Sometimes sleep problems don’t mean not being able to sleep at all, they mean not being able to sleep at the right times. Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that most of us go through a phase in our teens when it’s natural for us to struggle in the mornings and feel wide awake late into the night. Some people experience this sort of difficulty throughout their lives.
Childhood Sleep Problems
Christopher, 32, has spent his whole life with a nocturnal body clock. “It’s been like this for longer than I can remember,” he explains. “I distinctly remember when I was seven or eight, not being able to sleep. I used to lie awake at night and I would be frightened because it was the witching hour. I was frightened that witches would come.”
The problem was made worse because Christopher’s parents didn’t take it seriously. He remembers being told off for reading late into the night. It was difficult for him to explain why he stayed awake because he had nothing to compare it to, so he assumed that everybody had the same experience. By the age of twelve he was lying awake until three or four in the morning and then struggling to get up for school.
When Christopher got older, his problems didn’t go away. He left home to attend university but found living in student halls of residence difficult to cope with. “My flatmates would come in at ridiculous times of day and make lots of noise,” he explains.
Once he moved out of the halls, he found that he could settle into a routine, though he was unable to change his sleep pattern. He would get by with small amounts of sleep during the week and then find it easy to fall asleep at the weekends.
After finishing his degree, Christopher moved into the world of work despite the difficulties caused by his sleep problems. “I’m currently working as a supervisor in a bookshop, while I try to freelance as a proof-reader and typesetter as I wait for funding for a publishing company,” he explains. He has refused to allow his sleep problems to interfere with his job. “I generally manage. I struggle through work with lots of coffee.”
Struggling with insomnia has often made Christopher’s life difficult, and he feels it has probably contributed to problems with depression. It has also caused problems with memory. “Basically, there are large parts of my life I can’t remember because I wasn’t getting enough sleep.”
Though he has not found a cure for his problems, Christopher has had some success with techniques for managing them. When pain from a broken arm made things worse by waking him intermittently during the night, he sought advice from his doctor.
“I don’t want to take sleeping tablets because that’s really at the extreme end of things,” he explains. “I was recommended lavender oil as an inhalant, and that worked not bad. It was better for getting back to sleep after waking than for falling asleep in the first place.” He now plans to try lavender oil on his pillow to see if that will help.
Christopher’s approach now is to go to bed when he’s sleepy and simply lie there for an hour trying to get comfortable. His advice to other sufferers? Simply “Try to relax, and learn to cope.”