As Lifestyle editor for The Huffington Post, I could reel off all sorts of facts, figures and advice about sleep.
Don’t take your computer to bed. Don’t drink caffeine after 6pm. Over 40% of Brits experience some sort of sleep deprivation and it’s getting worse (due to smartphones).
The reality, as someone who has an insomniac spouse, is much different.
Although good sleep habits are important, when you’re dealing with long term sleep deprivation, you are utterly at your wits end on how to deal with it. So what do you do when counting sheep and glasses of warm milk just don’t cut it?
Here is our journey through insomnia and beyond, with the help of hypnotherapist Tim Smale.
From the point of view of the partner who sleeps
My husband is asleep next to me.
This may sound like a fairly ordinary sentence, like: the cat sat on the mat, but it is remarkable for three reasons. First, he’s asleep before me. Second, he’s actually in bed at the same time I am. Third, he’s asleep.
As tough as life is for insomniacs, it isn’t that much easier for the spouse or partner who has to deal with it.
For most of our relationship my husband has been a bad sleeper, however it has really escalated in the last year or so. This ends up having a massive impact on our social life – you try dinner conversation when the other person is either crazy-eyed with tiredness or nodding into their soup – and call me a traditionalist, but I like the idea of going to bed together at the same time.
Those are the physical aspects.
The emotional ones are far more insidious. The other person will find it impossible not to resent you for sleeping, especially if, like me, you are able to sleep like a hibernating bear. You will find it hard to not feel affronted at being resented for performing a fairly routine bodily function.
Then there’s the constant updates like a Twitter feed. It’s all variations of the same theme: I feel so tired. God I’m tired. It’s alright for you, I’m tired.
I am not being flippant about it, but we reached a situation where his insomnia wasn’t working for me, and it definitely wasn’t working for him.
I was at my wits end when I bumped into an old colleague who confided in me about his insomnia. “Who fixed it?” I asked quickly.
“Tim Smale, he’s amazing. He used hypnotherapy.”
In my line of work I know enough about hypnosis to know it isn’t all pendulums and making people hop on one foot. But my husband was another matter – I wasn’t sure how he’d receive the idea of hypnotherapy. Still he had reached the point where he was ready to try anything.
Further digging reassured me about Tim’s credentials – he doesn’t just deal with sleep hypnosis but weight loss, self-confidence and so on. If anyone could get to the root of Rob’s sleep issues, he’d do it.
Rob had three sessions. After the first, I didn’t notice much difference. I asked Rob how the sessions were and he was fairly close-mouthed. After the second session I noticed more of a shift – and he described Tim as a kind of therapist who tackled the sleep problems but also delved into the surrounding issues.
And although it wasn’t like a dramatic switch, over the weeks, Rob actually began to sleep. Gone was the fidgetiness. Gone was the doomsday statement 10 minutes into bedtime of “I’m never going to sleep”. Gone was the anger at not being able to sleep.
The effect on our lives has been transformative. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the odd day of bad sleep but more often than not, he’s sleeping better than he ever did.
The sessions may seem like a lot of money (£250 per session), but you’ll need two or three at most. And honestly, it’s the price of a short break and will positively impact your life in a huge way.
From the point of view of the insomniac
I’ve never been a great sleeper. More of an in-bed worrier. But it had never been that bad.
Once full-blown insomnia took hold, it rapidly began destroying my life. Sorry wife, yes I’d become a moaner (about not sleeping, not in my sleep).
Work, my social life, and – crucially – my marriage were falling apart. Laying in bed at night in the sure knowledge I’d be awake when my wife got up to go to work wasn’t so much chipping away at my sanity, it was hacking away at it with an axe.
I can’t say hypnotherapy was something I would ever have considered – a bit hippie dippie for my tastes. But I went to see Tim with as much of an open mind as I could muster; and frankly I would have given voodoo a try if I thought there was a chance it would break the pattern before I completely fell apart.
While it is clearly part of how Tim approaches the process, he certainly clocked me for a bit of a sceptic and took care throughout to explain the science that informs the process throughout. I think he was left a little goggle-eyed at the scope and severity of the issues I felt needed to be resolved in my life to make any real process with both my sleep problems and their root causes, but he is clearly a man who relishes a challenge.
The first session was all kinds of things – relaxing, fun, fascinating – but a cure for my insomnia? I can’t say I was terribly convinced. After all, Tim hadn’t even mentioned sleep.
Aha! I’m sure he’d say. This, clearly, is where it’s necessary to hammer home that this is hypno-therapy, not hypno-tism. I’m sure Tim would agree that in his experience of treating clients that whether they can’t stop smoking, eating, gambling – start sleeping – or whatever, there’s a common thread of issues around how we perceive ourselves and our ability to make changes in our lives that is the foundation of the problems in our lives over which we feel we have no control.
Pretty sensible stuff, and straight out of every self-help book ever written, right? But crucial to understanding why hypnotherapy is effective. This isn’t some joker in a bad pastel suit making housewives do the chicken dance, but a clever, intuitive therapist using suggestion techniques to unpick negative self-perceptions and reinforce positive thought patterns.
In fact, not once in three sessions did Tim mention sleep while I was on the couch – but an ongoing straw poll of off-the-cuff responses to a range of questions around self-belief, confidence, fear (or lack of it) about the future and so on saw radical improvement from one appointment to the next.
And hey, my sleep began to improve. Now the super-critical scientist that lurks on my shoulder says there were other factors in play – and she’d be right. But it is very clear Tim has an important role to play in my returning to some semblance of normal sleep, despite my initial scepticism.
Tim Smale has clearly found his vocation – a profession that allows him to help those who believe themselves beyond help, and to do some with grace, charm and humour. Clearly this is more than just a job to him, the simple pleasure he gets in seeing his clients’ lives improve shines through. And from the looks of the pile of half-full cigarette packets in a jumbled pile by his office door, he has had a great deal of success treating those who come to him, skeptical or not.
My sleep still isn’t perfect. But as my wonderful wife says: result? Absolutely.
For more information, visit Mindworks.