We chatted to Kathryn Pinkham, Insomnia Specialist and founder of The Insomnia Clinic, about sleep, why we need it and how to improve it. Kathryn worked in the NHS as a Psychological Practitioner, working with people with mild to moderate mental illnesses before setting up The Insomnia Clinic.
Tell us about your background. What was the journey that led you to starting The Insomnia Clinic?
I’m an Insomnia Specialist with a master’s degree in Counselling, so before starting The Insomnia Clinic I worked as a Psychological Practitioner in the NHS, working with people with mild to moderate mental illnesses. I discovered that I loved working with people with sleep problems and it became my passion to be able to help people sleep well and live better, so that’s when I began The Insomnia Clinic, which is now the UK’s largest insomnia service. Our mission statement is to get the UK sleeping better without the use of medication.
Why is sleep important and why should we be prioritising it to improve our overall health and wellbeing?
Sleep plays a role in both our physical and mental health, so it is incredibly important. The NHS agrees that regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions including obesity, heart diseases and diabetes, and that it also shortens your life expectancy. So, suffering with poor sleep can mean more than just feeling tired and grumpy! Research shows that it’s clear good quality sleep is essential for a long and healthy life, so all of us should be prioritizing our sleep when it comes to both health and happiness.
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia can be caused by all kinds of things. In my line of work I’ve seen insomnia triggered by everything from parenthood and stress, to grief, trauma and drug and alcohol abuse. Equally, sometimes insomnia can occur with seemingly no trigger at all. However, it’s important to remember that insomnia is very curable, however long or severely a person suffers.
You offer a four step treatment ‘The Sleep Well Live Better Programme’ to help people fall asleep easily and sleep well, what are the most common areas of improvement?
One thing the course teaches is that good sleep doesn’t necessarily mean eight hours or more. Everyone is different in their sleep needs and patterns and with so much media spotlight and pressure on sleep at the moment, this can lead people to do the wrong things to try and improve their sleep. A good night’s sleep is when you wake feeling refreshed, and equally when you can learn that one bad night doesn’t need to lead into a longer spiral of poor sleep.
When people finish the programme, they are able to go about their life without sleep and insomnia being a constant concern or worry. If they have a bad night’s sleep, they are now armed with the tools to move on from this and not let it impact them in the way it once did.
In the early stages you learn what actually controls your sleep and why simply giving up caffeine, getting black out blinds or learning to meditate isn’t enough to fix your body clock once it is out of sync.
Part three then focuses on the psychological techniques that help to reduce sleep anxiety and calm a racing mind which are so often the issue for poor sleepers.
Many people find themselves sleeping well and living better in just a matter of days!
Are there any myths about sleep that you don’t agree with?
Probably the most common sleep myth out there, the magical eight hours of sleep! The truth is, everyone’s sleep needs are different, and quality is more important than quantity. In fact, it’s the quality of sleep you get that matters rather than the quantity. The best way to do this is by slightly restricting your time in bed, so you have a higher sleep drive and are more likely to fall asleep quicker, and more deeply. So, if you aren’t getting eight hours every night, don’t worry, as long as your sleep is good quality. There are so many sleep myths out there, and you can read more about them over on my blog.
What inspires you and motivates you?
I am motivated to spread this word as far as I can, as I have seen how devastating to all areas of life insomnia can be, but it is so curable with the correct techniques and everyone deserves access to these.
What 3 top tips would you give to someone who is struggling with their sleep and aren’t sure where to begin?
There are a few simple steps you can take to improve your sleep straight away…
Don’t go to bed too early! While it might seem like going to bed early is the perfect solution to get more sleep, this is far from the case! Illogical as it may seem, spending less time in bed is vital for improving our sleep. We simply shouldn’t be going to bed until we feel properly tired, as the longer we spend in bed the more likely we are to create the wrong associations. If we spend too long in bed awake, we’re more likely to relate our bed to being aware, which can lead to sleeplessness. So, if you’re trying to improve your sleep, stop lounging in bed and watching TV in bed, keep bed for when you’re ready to sleep only!
Set an alarm. During the first lockdown, many of us stopped setting alarm clocks, meaning we got up later, lost our routine and began to lose the structure that keeps us sleeping well. This had a big impact on our sleep drive and will happen again if we begin to wake later. Even if you’ve slept badly, you should still get up nice and early. This will help you to build an ‘appetite’ for sleep, helping you get a better night’s sleep the next night.
- If you wake in the night, and can’t get back to sleep, get out of bed. It may sound counterintuitive, but the longer you spend in bed tossing and turning and unable to sleep, the more you will begin to relate your bed to feeling stressed and to being awake. If you’re struggling to drift back off to sleep, get up and go to another room, read a book or do something you enjoy, and then when you’re feeling sleepy again, head back to bed.
What other resources can you recommend for people who want to improve their sleep routine?
Anything based on CBT for insomnia. Avoid quick fixes and gimmicks as longer term this leads to more frustration and pressure to sleep well.
Learn more about The Insomnia Clinic.