Image of Sydney in a red top and black cardigan sat down with her arm around her guide dog Mac

The Trouble with Sleep

Sydney LOOK's Mentor Project Officer for Sussex shares with us the highs and lows of her sleep journey and the lightbulb moment that changed her relationship with sleep forever.

My name is Sydney, I work for Look UK and I have always had a love-hate-relationship with sleep.

Where it all began

I’ve had trouble sleeping for as long as I can remember. Even as a very young child, I would often be lying wide awake, and extremely bored when my mum would come to bed hours after my bedtime.

I think it got worse as I got older, to the point that I know I was sleeping roughly four hours a night through my GCSEs, and somehow functioning.

As a teenager, I discovered the wonders of the weekend lie-in and regularly slept until 11 am on a Saturday. I think this was how I coped with so little sleep during the week, getting up for school no matter what time I eventually fell asleep. The weekend felt like a recharge, a chance to catch up on some hours of sleep I couldn’t get during the week.

The lightbulb moment

I never really understood why I couldn’t sleep until I was in my twenties when I came across the term “Non-24 syndrome.” Reading about non-24 sleep disorder was my lightbulb moment when it all made sense.

If you haven’t heard of it before, non-24 is a term used when your sleep cycle or circadian rhythm is out of sync with the 24 hour day. The 24 hour day is a man made concept which your body’s natural rhythms may not be in line with.

For most people, this natural rhythm is influenced by the light of day and the dark of night. I’m not going to go into the science of the chemicals, but it goes without saying that if you don’t have light and dark going into your brain, as I don’t due to no sight, your circadian rhythm may decide to do exactly what it wants to do, as mine does. It’s sort of like having constant jet lag.

It explains perfectly why I always felt like my optimum time for sleeping was roughly 4 am to 11 am. A good 7 hours of sleep, just an inconvenient 7 hours if you have work or have to get up for school!

Then I knew, it wasn’t that I couldn’t sleep, it’s that I couldn’t sleep when society said I should be sleeping. This plagues me to this day, though I have noticed that it shifts as time goes on.

As I write this, I have most recently been struggling to combat a strong urge to sleep at around 3:30pm in the afternoon and finding it hard to fall asleep when I go to bed at around 11 pm. It’s an exhausting pattern but it has become a part of life for me.

Image of a woman with her back to the camera meditating with the sunset in front of her sat in a field.

What works for me…

As for trying to make myself sleep at night-time when my brain absolutely does not want to, I think it’s safe to say I’ve tried everything. Herbal remedies, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, calming music and sounds, medication prescribed by a doctor, but nothing seems to be a permanent solution.

I’ve watched endless sleep documentaries which all come to the same conclusion, that light is the key. Not very helpful for one who can’t see light!

If you’re going through this too, here are my pearls of wisdom from my years of experience.

  • Learn relaxation techniques.
  • Relaxing music.
  • Exercising.
  • Herbal sleep remedies.
  • Test if you might be sensitive to caffeine by cutting it out.
  • Speak to your doctor about different options that may help to aid sleep.

These days I use a combination of herbal remedies, relaxing music and nature sounds, I also exercise more than I ever have and cut out caffeine completely.

My best advice is to find different things which help and don’t use the same thing every night so your body can’t get too used to it.

Try and force your body into some sort of pattern whether it likes it or not, avoid caffeine and blue light if you are looking at screens and try to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle.

Wishing you the best of luck on your sleep journey!

For more useful articles, tips and advice, take a look at our Resources pages.

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