I have never considered myself an insomniac, if I was how could I have survived driving many thousands of kms a year in both my professional life and my subsequent volunteer capacity?
However, I have long been aware that I don’t get the best quality of sleep and that I often wake up at least once, and often several times, a night. I know that I constantly turn from one side to the other and, in extreme wakefulness, give up and read while lying there, for an hour or so. But to complicate matters, I also know that sometimes I dream that I am awake. This is because there have been times when I am seemingly in despair of getting back to sleep again and then suddenly awake and see that the clock has barely moved at all.
I decided on a little experiment to test myself. I set up a motion activated trail camera on a tripod at the foot of the bed and then studied the results on the computer the next morning. It starts recording at any movement and then continues for one minute, so, allowing for the disturbance in setting it up and switching it off, the video was triggered no less than 25 times in a 6 hour period. No wonder I get tired during the day, even taking into account the special circumstances of my tasks as a carer.
The next night, with her full knowledge, I did the same thing with Fran. I put her to bed every night in her medical bed in a separate room, and leave her in her position of choice, foetal on her right side. When I wake her to get up 12 hours later she is always in exactly the same position. So, the test. For once ever since she has had to sleep alone, this night she was foetal again but facing the other way. Ah! I thought, she turns about just like me but always ends facing the same direction. The camera doesn’t lie, in 12 hours the video was triggered, just once, when she turned from right to left.
So to Michael Mosely, a medical journalist who has investigated lots of things and last week, I think it was, he realised that he was an insomniac. He asked his wife how she had slept in the morning and the reply was ‘like a log, the only time I woke up was when you got out of bed and started pacing about’. Unlike me though, Mosely does do that and then often takes himself to the kitchen where he starts snacking, must do a lot of pacing to stay so slim then.
The programme was very interesting and science based but I took away from it 2 main recommendations that were easy to follow. The first was to avoid screen work shortly before bed. I always go to bed and read for up to half an hour or so before turning to sleep. Not only that but I turn the light off and use my backlit Kindle. Very bad. I do this with the door shut to stop flies, in season, coming attracted by the glow, so I then before sleeping have to get up and open the door because I prefer it that way and my dog sleeps just outside it. So more disturbance. I haven’t always read in bed, until it went awry due to the pandemic, I used to listen to the Archers podcast with all lights off. So I determined to take up that habit again instead of the Sunday omnibus, which is inconvenient anyway.
The 2nd suggestion was very familiar to me and just as easy to adopt. Throughout my driving career I have employed the use of ‘powernaps’ whenever I could. This is not just nodding off after dinner, usually mid afternoon, but whenever appropriate, setting a time, alarmed if necessary for complete relaxation of no more than 30 minutes duration.
A little diversion that some of you may not know. In France, and some other countries, it is illegal for HGV drivers (with specific exceptions, perishable goods etc.) to drive on a Sunday. Now you car drivers may appreciate your Sundays without thundering lorries around you, but be aware, Monday mornings are a much less safe time to be on the road. Here in the Dordogne where I live and was based when working, it takes at the very least, 6 hours to get to Paris in a lorry. thus a strict rdv time of say 8am means leaving at 1am to allow for the obligatory 45 minute break to be taken by the driver on the way. Many rdvs are earlier, 6am is not unusual, that means leaving at 11pm on Sunday. Perfectly legal, the ban finishes at 10pm. But consider this. A driver starting on Sunday, or even early Monday, is not allowed to drive on the Saturday, so must be in the base by Friday evening. He has been on days, he clocks off and goes home to the wife to sleep as normal on Friday night. He does what he does on a Saturday, goes to the match, does a bit of gardening, watches the telly, and goes to bed as normal, perhaps around 11 on Saturday night. Bright as a button Sunday morning does all the things we all do on his day of rest and then, just as he is ready for bed at 10pm, he has to go to bloody work, and be expected not to be a danger to the travelling public in the wee small hours when he should be, and if you are in his way, may be…sleeping.
My solution was start at 10 pm, drive the 4 hours or so to the first service area on the A20, and go to bed. OK, alarm set, only 45 minutes, but a powerful 45 minutes, a powernap, and fresh as a daisy just long enough to get me safely to Paris.
So back to the point, at last I hear you say, except if I have already put you to sleep you are either cured or have deserted me long ago. 15 minutes of relaxing Everyday Story of Countryfolk in complete darkness, followed by 8 hours of solid sleep with hardly a turn to disturb the duvet, and then in the afternoon half an hour, if space can be found in the schedule, with Classic FM way down low on the radio. But don’t forget the alarm, only 30 minutes max now.
The result, 4 days and nights of relative bliss.
Try it if you need to.
BTW. The Sunday ban is not British law. More sensibly, drivers from Scotland and the North of England have Friday and Saturday off and then do a normal Sunday days drive down to London, and so to bed.
Oh, and other podcasts are available.