really bad for our health. It exacerbates depression and weight issues, is really bad for your skin and your heart, and increases your risk of colon and breast cancer. Ironically, all these issues are also caused by alcohol addiction, so for us it's a double whammy.

I tried all sorts of insomnia cures: herbal remedies, prescription drugs, hot milk, aromatherapy baths, notebook by the bed, meditation, exercise - you name it. The one thing I didn't try, obviously, was giving up alcohol.

I've done a bit of research, and it transpires that the link between alcohol and insomnia is a well proven one. Drinking alcohol makes you fall straight into a deep sleep cycle initially, but Doctor John Shneerson, head of the Papworth Sleep Centre in Cambridge, explains that "as the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That's why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep after drinking."

To feel refreshed you should, ideally, have 6 or 7 cycles of REM sleep. After drinking you typically have only 1 or 2, which is why you feel exhausted the next day. You're also likely to wake up several times to wee, due to alcohol's diuretic effect. All the weeing, plus sweating, dehydrates you and makes you thirsty. Plus, alcohol can make you snore, or even cause sleep apnoea. All of this adds up to just a few hours of poor quality, fitful sleep. Sound familiar?

Now, this blog comes with a bit of a health warning: many alcohol addicts find that, at least initially, when they stop drinking their sleep gets worse. It can be difficult getting off to sleep when you're used to using alcohol as an anaesthetic. If this is the case for you, don't panic - give it a while to settle down and, hopefully, hours and hours of uninterrupted slumber will soon be yours.

I found that - despite years of drinking at least a bottle of wine a day - from day 1 my sleep was totally transformed.  I still find it odd trying to go to sleep without being fairly drunk. I lie in bed with the lights off, wide awake thinking "I am never going to get to sleep", and then - somehow - it's morning! A miracle!

These days I'm wide awake until around 11pm. I actually get to watch the end of TV episodes and discuss them with the husband, rather than him having to fill me in the next day. I sleep for 7 hours solid. No waking up in the middle of the night, no weird dreams or angst. I wake up feeling muggy and heavy (just like the children when they're in that floppy, not quite awake phase), but 15 minutes later I'm bouncing around like the Duracell bunny!

God, I love sleep! It's the next best thing to chocolate. It's transformed my energy levels, my mood, my life.

So, this morning I bounced out of the car with #3 outside her school and one of the Mum's calls me over. "Hey, SM," she says, "you look amazing! Have you been on a diet? I didn't recognise you from behind!"

My arse (is that 'ass' for you Americans?) is officially unrecognisable. I guess I've gone from 'bottoms up!' to 'bottom's shrunk!'


  1. I feel like I could possibly be your American doppelganger ;). Everything you write is so familiar, except you have quit and I haven't....yet. On Monday I didn't drink, but I couldn't sleep. I lied in bed till about midnight, then anxious and frustrated I took one of my husband's xanax. That did the trick. Last night I was so worried I wouldn't sleep so I ended up drinking a glass of wine and a beer. I slept, but it wasn't good sleep. I know it will be difficult at first to actually fall asleep and not into an alcohol induced coma, but you give me hope that it will get easier! I just need to get the guts to go through with it.

    1. Hi Jen! It's great having an American twin! Where are you? I imagine you in one of those white wooden houses in Conneticut by the sea, or maybe in a cool loft in Manhattan. Or my favourite city in the world - San Fancisco? Do tell!

    2. Haha, no I'm in Wyoming....near the mountains.

    3. And I think I'm your Australian doppleganger... the similarities are spooky!

    4. Hope you're enjoying the beach! I think the Aussies and the Brits have very similar relationships with booze, don't you? SM xx

  2. I love sleep!
    It's fancily getting better. Took longer than I thought, but I was also trying to get off sleeping meds.
    Hugs from another American friend!
    Here's my blog:

    1. Wendy- I'm going to check out your blog today!

  3. I love sleep. Managed to sleep until 10am on Sunday morning, it is wonderful! It took a few days and sometimes I used a guided sleep meditation app which really helps. I think my body is healing itself now.

    SM I bet your skin looks amazing. JenM it will does get better. x

  4. Hey, Laura, what's your sleep meditation app called? Perhaps JenM could try it?

  5. I have also always slept terribly. 3 weeks ago, I started an online CBT program. Not expensive, and totally changing my sleep patterns. I've tried everything, and this is all about sleep reduction in order to sleep better. Its totally working for me :)
    Thanks SM for all your posts. They continue to put a big smile on my face ;)

  6. I had an epic fail and am back on day 3. Glad I came back and caught up. I did 8 days then thought i could moderate. 1.5 bottles later realised I couldn't. Yay for you and thanks for helping me. I'm back in the game and feeling positive xx