Jake O’Kane: Waking up to the problem of sleep


I’m writing this week’s column at 4:45 a.m. Again, I find myself crawling around the house, unable to sleep. This is nothing new.

While I would not classify myself as a cardiac insomniac, I can relate to a number of signs associated with this condition.

For example, I have trouble falling asleep; I wake up several times during the night; I stay awake at night; I wake up early and can’t fall asleep again; I am then tired when I wake up and I can be irritable from lack of sleep. That’s six of the eight symptoms listed on the nidirect insomnia webpage.

My sleeping problems go back to childhood and are in part due to my family owning a pub. As both of my parents worked in the company, I was assigned to a babysitter, Ms. Mac. I never knew his real name; she has always been Mrs. Mac to me.

Mrs Mac was an elderly widow from Cork who lived on the streets. She told me regularly of her sorrow at having been dragged from Cork to live among the savages of Belfast.

Mrs Mac didn’t like sitting alone, so most nights after putting my younger brothers to bed she allowed me to stay awake and watch any movie that aired on either of the two channels. available.

I remember watching the 1933 King Kong movie – which cut me off sleep for a month as I lay in bed, terrified, waiting for a giant gorilla hand to come through my bedroom window and tear me away.

The jobs I did didn’t help either. I followed my dad into the bar game before I moved on to stand-up comedy – both meant I was going to bed when the first hour people went to work.

While my father babysat late hours, he never missed his evening nap. After dinner he went to bed for an hour. This is something that I have never been able to do; if I take a nap for 10 minutes during the day, I am guaranteed to be awake all night.

Pain is another contributing factor. With a long term back injury, I will often go to bed like a demon has used a hammer to play my spine like a xylophone. If I can recover, even rolling over in my bed can feel like a stab in the back.

Having trouble sleeping can make you feel like you’re trapped in a vicious cycle. Convinced that you can’t sleep, you go to bed, already anxious not to sleep, which – you guessed it – then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Over the years, I think I have tried most of the common remedies. Everything from drinking hot chocolate; adopt a disciplined sleep routine; make sure my room is at the right temperature; take herbal remedies. The latter had the unfortunate effect of acting as a diuretic, which of course made me sleep through the night.

Of all the advice given to me, I think the best was also the easiest. A friend and companion in misfortune advised me to remove all clocks and watches from my room. He explained that if I couldn’t see the time, I wouldn’t know how tired I would feel the next day. Although it helped, it was not a cure.

While trying not to disturb my family with my nightly wanderings, there was one night when, with a sleepless brain, I inadvertently set off the house alarm.

My wife and kids rushed out of bed to find me fumbling with the alarm panel, unable to remember the code to turn it off. Oh, how they laughed. Oh wait, they didn’t.

Insomnia is worse during the summer; at least in winter it’s still dark when i end up crawling under the covers. But, as I write this, I can hear the dawn chorus starting and the light has started to crawl under the curtains.

At least I am not alone, as it is reported that Covid resulted in disrupted sleep patterns both for those who contracted the virus and for others who found their normal sleep pattern to go away when they did. were on leave.

Although I have treated insomnia with a light touch, I am very aware that for many it can be disabling. Fortunately, there is a lot of support and advice – check out nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/insomnia.

Wish you all a good night’s sleep, but if you find yourself waking up in the early hours of the morning don’t despair – chances are you will find me tweeting nonsense around 3am most of the time. .

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