Aster acquires insomnia memoir by journalist Miranda Levy
Aster (part of Octopus Publishing Group) has acquired The Insomnia Diaries: How I Learned to Sleep Again by journalist Miranda Levy. Stephanie Jackson, Octopus Books publishing director, acquired UK Commonwealth excluding Canada from Charlotte Seymour at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. The book will be published on 3 June 2021 at £9.99.
After a single, catastrophic event, journalist Miranda Levy had one sleepless night, then another, and then another. She sought help from anyone she could: doctors, an acupuncturist, a reiki practitioner, a hypnotist, a therapist, a personal trainer – but nothing seemed to work.
Sleep, wellbeing and mental health are intrinsically linked. Yet sleeplessness is surprisingly common: 16 million of us suffer from insomnia, and the sleep industry is worth £100 billion (Daily Mail). Insomnia affects about a third of adults at least once a week (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Lack of sleep costs the UK economy £40 billion each year (Rand Corporation). And rates of sleep disturbance have skyrocketed during the
pandemic – with worry-related sleep loss rising by 34% overall, and more than doubling in some groups (Public Health England – Every Mind Matters).
In The Insomnia Diaries, Miranda Levy tells the story of her experience of severe, crippling insomnia that affected every aspect of her life for years, and how she ultimately recovered. Part memoir, part reportage, this book will help anyone who struggles to get a good night’s sleep – whether occasionally or all of the time – appreciate the issues and understand the options as they find their best way to get the rest they need.
Dr Sophie Bostock, scientist, sleep expert and member of the team who developed the award- winning digital programme Sleepio, contributes a foreword. She and a host of expert contributors have advised on the medical elements within the text throughout.
Miranda Levy commented; ‘Insomnia – or even a few nights’ missed sleep – can be incredibly debilitating. It’s also the loneliest condition one can imagine. I hope this book can be of solace and support when it’s just you, at 3.52, and only the numbers on your alarm clock for company.’
Publishing Director Stephanie Jackson said of the acquisition: ‘Who among us – especially these days – hasn’t encountered a sleepless night or two? Add the daily grind, parenthood (perhaps) or the challenges of midlife, and the notion of refreshing nights of deep sleep on the regular might feel out of reach. What Miranda Levy’s extraordinary story shows us is the extremes it’s possible to reach, the potential impact on every aspect of life and why it’s incredibly important to seek help when normal function is interrupted.
Shocking – yet warm, relatable and optimistic too, The Insomnia Diaries will resonate with anyone who’s ever struggled to sleep.’
The Insomnia Diaries by Miranda Levy will be published by Aster on the 3rd of June 2021 at
health – for titles including the Telegraph platforms, the Mail on Sunday and the i. Miranda hascontributed to the Spectator, the Jewish Chronicle
What started as a one-off article, then a blog, then an online newspaper column has become an Actual Book. Yes sirree.
Last night I hefted off SIXTY THOUSAND WORDS off to my editor. For reasons around sales and marketing, I’m not ‘allowed’ to say what it’s called, or who is publishing it (though Google could possibly be your friend here).
Anyway. It’s out on June 3rd 2021, and I’m going for a lie-down.
All of which begs some questions. Is it really surprising that people are more stressed – or more sad – during a period in which their parents are at risk of dying, and they are about to lose their jobs? That they are nervous of getting on public transport because that hand-rail might be covered in coronaviruses? That all those masked-up faces make us feel jittery and uncomfortable?
I’d say this is pretty normal, and pretty understandable. So why then are we having all these medical diagnoses slapped on us?
But, go to your GP complaining of low mood, or anxiety, and the chances are they will whip out their little green prescription pad.
Now, some people don’t mind taking tablets. They are lucky in that medications make them feel better, they simply finish the packet, and carry on with their lives. But many others do not have this experience.
Some find that even while taking psychotropic medications, they feel groggy, tearful, emotionally numb, fat. Suicidal, even.
So they try to stop.
And they find they can’t. The withdrawal symptoms are so severe.
From 2010 to 2019, I suffered with terrible insomnia triggered by the end of my marriage. But after my heartache had faded, my sleeplessness continued, taking on a life of its own.
I went to the doctor, and was put on a Psychiatric Safari, as consultants threw pill after pill at my condition.
So when, in 2016, I was offered a newish medication called Pregabalin – my doctor told me he would treat my ‘anxiety’ with no side-effects whatsoever – I thought I would give it a shot.
Four years later, I am well and happy (no thanks to the drugs). I am sleeping again. How I got ‘better’ is a long story, to be told elsewhere. But I am still trying to get off the pregabalin. The withdrawals are pretty bad.
I’m a chronic insomniac – but unlike others, I’m sleeping just fine through coronavirus
After years of anxiety-related sleep problems, our writer learned the power of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – and you can tooByMiranda Levy5 April 2020 • 4:00pmPremium
For several years I suffered from insomnia so severe, it derailed my career, sent me spiralling into depression, and separated me from family and friends. Time healed me: I’ve been okay for a year now. So, on 24 March, when Boris made that solemn red-eyed speech announcing ‘lockdown’, I went cold all over. Yup, the Covid situation was serious now. But my immediate selfish thought was: I do not want to go ‘back there’ again.
My last bout of sleeplessness was triggered by a domestic crisis – the end of my marriage – so what chance would I have with a world calamity? But you know what? Despite the odd anxiety spike, I am doing okay. Most importantly, I’m sleeping just fine, which for me is a solid six hours.
At the worst point of my insomnia, nothing seemed to help – but when I was well enough to seek more psychological advice, I took it. And the key to this was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia – or CBTi. According to the prestigious US Mayo clinic: “Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia is a structured program that helps you identify and replace thoughts and behaviours that cause or worsen sleep problems with habits that promote sound sleep.”
Sophie Bostock has a PhD in behavioural psychology and is a self-described ‘sleep evangelist’. She is a firm believer in the benefits of CBTi. “CBTi aims to give you a set of ‘tools’ with which to tackle your sleep problem. One set are physical (behavioural), and the other set psychological (cognitive).”
My most important ‘take away’ from CBTi is how your daylight hours set you up for the night. A routine gives you structure and purpose. As a self-employed writer, I’ve had practice at this, but in Corona-times I’m trying to stick to it more than ever. Broadly speaking: I wake up to the Today programme, look at social media, have a bath, do some work, eat meals at regular times, and make sure I do my allowed ‘one a day’ exercise: a 20-minute walk at least around some local fields. “Fresh air is really important,” says Bostock. “Because we have less exposure to light this time of year, we have a shorter ‘photo period’. Our circadian rhythm is affected and our body clock doesn’t wake up properly. This means we are less likely to sleep well the following night.”
Late afternoon, I start my evening routine. “Think back to when you were a child or had a baby of your own,” says Deborah Forsythe, a consultant who runs clinics advising menopausal women. “The routine was early tea, slow play, a bath, hot drink, and bedtime story. Adults needs their own version.” Mine includes a glass of wine, some TV, and social media or phone chats, a second warm bath with Epsom salts and a scented candle and NO NEWS AT TEN. “Upsetting news fires up anxiety and puts us into a hyper-vigilant state – the opposite of what we need to sleep,`’ says Bostock. The latest I will go is the Six O’Clock news, but I’m starting to avoid that as well.
CBT therapists encourage their clients to go to bed only when they are sleepy, advice I keenly follow. Bostock talks about the ‘quarter hour rule’ where, if you are in bed for 15 minutes and still wide awake or feeling anxious, you should get up, stop stewing and go and read a book (TV is not recommended because the ‘blue light’ it emits affects the hormones in your brain that promote sleep).
I have also started practising ‘sleep contraction’, which, despite its name, is not to restrict the amount of time spent asleep, but the time in bed doing other things which can interfere. So, I go to bed at around midnight and awake naturally at about 6am. I wake up at least once during the night and check my phone – bad! – but am fortunate enough to drop off back to sleep.
Things aren’t perfect – on ‘just’ six hours I am often tired – but compared with 18 months ago, it’s a revelation. One which means that, come the morning, I can thanks the Gods of Sleep. And, instead of cursing the sun, I salute it.
Miranda Levy is a columnist who wrote The Insomnia Diaries about her battle with insomnia. You can read them here.
Like many people this weekend, I followed – appalled – the news of TV presenter Caroline Flack’s suicide. While never a fan of her shows, I found the whole thing particularly shocking and upsetting. Maybe this was because of her age (she was only 40) – but also her ubiquity, and her seeming vulnerability. There was something of the Amy Winehouse about her death, but less expected.
Then, out of the general sadness, a weird sub-theme quickly emerged. People were blaming ‘the media’ for Flack’s death. Within hours, Hollyoaks actress Stephanie Davis had arranged a petition on change.org calling for ‘Caroline’s Law’ – new legislation to protect celebrities from being exploited by ‘the media’. By Monday lunchtime, 224,000 people had signed it.
A quick side-note at this point: railing at ‘the media’ is like railing against ‘winter’ or ‘food’. It’s such a ridiculously general term. ‘The media’ is not some super-state like the USSR, but covers anything from the New Statesman to the Sun to Good Morning Britain. Whether it covers social media or not, seems to be up for debate – an important debate, which I touch on below. Either way, by Saturday night, people on Twitter had started hurling abuse at journalists – including myself, and I have never been a showbiz reporter. Perhaps it’s all par for the course: we hacks are an easy target.
But the one thing that really made me sit up was a tweet from a SAMHI, the Suicide Awareness and Mental Health Initiative. Showing a smiling picture of Flack and the logos of three tabloid newspapers, it wrote: The people telling you to mourn the sad death of a young person & to talk about mental health are the same people who caused it. DON’T BUY THEM. DON’T CLICK THEM. DON’T SHARE THEM.
I was furious. The assertion that newspapers or TV reporters can cause people to kill themselves is wrong-headed and ridiculous.
Unfortunately, I have some personal experience of suicide. A close family member took their own life 2011. And, during a long period of insomnia and depression earlier this decade, I flirted with the idea myself.
The SAMHI tweet showed an extraordinary lack of insight into what causes suicide. (I looked SAMHI up by the way. They are ‘a group of 15 Football Clubs from the Greater Shankill (Northern Ireland). This group was set up to help raise awareness about suicide and mental health.’) And while any organisation which supports people with mental illness is entirely laudable, SAHMI are not the Samaritans. Speaking of the Samaritans, their media guidelines on the subject of suicide reporting are clear. ‘Over-simplification of the causes or perceived ‘triggers’ for a suicide can be misleading, and unlikely to reflect accurately the complexity of suicide,’ says the website. ‘For example, avoid the suggestion that a single incident, such as a loss of a job, relationship breakdown or bereavement, was the cause.’ Most pertinently, perhaps, the post goes on to say: ‘Approximately ninety per cent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health problem at the time of death.’
By all accounts, Caroline Flack was a troubled young woman. While the facts have not been fully disclosed, before she killed herself on Saturday, she had just received news of a court date: the CPS had charged her with a serious assault on her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, 27. He was apparently asleep at the time (he has since denied the assault took place). Flack allegedly attacked police officers who came to the house. There is bodycam footage of the latter. According to friends, Flack was particularly concerned about the film coming to light, and its potential effect on her career, already damaged by the assault allegations. Even before this latest incident, there were murmurings about substance abuse and erratic behaviour. When Flack was 32, she ‘dated’ the One Direction singer Harry Styles, who she met while she was hosting the X-Factor in autumn 2011. He was 17 at the time.
Caroline Flack lived her life by social media. Her last public act was a set of racy Instagram photos in a black bra and red lipstick, apparently aimed at Burton, who she was barred from seeing after the assault. Burton’s heartbroken response to her death was relayed via the same medium. Flack boosted her fame and presumably her income on social media, which predictably turned on her after the assault. Twitter and Facebook currently are hosting a lot of the vile abuse heaped on journalist colleagues of mine – some have been named as ‘murderers’; others have received death threats. If there is to be regulation of ‘the media’ anywhere, it should probably start here.
A person on the verge of suicide is frozen in a numb, dark world where nothing and no-one can touch them. If they are looking anywhere, it at to their internal hell. It is not at the words of a showbiz reporter. There was only one person responsible for this terrible event. And while her family have my deepest sympathy, that person was Caroline Flack.
So, I was diddling about on my laptop this morning, procrastinating and time-wasting as per, when my daily email came through from Medium Daily Digest. It’s an American website, big on mental health articles, and I pay my $4 a month in the vain hope there may be some story ideas to nick.
Anyway, at 8.30am, this arrived. I almost spat out my skinny latte (sorry, sleep hygienists, it’s my one-a-day).
For some reason WordPress wouldn’t let me ’embed’ the link so you can have access – shame, it had a cool illustration. So I’ve just pasted the first few paragraphs here. (For reasons unknown, it’s justified centrally, like a menu).
The title of the piece is: How to Wake Up at 5am Every Day. How, Bryan Ye? HOW? You have bloody insomnia, that’s how!
Bryan’s article follows on from some research this summer from the University of California, which said that we are programmed to be a certain ‘chronotype’ – a term given to describe our natural time-preferences for waking, activity and sleep.
Scientists believe our body clocks are set by genetic code, but they are designed to adapt to our environment, and change as we get older.
So, for example, children and the elderly tend to be early birds, whereas teenagers have a delayed clock, which makes it genuinely difficult for them to go to bed early or wake up early in the morning (hmm). Men under the age of 40 have ‘later’ chronotypes than women – which is why they can always stay up til the end of Match of the Day on Saturday nights – but earlier chronotypes in later life.
A further study went on to say that chronotypes are fifty per cent determined by your genes, but there are techniques by which you can change yours. More on it here, below, in my Telegraph Insomnia Diary on the subject.
In the Medium piece, the writer is trying to change his chronotype to become an early bird, because he’s heard early mornings are the best time of day to be creative. It made me snicker because I thought: FINALLY. I am effortlessly good at something.
But, then, I thought about it a bit more. He has a point about those early hours.
Right now, it’s 06.37am, and still pitch black outside. I’ve been awake since around five thirty. I’m sitting in the kitchen with my stuff spread out all over the kitchen table, drinking my One A Day Latte, writing this.
It’s quiet (the rest of the house don’t get up til about 7.3o. I have already asked Alexa to play some of my ‘morning songs’. These include:
* I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash (remember the 80s cinema Nescafé ad where the girl makes a cup of coffee in her car at sunrise, with one of those water-heater things?)
* Here Comes The Sun and Good Day, Sunshine, by The Beatles
* Lovely Day, by Bill Withers
* Good Morning, Good Morning from Singing In The Rain
* Morning Has Broken (Cat Stevens’ version)
While I’m listening to these, I start work. And, yes Bryan Ye, without sounding too w*nky, I agree with you. This is a creative time of day. I do my best writing between 5.30 and 8am, and some of my clearest thinking.
In a few minutes (will it EVER get light this morning? It’s ten to seven and still inky out there) I will salute the sun and address the day.
It wasn’t always like this. In the worst period of my insomnia (Summer 2010 – Jan 2019), I HATED the early mornings with a passion. The dawn chorus made me want to commit mass murder because I couldn’t face another day on this diet of exhaustion.
But now I’m a solid five-hour-a-nighter, I increasingly love the pre-dawn hours. My friend, the Contrarian (her word) columnist Julie Burchill, calls her insomnia Extra Life.
At 07.52 this morning – if the morning ever decides to break – I think she has a point.
So. This week, I had some good news. I have an Agent to turn these haphazard wafflings into something approaching a book. She is the lovely Charlotte Seymour at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. No publisher confirmed yet, but there is some optimism.
Alphabetically on the agency website, I come after Harper Lee.
Meanwhile, the quest for sleep continues. The fellows at the top of this page have been employed to help. Most of them will appear in a story about Sleep for the Chanukah edition of Jewish News LIFE section. At least I will smell nice (if you like lavender and vetivert, whatever that is).
CBD oil and balm (cannabis without the fun bits) doesn’t smell nice, but many people swear by it for sleep, anxiety and pain relief. My jury is still out. But I got to interview a very nice Saracens rugby player called Dom Day, who started fourfivecbd with his teammate George Kruis.
If you want to read more on the subject, look at the @telegraph website for the Insomnia Diaries (RIP, but please don’t snore).
I’ve been wanting to write about my new weighted blanket for several days now, but haven’t been able to get up. Now I have managed to extricate myself from its loving embrace to bash out a few paragraphs.
Please read on if you are not horrified by the above unflattering (obviously non-professional) picture where I am cunningly disguised as an armchair.
So, weighted blankets have been a Thing in the States for a while now. They are being marketed as an aid to anything from insomnia to anxiety, ADHD, and even for children with autism or Asperger’s. The blurb from Mela Comfort, who kindly send me their product to try, is that it’s: ‘designed to be warm and to provide pressure to a person, mimicking the feeling of being held or hugged.’ The scientific jargon is that weighted blankets work through imitating ‘Deep Touch Pressure’ (DTP).
When Mela arrived last week arrived last week, the postman did not look best pleased.
This is because it weighs 15lbs, and that’s without the packaging. (The model I had is ‘lined with evenly distributed weight in the form of hypoallergic and SGS-certified glass pellets’).
I then had to schlap the blanket up the stairs, which was no easy feat. We stood there looking at one another for a while. Eventually, I hauled it out of the box, went back to my chair, dragging it behind me like Linus out of Peanuts. I sat back the armchair where I generally work (see above) with the blanket draped over my knees, like a crazy old lady.
I immediately felt calmer!
It had been a stressful day with a demanding magazine editor and a piece on tight deadline for a newspaper. But the weight of the blanket immediately made me relax. I shuffled onto the floor and (with a small struggle) pulled it up to my neck.
The best way to describe it to recall the feeling I had as a small child, tucked tightly into bed – so tightly I could hardly move – after a bath and a bedtime story, secure and loved. I wouldn’t say I am a particularly anxious person these days, but I definitely felt less ‘wound up’ under my blankie.
I needed a friend to help me put on the cover, which is made of soft, brushed, silver, ‘minky polyester: (‘minky’, anyone?) And so, the next night, I decided to try it for sleep – after all, insomnia is my raison d’être. I manhandled it onto the bed.
It looked nice, though significantly smaller than my kingsize duvet.
That tucked in toddler feeling was immediate. But on top of my duvet, it was too hot: without it, not quite warm enough (the size may have had something to do with it). In the end, I compromised, and draped it over my legs.
I slept slightly longer than average that night (maybe 20 minutes on top of my usual five hours). But no radical difference. Perhaps I needed to persevere a bit longer.
There’s no doubt I will take Mela for another spin in the bedroom. Many people have said and written that weighted blankets have transformed their sleeping patterns, helping them to drop off and say asleep for longer. And that’s fantastic.
For me, however, it’s during the day that I really love it. Not all day – there are times when I need to feel energised and even ‘wired’ to write. But certainly during my mid-afternoon slumps and ‘after work’, where I’m sending emails, chatting on the phone and watching TV.
£124.99 from melacomfort.co.uk: @melacomfort
More reasonable options include the YnM Weighted Blanket (£99) and the Koala (also £99). John Lewis do a version for sixty quid.
It’s Yom Kippur, I tried (and failed) to do a social media fast, and John Lennon would have been 79 today. Seventy nine!
Anyway, I just wanted to share my latest Agitation on behalf of Insomniacs – a rant which appears in today’s Telegraph online. If you aren’t a subscriber (and do subscribe! Save quality journalism and quality journalists! etc) you can register with your email address and get two free features a week. I think.