I’ve had insomnia since childhood. Blame my anxiety, blame my over-active brain, blame my thyroid, blame staring at screens until I’m completely over-stimulated. Whatever, The point is, it’s not unusual for me to get just four or five hours a night, and for weeks on end.
I’ve tried everything – herbal teas, warm milk, breathing exercises, supplements. Even sleeping pills don’t do anything except make me feel goofy and groggy.
Sleep masks (which go over your eyes) have long been part of my routine. They work kind of like sticking a cover over a budgie cage when it’s bird bed time. Sensing pure darkness, your brain produces that sweet, sweet sleep chemical, melatonin, and off to the land of nod you go. In theory.
The problem is that staring at screens really, really interrupts that signal by interfering with melatonin production. Blue light – the kind emitted my mobile phones and computers – is so good at making us feel awake, that it’s sometimes used in factories to keep shift workers alert through the night. Jeebus almighty.
Being someone who works on screens all day (and night) and stares at my phone till bedtime, I began finding that even when I switched all the lights off and slapped my sleep mask on, I could see that blue light flashing behind my eyes. It would take me so long to settle, sometimes an hour or more.
How to get rid of it? It occurred to me like a bolt from the blue, literally. When you cover a budgie's cage, the bird looks out into the darkness, it doesn't just have it's eyes covered. Maybe that works better?
If I opened my eyes under the mask, I would be staring at pure black, the kind of darkness even a dark bedroom with the blinds drawn cannot provide. Surely that would trick my brain?
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So I did it, for thirty seconds. Stared at the pitch black under the satin mask. When I closed my eyes again, the blue light was gone. I felt weirdly sedated. Everything was all black, comforting black. I have no idea what happened next because I was completely out.
When I woke, I wondered if it was a fluke. So I did it again. It took me two thirty second intervals of pure-blackness-staring the second time, but it worked - minutes later I was asleep.
I've used this trick every night since, and it's continued to work. It's literally changed my life, and I've not had less than seven hours since.
Though the motivation for putting down the iPhone and actually getting in bed? Let me know if you have any tips for that.