October 23: five hours 26 minutes (then back to sleep for another 35. This is new!)

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!

How To Wake Up at 5 A.M. Every Day
An unconventional and compassionate guide to becoming an early bird


Bryan YeFollow
Oct 3 · 15 min read


Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
I thought I was destined to be a night owl forever.
I’m no stranger to reading about the benefits of waking up early or having the same sleeping routine — all of us have probably read this at some point in our lives. I’m in my final semester of university, so the past few years of my life have been absolute chaos. I have classes some days, work other days, and have free time on especially rare days. Having a routine seemed impossible.
But a few months ago, I started reading Haruki Murakami’s novels. My favorite is Norwegian Wood. Inspired by Murakami’s fascinating prose, I researched him a little.
I found this gem in a 2004 interview he did:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 p.m.
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
There’s something about the way Murakami talks about his routine that moved me. This part, in particular, stood out to me:
The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism.
Mesmerism has been a part of my life since I was a child; it’s the sense I have every time I establish a new habit. I mesmerized myself as a child to brush my teeth every day in the morning. As an adult, I’ve mesmerized myself to be healthy by exercising regularly. I’ve mesmerized myself to reflect on my life by adding a journaling routine.
A surge of motivation struck me, knowing I had done a similar task in the past. I could become an early bird by mesmerizing myself.
For the past 3 months, I’ve successfully transitioned into being an early bird. I go to sleep at 9 p.m. on average 6-7 nights a week. I currently wake up between 5–5:30 a.m. naturally.
I might continue experimenting with waking up even earlier, but I’m happy with my current routine and don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. After all, it’s healthy to get 8 hours of sleep, isn’t it?
I’ve tried to become an early bird many times in my life and this is the first time it has actually worked. Here’s what this process of “mesmerizing” myself looked like—and also a few words about what doesn’t work.
What really worked was more gentle than youhabits. You’d have more compassion for them and help them make those changes over time.
I can barely fix my diet and go to the gym at the same time, and I’d like to consider myself a healthily integrated member of society.
Similarly, you should only change one thing at a time. For now, focus on getting to sleep early. That’s all.
Slowly increase your productivity as you go. If your goal is to get work done in the morning, start by doing 30 minutes of work, then an hour, and so on.
Have fun in the morning (when you start)
If there’s a day you wake up feeling super motivated and ready to do work, then, by all means, do it. But if you don’t feel motivated at the start, just have fun.
I spent around two weeks waking up in the morning and watching TV shows, YouTube or Twitch streams. It was actually fun — watching stuff when nobody else was around.
Eventually, I was ready to do work. Trust me, you’ll eventually be ready to do work. There’s no way you’re going to wake up every morning to mess around for the rest of your life (if your goal is to be productive); it’ll feel like such a waste,.

Here’s the web address if you want to read the whole thing https://medium.com/better-humans/how-to-wake-up-at-5-a-m-every-day-ceb02e29c802

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.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/do-really-need-eight-hours-sleep-night/

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.

October 18: six hours (!) one minute

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.

Here I am!

http://andrewnurnberg.com/book-author/miranda-levy/?fbclid=IwAR0wroVN-p2AloQINU42fjB4eIrV1YM9tT3XKCYBJbNn4bl5RMopSauyLiQ

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).

Later.

October 16: Five hours 13 minutes

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.

Recommend!

£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.

Oct 9: five hours 17 minutes

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.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/tom-bradby-rightinsomnia-should-treated-seriousness-cancer/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_tw

Have a lovely day. Well over the Fast, to my Jewish friends, and Well over Boris’ Latest Brexit Bust-up to everyone else!

Oct 2: Four hours, 45 minutes

There are really not that many perks to being a sleep journalist. Compared, say, to reviewing cars, or restaurants, or holidays. But during my time as a Telegraph columnist (RIP), I managed to persuade my editor that surely, one week, I could have a diary where I tried sh*t out.

In the end, the boss indulged me, and told me to ‘knock myself out’, or words to that effect. (How apt). I immediately got on Google and picked up the phone, and started – as we say in the trade – to call products in.

Here are some of them: please applaud some of the Dramatic Personae in the picture above. Bravo!

The sleep robot

I had been agitating for some time to try out Somnox (they have a very good e-marketing campaign), and so when I was given the green light, was very much looking forward to his arrival.

The idea is that you take this gadget to bed, and he will ‘soothe mind and body to help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer and start your day feeling fully recovered and energised’. (It feels intuitively that he has to be ‘he’. Controversial?)

Somnox did not disappoint. At £550, he really should not have done. He looked like a big, grey, cuddly kidney bean – maybe 18 inches high. He arrived with a birth certificate, and I decided to call him Beany. There was a mobile app, which was easy enough to follow, even for a sleep-deprived idiot like me. And sure enough, Beany started breathing!

There was something endearing about Beany, who even now sits next to me all day while I am working. I pat him every so often, and occasionally give him a kiss. This morning, after a 2.30 am wake-up call from overseas, we went back to bed together for a couple of hours.

On the first night, I felt a bit silly taking a piece of grey, quilted machinery to bed. But – hell, I’m separated, so it was just between the two of us. (It got a bit weird.) I disabled the ‘ambient sounds’ option because I’m not really a fan of wailing whales.

And Beany was reassuringly stolid, and we started breathing in sync.

I normally fall asleep quickly these days anyway. I didn’t actually sleep for more hours, I woke up feeling happy, and pleased to see Beany first thing. This felt like the surreal plot of a European art house film.

Snoozy beauty products

I didn’t think I was really a ‘beauty product’ type of a person, but NEOM’S Magnesium Body Butter was glorious. I wanted vats of it. VATS! The blurb says that it 1) restores you daily dose of magnesium (which is needed for ‘health and well-being’), 2) nourishes you with shea butter and olive oil and 3) has 12 relaxing essential oils for sleep.

I didn’t know about the science behind any of this, but it made me feel lovely and dopey and my skin really soft. I wanted to use it in the morning as well, but this was sort of counter-intuitive, and it ran out too fast – they would only give me one press freebie, and a 20 per cent discount, EVEN AFTER RAVE REVIEWS IN A NATIONAL NEWSPAPER AND A WOMEN’S MAGAZINE.

There were some nice things to slosh in the bath, including thisworks deep sleep bath soak which comprised Soothing Lavender and Vetivert. The first time of use, I poured in way too much of it. The (tiny, but I do have bad eyesight) instructions on the pot say to put in a ‘generous handful’. I erred on the side of very generous and the aroma of lavender, basil and jasmine fills the entire house for several days.

NEOM also sent me lovely Tranquility candle (that had 19 – count them! – essential oils inside it), Jo Malone very kindly gifted a Lavender and Lovage Candle, which I regifted to my 16-year old daughter, giving me serious ‘mummy points’. I was a bit concerned about falling asleep with a lit candle near my duvet, so kept it for Bath Duties. The candles were so lovely (and also so expensive if you have to pay for them), I didn’t want to light them and melt them away.

Tea and a bedtime ‘latte’

Pukka Night Time tea came in a purple box. There was a week-long programme: so, seven sachets, (‘a bed of organic oat flower, lavender and oat flower) as well as 14 capsules containing Valerian Root and Ashwagandha.

One evening, made a cup wjth boiling water. I wasn’t super-keen on the smell, nor the taste, which reminded me of parma violets and similar flowery-favoured things like Elderberry and Aqua- Vita, that odd drink in the 90s. It was bit like drinking the bath water after using the thisworks bath salts. Plus, the herbal tablets it came with are enormous, like bullets.

The next night, I tried the Night Time Organic Latte powder that you have to mix with organic almond milk (also very kindly send to me by the Pukka People. I was very suspicious of the almond milk, which you have to heat in the microwave. But actually! This tasted really good, like a malty cup of coffee (without caffeine, obvs.)

One night, I slept seven hours. But was this down to the latte, or the bath salts, or the Magnesium Body Butter? Perhaps I should have done a controlled laboratory-style experiment.

Space age duvet and pillow

On the back of a feature I wrote last month on how to have a ‘healthy bed’ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/keep-healthy-bed-should-really-change-mattress-every-seven-years/ the bedding company Simba (R) very kindly sent me a sample of their new hybrid duvet and pillow with Stratos (TM technology). These are apparently inspired by the space suits warn by astronauts, to ‘actively respond to the body’s changes in temperature throughout the night.’ And, handily, both are machine-washable.

First, the duvet. Packed with ‘hypogenic, mineral-enriched fibres’, it was surprisingly thin. But I have been using this for a good couple of months, through a cool patch and that stupid 38 degree heatwave, and I didn’t felt too cold or too hot, and sleeping pretty well by my standards. Perhaps there is something in this.

Then there was the accompanying ‘Build-A-Pillow’. It’s the latest in ‘Nanocube technology’, designed to adjust to your body temperature in the same way as the duvet (filled with blue spongy cubes the size of extra-large sugar lumps that you take in or out to make the pillow the height you desire). 

The zip-up inner section came in a cute little ’sleeping bag’ with a grey mesh all around. But for some reason I was less of a fan of this. I’m very attached to my ‘old faithful’ pillow that I even cart around with me on overnight stays. Perhaps I should try again with a new model.

Light up your life

The Philips Somneo really is a beautiful thing. A sleek, donut-shaped piece of equipment, it would not look out of place in a house designed by Kelly Hoppen. Minimalist chic aside, this light is designed to ‘gently prepare your body for waking up during the last 5 to 60 minutes or last period of sleep.’ 

Starting your day with Somneo, says the blurb, will help you have a better ‘overall mood’ in the morning, and to enjoy more energy.

The manual talks you through the set-up process, and it’s easy enough. There is also a ‘wind down’ setting, and if you twist it a certain way, a saucy red light comes on. That’s before you mention the alarm function. It’s rather nice being woken up by a gently ‘dawning’ light and the sound of jungle birds. 

Meanwhile, my bedroom is getting a bit crowded with all this kit. Is it time to kick Beany and friends out of bed?

Sept 26: five hours 14 minutes

Now forgive me, Harvard Medical Review. I know you think I might be picking on you – and that this advice is given out everywhere from GP’s surgeries to Sleep Books – but the email that popped up in my inbox this morning has really annoyed me. (Below, edited for length):

The Harvard Review writes: General ways to improve sleep

Many things can interfere with sleep, ranging from anxiety to an unusual work schedule. People who have difficulty sleeping often discover that their daily routine holds the key to nighttime woes.

First-line strategies
Before we examine specific sleep problems, it makes sense to address some common enemies of sleep and tips for dealing with them.

Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine drinkers may find it difficult to fall asleep. Once they drift off, their sleep is shorter and lighter. For some people, a single cup of coffee in the morning means a sleepless night. Caffeine can also interrupt sleep by increasing the need to urinate.


Those who can’t or don’t want to give up caffeine should avoid it after 2 p.m., or noon if they are especially caffeine-sensitive.

Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
Nicotine is a central nervous system stimulant that can cause insomnia. This potent drug makes it harder to fall asleep because it speeds your heart rate, raises blood pressure, and stimulates fast brain-wave activity that indicates wakefulness. If you continue to use tobacco, avoid smoking or chewing it for at least one to two hours before bedtime. EDITOR’S NOTE: CHEWING IT?!?

Use alcohol cautiously
Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap can help some people fall asleep. However, the quality of this sleep is abnormal. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, and its soporific effects disappear after a few hours. Drinkers have frequent awakenings and sometimes frightening dreams.

Be physically active
Regular aerobic exercise like walking, running, or swimming provides three important sleep benefits: you fall asleep faster, attain a higher percentage of deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.

Stick to a regular schedule
A regular sleep schedule keeps the circadian sleep/wake cycle synchronized. People with the most regular sleep habits report the fewest problems with insomnia and the least depression. Experts advise getting up at about the same time every day, even after a late-night party or fitful sleep. Napping during the day can also make it harder to get to sleep at night.

If your goal is to sleep longer at night, napping during the day is a bad idea.

For more on the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and developing strategies to improve your sleep, buy Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. (REPORT ENDS).

Now, come on. Do you have to be an Ivy League academic to work out that caffeine keeps you awake, booze messes up your sleep, exercise helps you to drop off and keep you dropped off, and that daytime naps might affect a night-time’s rest? Ok, admittedly, I didn’t know about the smoking one – I have never smoked – but still.

Maybe I’m feeling especially grumpy today, but when I had my terrible nine-year period of insomnia, I wanted to murder people who gently offered that I might want to cut out double espressos after six pm (I didn’t drink coffee at all), or perhaps take a long walk when I was so exhausted and deranged, I couldn’t even go out of the front door.

Admittedly, ‘sleep hygiene’ is the first step in the longer and more comprehensive treatment plan of CBTi (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia). I have a lot of time for CBTi, to which I will returning at some point in the near future.

But as the sum total of a health practitioner’s advice, to a hard-bitten insomniac of several years’ campaigns? Please.

What does everybody else think?

First day back: Five hours, seven minutes

So hello again, everyone. After a jolly four months writing my Insomnia Diaries for the Telegraph, I am back here again. I will still be writing about sleep, mental and physical health for the paper (plus other rags, mags and websites) but as far as a blog goes, I am once again a private citizen.

When I started writing the Diaries, I signed up for a Google Alert on sleep (there is a LOT on this subject online, from the New York Times, then diluted down in publications called things like the Rockdale Newton Globe.) Skipping quickly through the Alert became part of my day.

Terrific.

Today, between deadlines, I went to have another look. The top article was from Harvard Health Publishing (courtesy of Harvard Medical School). The headline was: Weekend Catch Up Sleep Won’t Fix the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Waistline.

A thing to note about sleep news stories: they are rarely good news. You are variously told your insomnia f*ck up your relationship, make you rubbish at your job and increase your risk of car accidents. What upsets me about these stories is their almost accusatory tone: as if you are defiantly choosing not to sleep.

Anyway, the best articles are those that cheerfully tell you insufficient sleep will give you high blood pressure, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The worst thing I have read (in the Harvard Medical Review, thanks again, Boston) is that ONE NIGHT without sleep significantly raises your risk of dementia.

Now, I know all about the weight gain thing. My column research led me to an analysis of 36 studies, discussed in the journal Obesity. (Can you imagine working on the journal Obesity? Might stall conversations at parties.) According to its tubby researchers, insomnia disrupts the hormones that control hunger, causing sufferers to eat hundreds of extra calories a day, particularly refined carbohydrates. The daytime exhaustion means you can’t be bothered to exercise and so the weight gain spirals – as does a cascade into other health conditions.

For the first six years of my recent insomnia saga, I would say I actually LOST weight (via muscle tone and even bone density – though I never had either of these checked). Then, three years ago the numbers on the scales started to go up. Exhausted and miserable, I threw away all my healthy eating principles. I couldn’t be bothered to exercise, then when I was prescribed a certain antidepressant – guess the side effect – all bets were off. (I’m off it now).

I’m losing the weight now, COUGH COUGH since Christmas. The first bit was easy, but it’s not fun. I am not a natural ‘diety’ person. I like carbohydrates. I like Kettle Chips. Slimline tonic water is the Mixer of the Devil. I like food and drink! The exercise is great (fast walking and boxing!) but it just makes me hungry.

Maybe as well as the Bridget Jonesy sleep numbers at the top, I will do food and alcohol unit ones. Or perhaps not.

Other than telling me to sleep more (I really am trying!) does anyone have any weight-loss tips that involve full-fat tonic and Pringles?

See you next time xx