When This Works approached me to collaborate with them on a special sleep project, I didn’t even wait to hear the finer details: I just said yes. Because they had me at the word “sleep”. Because I don’t really get very much of it, as you’ll know if you’re a regular reader, and because I seem to have become slightly obsessed with the very idea of it. (Also because This Works is a brilliant beauty brand, and they make the Deep Sleep Pillow Spray which is one of my most-used products. It all made perfect sense.)
My troubles with lack of sleep have been well-documented here on The Uphill; I’m not one to moan, even though I greatly enjoy it, but there is something about sleep deprivation that just makes you want everyone to know. I suppose in the same way that people with jetlag always have to tell everyone about their jetlag, or people who have a cold feel the need to describe their symptoms to anyone who will listen. Maybe we just like to share to make us feel better.
Anyway, the team at This Works wanted to help address my sleep issues and I was happy for them to help. They already knew that I was a busy working Mum, regularly trying to cram more into my day than I could manage, but to see if any tweaks could be made to my life that would improve my sleep they arranged for me to have a consultation with Professor Gaby Badre, who is one of the world’s leading specialists in sleep disorders. I have to be perfectly honest: I felt like something of a fraud for some of our phone consultation, because I didn’t particularly think that I had any sleep issues. It isn’t as though I have insomnia, or debilitating night terrors, or a dependency on sleeping aids – there isn’t an emotional or mental problem behind my lack of sleep. I can’t get enough sleep because I have a baby who feeds through the night, which means that I have to wake up every two or three hours. Slow, slow torture, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had to do that for any particular length of time. (Or indeed have had insomnia, or any other sleep disorder. Lack of sleep is tortuous whichever way it happens.)
So when Professor Badre started to ask me some quite in-depth questions about my sleep habits, I felt a little bit guilty. Like I was wasting his time. No, I didn’t struggle to fall asleep, no I didn’t use caffeine during the day to stay alert, no I didn’t use prescription drugs or alcohol, no I didn’t find myself falling asleep during movies or TV sessions in the evening… Part of me wanted to make up some problems just so that we had something to talk about! I kept thinking he would burst out with “just why are we having this call again?“
But then something surprising happened. Professor Badre, after the questions had all been asked, told me in no uncertain terms that I had to seriously address my lack of sleep, otherwise I would – to use his phrase – “hit a wall”. Hearing someone with his level of experience put into words what I had been feeling – that I was always teetering on the brink of being able to cope – almost made me cry. I probably would have cried had I not been in a car full of people chatting about house renovations and giving me weird, sidelong looks! Being told that I must try and get more sleep, to manage my life better, was like being offered a solution to a problem I thought there would never be a solution to. I had always thought that the sleep deprivation would continue so long as I felt I wanted to breastfeed Baby Ted – that the two things were just destined to go hand-in-hand – but Professor Badre made me realise, with a few very succinct pointers, that I could be much more in control of the situation.
Here’s the gist of what he said. (I hope I remember this correctly and don’t apply the powers of my overactive imagination to flesh out the story. I tend to do that.) The most important thing he discussed with me was the idea that I was being a slave to my life rather than being the master – I was just allowing things to happen to me and then reacting to them, rather than being in control of events and deciding what would and wouldn’t happen. I had whole lists of things that “must” be done – work, admin, house stuff – but it was impossible to get them all done in the time I had. And so Professor Badre said that I should eliminate any “musts” – if I did something, it should be because I chose to do it and not because I had to do it. I suppose that in a way it’s just a difference in mindset – you’re still doing the same things, but you feel in control of them rather than everything being a huge list of impossible demands.
Continuing along on the same sort of theme, Professor Badre said that I must make time for myself. That was the only “must” I was allowed! When he asked what I did to relax, I’m pretty sure that I said…”work”. (Ha. I’ll probably appear as a case study in a book in a few years’ time won’t I?) When told that I should enjoy a weekly massage or treatment, I almost burst out laughing – how on earth would I ever have time for that? If I had time to have a massage, I’d have time to have, in order of desirability: a nap, a shower, a quick re-jig of my website theme, a long sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and a magazine, a lunch with a friend…
But then I realised that I do have time for these things – I just need to stop feeling guilty about spending time on myself. I think that I tend to panic about my day, because there are so many “musts” on my list, but if I pick and choose what I actually want to do, or just cherry-pick what needs to be done urgently, my life is infinitely more manageable.
And then moving on to the subject of sleep, Professor Badre stressed the importance of finding the time to nap during the day if I couldn’t get a full night’s sleep. This was actually something we talked about at an event I held with This Works earlier in the month (thank you to all who came!) – that it’s the quality of the sleep that matters, not the length of unbroken time. So you can, if necessary, take your sleep in more than one dose and so long as it’s proper sleep, it serves the same purpose. (There are certain lengths of time for sleeping that are better than others, starting with twenty minutes for a quick refresher and then jumping to ninety minutes for a good solid nap; my current thinking is just that I want as much as possible and sod the correct lengths of time, but apparently you can feel worse than having no sleep at all if you rouse yourself at the wrong point in the sleep cycle.)
Professor Badre also stressed the importance of disconnecting from my iPhone and laptop and having times when I played “truant” from work. The idea of playing truant when you work for yourself seems silly, but I must say that actively making the decision to not do work and treating the time as a reward is very satisfying. I’ve really been trying to implement this change in the evenings, which is usually when I try to cram in all of my work that I haven’t been able to do in the daytime. I’ve tried to make a point of switching everything off to watch Netflix or have a relaxing bath, but shamefully I think that I’ve only managed this for a handful of evenings over the course of a month.
So what did I manage to change? Well, I have to say that Professor Badre’s words about “hitting a wall” really struck a chord with me. I’ve cut down on work considerably, until we get another nanny in place, because I was actually quite scared that I would fall ill if I didn’t start to take care of myself – it felt like a very real, very serious problem that needed immediate address. I’ve been trying to take more naps, and I’ve been taking Baby Ted into the spare room in the morning so that my husband can have him for the breakfast shift, and then I’ve been getting straight back into bed and going to sleep. I’ve found that the period between 7.15am and about 8.45am, when I have what I call my “bonus sleep”, is the best quality sleep I have in the whole twenty-four hour period. I think it’s because I suddenly have no responsibility and I know I’m not going to be woken up, so I totally relax. Even though I get more than 90 minutes of unbroken sleep during the night, there’s always the risk that the baby might have a little cry for a bit or wake up for a feed. With the baby passed to someone else, I know that I just have that time to myself. It’s really made me realise the importance of having help when you have a baby and not trying to do absolutely everything yourself, all of the time.
Though I haven’t yet implemented my next baby sleep steps (putting the cot in another room, doing some self-soothing routines) talking to Professor Badre made me seriously put them on the to-do list and I’m going to take the plunge this week. For my own sanity, I think! Reading some of the comments on my co-sleeping post has made me realise that this is such a common problem, especially for those nursing their babies through the night. It’s hard to know when to delegate, or just when to stop. When to realise that you’re at the end of your tether and slightly out of control of your own life.
So I shall complete my sleep diary, but I feel as though I’ve already drastically changed the way I think about sleep, and my lack of it. On a more practical, easy-to-achieve level I’ve been spritzing Ted’s cot with This Works Baby Sleep Pillow Spray to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere as well as spraying my own pillow with the Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, which – as I said earlier – has to be one of my most-used beauty products ever. I’m sure that it has a lot to do with the ease with which I manage to fall asleep, even after feeding Ted in the night and (sshhh) looking at Instagram on my iPhone! It’s like being under some weird spell – I’ve had some amazing dreams whilst using Deep Sleep.
I hope that this idea of regaining control over your daily life and tasks is helpful, if you’re struggling with the amount of things you have to juggle. There are loads of brilliant sleep tips from Professor Badre on thisworks.com as well as information about common sleep concerns. I have to say that Professor Badre’s advice to me has been quite life-changing; I haven’t had any more sleep, I don’t think, but I feel far more able to cope with my hectic schedule.
If you’ve never tried the amazing pillow sprays from This Works then take a look here – the original one is still my favourite, but they also now make a time-release version that carries on working throughout the night. Just don’t spray it and then operate any heavy machinery – I find that it has the same effect as a large glass of red wine – instant snooze!
(This post has been sponsored by This Works.)