How I finally learned to sleep
For decades, Kate Edgley struggled with insomnia. She tried everything, but nothing seemed to work… Here, she reveals the terrible toll it took on her life – and how she eventually realised her dreams
My brain flickered into consciousness and, a moment later, a tiny lift in my chest made itself known. Glee. A simple but palpable joy on waking. I bounded out of bed, looking forward to the day. Then a sudden jolt had me standing, motionless, gazing across the room in wonder. I’m looking forward to my day! I’m looking forward to my day? Bloody hell! A slow grin squeezed my cheeks as energy zipped around my body and, refusing to be contained, had me gyrating my hips and arms in sync, dancing, naked, around my bedroom, wondering whether I’d care – or stop – if either of my teenage children walked in. I’m looking forward to my day! I’m looking forward to my day! Whaaaaa-hoo!
It was, in fact, an ordinary day. I was getting the train to work, sitting in an office, then coming home again. But my energy! I could feel it pulsing through me and my body tingled with vitality. Later, at my desk, my concentration was focused, the words I was reading hanging together. Walking around the building, my torso stood tall. In conversations, my brain and mouth played ball. None of which had been the case all on the same day for a long, long time.
The best part of this energised, vivacious me, however, was the absence of any niggling doubt. No background anxiety that I’d never feel like this again: that this was a one-off; that this was how everybody, except me, got to feel most of the time; that this being part of the human race again would be zapped away tomorrow.
No, this joyous life force, this jubilant exuberance for merely existing, was a part of me, propelling me into each moment. And, fabulously, amazingly, miraculously, I knew how to get it. After 20 years of not knowing and desperately trying, hoping, longing, and oh, so-wretchedly failing, I now knew how to sleep.
Sleep. The elixir of life. Something most people take for granted. Like oxygen. Or a skeleton. Or the sunrise. “I’m tired,” people say. And I resist the temptation to give them my life story. Or, at least, my night-time story of the past two decades.
It began when I was expecting my first child. “Pregnancy insomnia,” Google told me, “is common in the third trimester.” The discomfort of a distended stomach, added pressure on the bladder and heartburn were the reasonable-sounding causes – and I certainly experienced all those symptoms in the day. But at night, I would easily drop off to sleep only to wake, suddenly and completely, assuming it was morning. But it wasn’t. It was 4am. Or thereabouts. I was not uncomfortable and didn’t need to pee. I was, simply, maddeningly, wide awake and hyper alert.
The first few times, I heaved my body on to its side next to my peacefully sleeping husband and told myself that at least I was resting. Little nagging thoughts passed the time. Should I really have bought that tiny orange baby dress? Is the receipt in my purse? Heeding online advice, I bought a special pillow to wedge under my belly, reduced fluid intake in the evening and chewed dried papaya. Still I woke.