Overcoming a lifetime of struggles with sleep- Penny's Story

sleep stories
Overcoming a lifetime of struggles with sleep

READ: Overcoming a lifetime of struggles with sleep

Penny’s sleep story in brief:
+ Sleep problems since childhood
+ Good spells and bad spells of sleep
+ Feelings of dread in the evenings
+ Ruminating during the night

Penny had experienced sleep problems since childhood which had then worsened through her life. She had unpredictable good spells and bad spells of sleep which is not at all uncommon in a long term insomnia problem. Penny was very low in mood and feeling exhausted whilst continuing on with a busy life. When she decided to seek help, it was out of desperation after a long spell of very poor sleep. She was desperate but doubtful that anything could help - after all, this was a problem she had experienced as long as she could remember.



Q: Describe how things were for you before starting the Sleep Rebuilder Programme  (e.g.how much sleep you were getting, what was concerning you, how you were feeling  etc). 

Before I started I had had sleeping issues for most of my adult life (I’m  now 52), and even as a child I recall finding it difficult to fall asleep. My  problems got worse gradually with age, and my sleep deteriorated  significantly during the perimenopause, which has been ongoing now for  about 5 years.

My sleep was unpredictable - weeks where the sleep is  fine and then weeks/months where it is pretty awful. It was hard to  understand the difference, as the patterns seemed quite random and  unrelated to external events.

When I approached Emma I had had a  period of around 2-3 months of very poor sleep, averaging maybe 4 hours  per night, with a few good nights of 7-8 hours but also some very bad  nights of just 2 or 3 hours, where I would finally fall asleep at dawn.

My  problem was mainly with getting to sleep although, since perimenopause,  I had also started with wakeful periods in the middle of the night and some  early waking. I have always been pretty careful with sleep hygiene and  have gradually added, over recent years, things like earplugs, eye mask,  lavender oil, antihistamines and melatonin. Despite all this, my sleep was  still not good overall and, for long stretches, pretty bad.

I felt extremely  tired during the bad periods but, with a busy and demanding full time  career and study on top of that, I was surviving on adrenalin alone I think,  most days.

My mood was very low, I was often tearful and felt rather  hopeless. 



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Q: Describe how things are for you now. What has changed? 

The main thing that has changed is that I’ve learned that there are  aspects of my life which I can take better control of to help with the  emotional and cognitive aspects of sleep. In other words, I now  understand more clearly the need to feel safe, relaxed and calm at  bedtime, and to separate the worries of the day from what should be the  restfulness of the night, and I have learned how to achieve this for myself.

In relation to the emotional aspects, through the sleep therapy I  recognised that I had been experiencing a sense of dread at bedtime and  reluctance to go to bed which, it seems, was linked to childhood  difficulties.

More consciously, I had often experienced a mild sense of  anxiety, growing through the evening, about what my sleep might be like  that night. I talked often about my sleep to others and had made being ‘a  poor sleeper’ part of my identity, I think.

This meant that I was approaching sleep with negative expectations, which contributed to the  anxiety and the poor sleep. The guided visualisations tapped into that less  conscious part of myself, linked to childhood fears, and the relaxation  recordings, which I used at night to help with letting go of anxieties and  feeling calm and relaxed. 

In addition, I often have a lot on my mind, both with work and other things  in my life, and wasn’t unwinding properly at night. I often found myself  dwelling on things that had happened, reliving them and getting upset or  worrying about things to come, making detailed plans in my mind about  how to manage those things.

I would also worry about my lack of sleep  during sleepless nights. During the therapy with Emma, I learned how to  make a deliberate decision and take positive action to unload those  worries, stresses and concerns before bed, and to encourage my mind to  take a rest from them during the night. 

These are the keys things which have changed for me. My sleep isn’t  perfect, I still have bad nights, but being able to turn off the light with a  calm, relaxed, contented and peaceful mind has made a significant  difference to me. I have far more good nights than before.

Q: If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice or support when you were  struggling, what would it be? 

There is hope, no matter how entrenched the problem is, and you can get  better control over your sleep.

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make (eg how you found the programme  experience as a whole)? 

There is hope, no matter how entrenched the problem is, and you can get  better control over your sleep.



A Note From Emma:

Whilst working with Gill I witnessed her health visibly improve as the quantity and quality of  her sleep improved. She became noticeably brighter in mood and the colour came back  into her face. As someone who had never used zoom before, she had been concerned  about what working in this way would be like but very quickly got used to it and got all the  benefits from the programme. It is very common for a major life change to be the trigger for  sleep problems as it was for Gill. I am really glad that her struggling health prompted her to  seek help as now she is enjoying the benefits of good, consistent sleep.



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