Now Or Never·PERSONAL ESSAY

Hours to go before I sleep: My ongoing battle with insomnia

Now or Never host Trevor Dineen has battled insomnia for most of his life. Now, after weeks of less than 3 hours of sleep a night, he's trying to fight back.

I’m shaky, I struggle to be present, and I'm searching for advice on how to get a good night's sleep

Got tips on how to stay asleep? I need them. (CBC / Trevor Dineen)

By Now or Never host Trevor Dineen

Not sleeping sucks. 

And before we go any further, if you are reading this and you are in your early twenties and you're thinking, "suck it up old man", let me just say: I was you once. 

I used to love staying up all night. Playing video games. Hanging out with my friends. Watching all the late night goodness that TBS had to offer. 

I couldn't understand how my parents went to bed every single night at 10:30 p.m., like clockwork. It's like they were robots, programmed to sleep and embarrass me every time I tried talking on the phone after midnight.

But now that I'm in my forties, I cherish sleep like a Kardashian cherishes attention.

Which is why the last month or so has been so tough. I've been averaging 3 hours of sleep or less on a bad night. And it's starting to really take a toll on me.

A lifelong fight with insomnia 

I've wrestled with insomnia most of my adult life. It's not that I can't fall asleep, that part's easy. Lay down. Close eyes. Start to drool. 

It's the staying asleep part that rarely seems to click. Most nights, around 2:30 a.m., I wake up and, well, that's it… That's the end of the story. I'm just awake.

For the next 5 hours, I lie there in the dark, fighting an onslaught of anxiety, panic and intrusive thoughts. My brain isn't kind to me in the middle of the night. And it can get real loud. Like a bully, just pushing me around. And the problem is, I'm usually way too tired to stop it. 

I lie there in the dark, fighting an onslaught of anxiety, panic and intrusive thoughts. My brain isn't kind to me in the middle of the night.- Trevor Dineen

This is hard enough to deal with after one night, but when the nights start turning into weeks, it's scary, because I don't feel like me anymore. I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I'm shaky. I struggle to be present. To have energy. To control my emotions. To control my mind. 

Who else is up?

So, the other day, I decided to see if there was anyone else who was up in the middle of the night struggling with sleep. So, like any exhausted person looking for answers, I went door to door at 2 a.m., looking in people's windows…

Just kidding!

I put up a post on Facebook and asked people if they had any tips that might help me sleep. 

Well, it turns out that none of you sleep. Within an hour or so, there were hundreds of comments from people all across the country sharing their insomnia tales and passing along tips and tricks that have helped them get some rest. 

 

Some of the advice I'd tried before but a bunch of it was new to me, so I thought I would give some a shot. And imagine my surprise when one of them worked. 

Build a world in your mind

It was a piece of advice that Debby Shaw sent me. She told me that when she can't sleep, she starts to build her dream home in her mind. Filling the house with everything she could ever want to have, from furniture, to knick-knacks, even the paint colours on the walls. When Debby is done, if she isn't sleeping, she starts to create the town around the home. She builds a wine store and fills it with her favourite wines. She creates a bakery and stocks the shelves with all the dainties her mind can think of. 

And usually by that point, she is sound asleep. Ridiculously hungry. But sound asleep. 

I loved the detail of it all, so I gave it a shot and decided to build a concert because I miss music so much. I put a band on stage and people in the audience. 

Fun fact: I actually had the people in the audience socially distanced before I realized, "What the heck am I doing?!? There's no COVID in my make-believe mind town!"

I built the arena and picked the songs and pictured the people dancing and jumping around. And the next thing you know... I was asleep, making it the first concert I've ever fallen asleep during.

It hasn't worked since that day, but that's not the point. The point is, it worked once, and I was beyond grateful for it. Because for one night, my mind was calm. My eyes were shut. And I felt rested. 

Thank you, Debby, for helping me sleep. 

And thank you to everyone who reminded me that I'm not alone in the middle of the night when I'm staring at the ceiling in the dark.

Here's hoping you all sleep well tonight. 10:30 p.m. can't come soon enough. 

My co-host Ify and I nap in the office (in pre-COVID times). (Andrew Friesen/CBC)

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