Sleepstation is a six-week online course to help people suffering from insomnia. It’s available to buy or you can get Sleepstation on the NHS by a referral from your GP. I’ve just completed my first week of sleep diaries and my first night of sleep restriction and will be adding further posts as the weeks go by. In the meantime, here’s what’s happened so far.
Although I rarely used to wake up feeling refreshed, I at least used to sleep through the night without waking. About a year or so ago though, this all changed and it felt like I spent more time awake than asleep. I saw my doctor about it, but she just said ‘blah blah blah menopause’ and gave me a prescription for Zopiclone, while warning me not to take them too often as they’re highly addictive. This left me confused – when was I supposed to take them? Did I just decide which days I wanted to sleep? I decided I didn’t want to get addicted to sleeping tablets, but I bravely took one a few days later to see what happened and, although in the morning I woke feeling slightly more refreshed, I had still kept waking up in the night. Eight months after being given the prescription for ten Zopiclone tablets, I still have eight left, which I am happy to sell to the highest bidder, or swap for chocolate, I don’t mind.
Cures for insomnia
I tried various things to help me sleep. I tried herbal supplements like Nytol but they did nothing. I tried a non-herbal Nytol but that gave me restless legs and I had the worst night’s sleep EVER. It was so much the worst night’s sleep EVER, the next day I googled to see if restless legs were a common side-effect of Nytol and discovered that diphenhydramine – the antihistamine Nytol’s made from – can aggravate restless legs syndrome, so I gave the rest of the box to my friend Tessa who had suggested I try them in the first place (yeah, thanks for that). I also tried:
- inulin (because I saw a Facebook ad that said the BBC said it helped people to sleep. I’m gullible when I’m sleep deprived, okay?)
- 5-htp (I don’t remember why but I probably read somewhere it helped with sleep. Again, probably on a Facebook ad.)
- magnesium supplements
- white noise such as raindrops and waves (but that just made me think the roof was leaking)
- and eating lots of spinach (because I truly believe eating lots of spinach is the cure for most things).
I asked friends on Facebook for advice, I read dozens of articles on the internet and I ended up obsessing over my lack of sleep and treated it like a hobby.
Then I read The Effortless Sleep Method by Sasha Stephens and Sasha’s advice was basically:
- to stop treating yourself as a human laboratory and stop wasting money on Nytol, inulin, 5-htp, magnesium supplements and spinach (okay, she didn’t mention spinach but she did mention the other things. It was like she could see into my kitchen cupboard)
- don’t bother with white noise like raindrops or waves
- stop obsessing over your lack of sleep and treating it like a hobby
- don’t talk about it.
After I’d got over the shock that this woman had been following me around, I read the rest of her advice which was:
- Spend less time in bed: don’t go to bed until you’re tired, and get up earlier.
- Don’t not do things because you’re tired (e.g. put off seeing friends/doing stuff you’d usually do).
And, almost immediately, the advice worked.
I stopped telling everyone on Facebook I still wasn’t sleeping, I stopped taking the supplements, I went to bed later and got up earlier and, lo! I started sleeping better (‘better’ being a relative term here).
Sleepstation on the NHS
But then I started sleeping badly again (mostly because I started going to bed earlier and getting up later) and a friend said she’d had really good results after doing the Sleepstation course and that I should give it a go. She said she was now sleeping right through the night and I thought hell yeah, I want some of that.
I went onto the Sleepstation website, answered a few questions and then it said I could buy the course for £295 or request free access to Sleepstation on the NHS. I thought a GP referral meant I’d have to go down to the surgery and beg and cry and insist to be referred, which most definitely wasn’t something I’d be able to do. I’m the type of person who goes to the doctor and when asked how I am, cheerily says, ‘Fine, thanks’ and then feels stupid because why would I be there if there was nothing wrong with me?
Anyway, ‘request free access’ was no more difficult than typing in my doctor’s details and clicking on a link. I then thought my doctor would call me in and question me about why I wanted free stuff from the NHS but I wasn’t called in. I got an email from Sleepstation a few days later to say they’d contacted my GP, then a couple of days after that I got another email from Sleepstation to say I’d been referred. It was that quick and easy!
Before starting the Sleepstation programme, you go through a questionnaire with questions like ‘Do you think about not sleeping?’ Well, duh. It’s hard not to when you’re ‘studying’ not sleeping and doing a course in how to sleep better, isn’t it?
A lot of the other questions were more about your state of mind, with questions such as ‘How often do you feel like bad things are going to happen?’ ‘Do you feel like you have nothing to look forward to?’, etc. The assessment and sleep diary is reviewed by therapists who get in touch if anything is flagged up they feel needs looking into deeper (such as my assessment that revealed that I am not stressed, but a little anxious, and very depressed, which was news to me as, although I feel I currently consist of about 90% ‘meh’, I wouldn’t say I’m depressed).
7 Day Sleep Diary
Before you start the sleep therapy, your sleep is tracked for seven days:
- What time you went to bed
- How long it took you to fall asleep
- How many times you woke up
- How long you woke up for
- What you did when you woke up
- What time you got up in the morning
- How long you laid in bed before getting up
The sleep diary was difficult to fill in because Sleepstation tells you not to look at the clock or make notes when you wake up so it was difficult in the morning to remember how many times I woke up or what the time was when I woke up and if I didn’t know what the time was, how was I supposed to know how long I’d been awake for? I had no idea if I was filling in the diary properly but there is a space to write notes in each day so I just wrote in at the end a summary of what I felt had happened during the night. On the first night I woke up, in the space for ‘What did you do when you woke up in the night?’ I wrote ‘Took photos of my cats’ but I’m not sure I needed to be quite so specific.
Each day after filling in the sleep diary, you get hints and tips to help you sleep, like:
- dim the lights for one to two hours before bed
- think the word ‘the’ every two seconds if you wake up. Apparently this is called ‘thought-blocking’ and really works and they advise you try it for three nights. I tried it the first night then forgot about it, so I can’t tell you if it works or not.
- don’t read in bed – save the bedroom just for sleeping and sex. (I failed on this one because I read every night before going to sleep but I decided reading in the dark on a Kindle isn’t the same as reading with the light on.)
After the first seven days is up and Sleepstation analyses your sleep diary, you get lots of charts and figures about your sleep efficiency and an evaluation on your mental health.
Sleepstation sleep restriction therapy
Then the therapy begins. You get some videos to watch, presented by Dr Kirstie Anderson who, to be honest, looks a bit tired, so she probably needs to do the Sleepstation thing herself. She gives advice in these videos like:
- keep the temperature in your bedroom not too hot and not too cold
- don’t take phones into the bedroom
- you can have a clock in the bedroom, but turn it around so you’re not always looking at it if you wake in the night
- keep the same hours in bed – go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
- don’t let pets into the bedroom
WOAH! HANG ON A MINUTE! Don’t let pets into the bedroom? Who is this lunatic woman? There’s no way I’m not letting my cats sleep with me. I’d rather go without sleep.
I decided to ignore that bit of so-called ‘advice’ and carried on with the therapy. It asks you what time you’d like to get up and then, taking into consideration your sleep diary, it works backwards to set a time for you to go to bed.
As I don’t have to get up at any specific time to go to work or look after children or anything, but I like to get up a reasonable time, 7:30am seemed a reasonable enough time for me to stick to for more than one day. I expected a going to bed time of midnight or maybe 1am so I was a *bit* (for *bit*, read *a lot*) taken aback to see I wasn’t allowed to go to bed until 2am. That’s right – I had to stay up until two o’clock in the fucking morning for four weeks, which is a bit of a shock for someone who’s usually looking at the clock at around 8pm and wondering if it’s too early to go to bed yet.
The first night on Sleepstation
What the flipping flop was I supposed to do until 2am? I had so many thoughts going around my mind:
- What time do I put my pyjamas on? I usually put them on around 6pm but if I’m not going to bed until eight hours later, that’s a bit early, isn’t it?
- What am I going to do until 2am? Given I live in a terraced house, midnight probably isn’t the best time to be practising the ukulele.
- I should have saved those six episodes of Love Island I hadn’t watched yet but those twins were getting seriously on my nerves with their annoying voices and the constant playing with their hair so I deleted them all (the episodes, not the twins).
At 6pm I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do for another eight hours? That’s a whole working day’. Then I got excited about all the extra spare time I’d have and, anyway, if I’m usually awake at 1am, 2am, 3am, etc. each night and only sleeping for about five hours, then it doesn’t really make any difference, does it?
My usual evening routine goes something like this:
- 5-6pm: eat
- then put pyjamas on
- then watch TV until about 9-10pm
- then go to bed and fall asleep reading
I know. You’re jealous of my rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
But with eight hours looming in front of me, I didn’t want to spend them all watching television because there was so much I could do with an extra eight hours like write a short story, or plan something to write at my writer’s group, or do some studying, so I charged my bluetooth headphones and, after dinner, went up to the attic room to be productive. Well, that was the intention, anyway. What actually happened was I moaned on Facebook about not being able to go to bed until 2am.
At about midnight, I changed into my pyjamas and went downstairs to watch television and catch up on the soaps (I know – Love Island and soaps – I’m a shallow soul) and wait for it to be 2am. 2am eventually crept round and I went to bed.
Considering it was a lot later than I’d usually go to sleep, it took me a lot longer than usual to fall asleep. This probably wasn’t helped by:
a) being on a sleep programme and therefore having sleep – or lack thereof – on my mind; and
b) my cat, Biscuit, snoring really loudly.
When my alarm went off at 7:30am, I woke up knackered although pleased it was daylight but not looking forward to another very long day that wouldn’t end until 2am.
I will report back next week to let you know how I’m getting on. (Update: You can read that here.)
For more information on Sleepstation on the NHS, or to pay for, visit the website.