Insomnia: Am I the only one who can't sleep this January? - Gaby Soutar

It was 5am-ish and I turned on the radio. Although it was at the lowest volume possible, I recognised the voice of the late Maxi Jazz, who died last month.

“There's no release, no peace, I toss and turn without cease… I can’t get no sleep.”

I wonder if they always play Faithless’ Insomnia at this time of the morning, as a joke aimed at people like me. It could be on constantly, like the test card girl who used to come on the telly at night.

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​If that’s the case, they should know that I have zero sense of humour before my coffee at 10am. Morecambe and Wise could come into my kitchen and do their breakfast sketch and it wouldn’t wipe away my thousand yard death stare. I might not even laugh at Eric’s grapefruit skit.

Insomnia can get the better of all of us. Picture: Adobe

Anyway, I switched the radio off, possibly before Only Sleeping by The Beatles was aired.

This month, I have become something of an insomniac.

According to my swiftly gathered anecdotal evidence, everyone else is feeling the same. For some, I wonder if that’s partially exacerbated by Dry January, since nobody can rely on their usual sedative toddy.

That could be compounded by the inevitable blues which accompany this time of the year, or the fact that the weather has been grotty, and our fitness routine enthusiasm has started to dwindle.

My step count has definitely declined. I don’t leave the house often when it’s icy. People smirk at my walk, since it’s like a wind-up robot or a penguin in calipers. I see them jogging past and I know that I’ll have the last laugh.

Perhaps my transient insomnia is caused by hormones, because I’m at that age when things start to go a bit wonky.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have woken at 4am, 5am and, oddly, if I’m having a sybaritic lie-in, often at the Groundhog Day-esque time of 6.19am exactly.

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I wish I could happily spring out of bed and do stuff. Carpe diem. However, the early bird does not catch the worm. Instead, they feel like a worm. One that’s been trodden into the grass and picked at by seagulls.

The earliest wakings are the worst.

My bladder is an internal alarm clock and will usually nag me at silly o’clock. Then I’m forced to prise myself off the electric blanket on which I have been sizzling like a square sausage.

I head to the bathroom, although The Thoughts creep in before I’ve made it along the hallway.

The first usually includes an innocent perusal of the next day’s “to do” list, followed by a bit of light rumination, then I toss in a few hypochondriac notions, before we upgrade to the full on catastrophising package.

By the time I’ve made it back to bed, I’ve developed existential angst.

I’ll climb back in under my duvet anyway, because you have to at least attempt to doze off when it’s 4am and every other window in the tenement is dark.

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If only sleep wasn’t such a slippery fellow – greased up like a long-distance channel swimmer. I’ll sometimes nearly make it close, but then it dashes off. I’m Pepé le Pew and it’s the cat. If I act too keen, it tries even harder to elude me.

As soon as you overthink the whole doomed enterprise, it’s game over.

My husband has tried to sell me the idea of the meditative “body scan”. He finds this very effective, even though he doesn’t need it and usually nods off after a minute of reading.

It involves relaxing your body from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head. If your thoughts wander, you go back to the start again. I’ve tried it lots of times, but always fail. It becomes a bit like Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes on scratched vinyl. Knees and toes, knees and toes.

I never make it further than quadriceps before the obtrusive thoughts creep in again.

Eventually, frustration prompts me to get moving.

Maybe I’ve always been like this, off and on, throughout my life.

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My mum says she once did a night visit to check in on me and my sister in our room. I was about seven, and she found me sitting on my bed, in complete darkness, dressed in my school uniform. I had admitted defeat, when it came to this elusive sleep business.

Decades later, I feel the same resignation, whenever I start getting up and ready in what feels like the middle of the night.

I suppose I could stay in bed and read my book.

However, it’s hard to concentrate when your stubborn brain has skipped its nightly cycle of oblivion. The next day, it is never working at full capacity. There is "not enough in the tank”, to paraphrase the departing New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. That’s my excuse in case there are any grammatical blunders in this column.

I have, in the past, been prescribed sleeping tablets, when I’ve had chronic periods of insomnia. They remind me of Mr T, when The A Team used to knock him out to get him on a plane. You know you’ll get to your morning-time destination with minimal stress, though you might have a bit of a sore head in the morning.

All you do is take one, then wait for the woozy and warm feeling. It’s coming for you, rather than you pursuing it.

Sadly, these medications are not a long-term solution, so I will try the body scans again.

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Knees and toes, knees and toes.



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