Bernice Tuffery on her long battle for a good night's sleep

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:14 pm on 1 March 2021

In New Zealand, 25% of all adults can only dream about getting a good night’s sleep. Insomnia is a big health issue for thousands of Kiwis. 

Bernice Tuffery

Bernice Tuffery Photo: supplied

Bernice Tuffery was one of them. After becoming a mum, her sleep became unsettled and insomnia began taking over her life.

She tried warm baths, she tried meditation, she tried over the counter sleep aids and nothing helped.

As a qualitative market researcher, she decided to research her way to a good night’s sleep. She shares her experience in a new book, Sleep Easy.

She describes to Wallace Chapman just how bad it got.

“It’s all those unpleasant things of not being able to function properly during the day, it goes way past being in a bad mood and being irritable, like you can’t think straight, your memory’s not great, you’re not performing well at work and then even worse than that you’re not really safe on the roads and that’s where it got to that point where I thought ‘this cannot go on, I’m not living how I want to live’.

“It was almost like I was living in a fog or I was like a hologram of myself and it wasn’t sustainable.”

In her book, Tuffery describes sleep as a human right and something that people don’t prioritise enough – instead focussing on leading a full-on life at the sacrifice of a good kip.

However, she says those perceptions are slowly changing.

“It is time that we start to honour our sleep and respect it as one of the pillars of health that it is, just in the same way as great nutrition and being active in our lives is important for our wellbeing, not just our physical wellbeing but our mental wellbeing.”

Tuffery says studies show that anywhere between 7-9 hours of sleep a night is what most people need, depending on the person.

She says, for insomnia sufferers, it’s important that they learn to ‘make friends’ with their bed as it is an important trigger for a good night’s sleep.

“Because of the way I had been coping with my insomnia and leaving the bedroom because I was always wakeful in the night, I had started associating these other places in my house as my place of sleep and so my own bed was a cue for wakefulness and stress and anxiety around sleep whereas these other places had become my favoured places for me to go to bed.

“So, with cognitive behaviour therapy you realign your relationship with your bed so that it actually means sleep.”

Tuffery says in stressful situations of anxiety and uncertainty, such as the current Covid-19 alert level rises, there are ways to help improve your sleep pattern.

She says having a strong routine around when you go to bed and when you wake up is one of the best ways to do that. Tuffery added while medication, such as sleeping pills or melatonin, can help in stressful situations, they are not suitable in the long-term and that non-drug therapy is the way to improve sleep without any side-effects.

 “What’s really important to understand is that once you do have insomnia and it’s persisting despite all your best efforts, it’s time to take action.

“Even though there’s always lots of tips around what you should do to improve your sleep quite often those tips just revolve around what we call sleep hygiene, so they do support healthy sleep, but once you’ve got ongoing insomnia it’s time to take a different approach and the approach you need to take is more of a programme rather than just a quick fix, and it is about making some changes to your habits and your thoughts and your behaviours to support your sleep long-term.

 

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